Energy Efficient Home Innovations North Pole AK
North Pole, AK
The beginning of a new year is a great time to evaluate your home and plan projects for the coming months. So what better way to start 2005 than by catching up on the latest developments in home systems and technologies? We've identified seven noteworthy innovations that can make your home a more efficient, more environmentally friendly and more comfortable place to live. From super-efficient heating systems, whole-house ventilation and environmentally friendly insulation to mold-resistant building products, modular and concrete building systems, and remote home automation control, these seven innovations are worthy of every homeowner's attention.
1. Concrete Building Systems
Building with concrete is nothing new. Thomas Edison patented a concrete building system more than a century ago. What is new is the more efficient and economical use of concrete in homebuilding.
There are now more than 70 types of concrete building systems on the market, offering practical, affordable and effective options to builders and homeowners. One of the fastest-growing systems involves the use of insulating concrete forms, or ICFs. These hollow polystyrene blocks or panels are stacked together like building blocks. They either interlock and are then braced from the outside or are held together by plastic or metal ties as concrete is poured into them.
Unlike traditional concrete forms, the polystyrene blocks or panels stay in place as insulation after the concrete is poured. Electricians and plumbers cut channels into the foam for cables, wires and pipes. Interior and exterior finishes are easily applied to fastening surfaces (similar to furring strips) already placed in the foam.
Improvements also have been made to more traditional concrete building methods and materials" even the simple concrete block. Autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) blocks look like typical masonry blocks but are made with a much finer aggregate and an expansion agent that causes the concrete to rise like bread dough when the blocks are heated in an autoclave. The result is a block that is 80 percent air, making it much easier for the crews to work with, and much easier on the buyer's wallet.
These improvements have opened up the concrete market for homebuilders and buyers to take advantage of its endurance and performance. Due to thermal massing and reduced air infiltration, concrete homes can provide greater energy efficiency than traditional stick-built homes, and homeowners love the resistance to wind, water, fire, noise and termites that concrete building systems provide.
2. Remote Home Automation Control
Say so long to the Clapper. A number of technologies, either on the market today or on the horizon, enable homeowners to control their home automation systems wirelessly using a simple hand-held device around the house, or using a phone from a remote location.
Depending on its complexity, an installed home automation system costs $500 and up. Once that's in place, your remote control options are many and varied.
Perhaps one of the most interesting developments is the use of a personal digital assistant, or PDA, which is essentially a handheld computer. Before these remote control options became available, homeowners were limited to using stationary, in-wall controllers. The PDA option enables a homeowner to roam around the house or sit back in an easy chair, and turn on the air conditioning or dim the lights. Generally, all of the functions available on an in-wall controller are available on the handheld.
While the PDA solution is great if you're in your house, it's nice to get outside and still have a handle on what's happening back at home. That's where controlling your home automation system via phone, either wired or cellular, comes in handy. The same manufacturers who build systems that can be controlled with PDAs also have systems that can be programmed to respond to phone input. Soon you'll be able to control your system with the sound of your voice. And as cell phones continue to incorporate more features, one remote may be all you'll need to communicate with your home.
3. Modular Building Materials
Much of the press that modular building systems and factory-built homes are getting is in the construction trade media. That's because these systems create efficiencies for builders. Most of the home's shell is constructed in panels or segments at the manufacturer's factory. A builder and a small crew can then assemble the pieces quickly -- in a matter of days or even hours. This means a smaller builder can compete with bigger companies, and companies that have a hard time finding and retaining quality labor can keep a small crew busy year-round.
Those benefits, along with reduced job-site theft and construction waste disposal expenses also associated with site-building, are often passed down to consumers in the form of more house for less money. But a growing number of savvy homebuyers are seeing other benefits as well.
The panels and building components are precisely engineered, constructed with computers and skilled craftsmen, and then stored in a controlled environment, so they are often straighter, truer and more plumb than house frames that are left exposed to the elements as they are erected. Also, while the home is being built at the factory, the contractor can focus on site prep such as foundation and utility work, getting buyers into their homes much sooner.
In modular or factory-built systems, wall panels or entire rooms (modules) are trucked to the site and attached to one another. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are similar in principle to modular systems, except that wall and/or roof panels and modules are composed of slabs of foam insulation sandwiched between two panels of oriented-strand board (OSB).
Using modular building materials results in faster build times, tighter construction and lower costs for homeowners. Perhaps most important, the latest modular homes are increasingly more innovative, contemporary and attractive.
4. Environmentally Friendly Insulation
When considering what type of insulation to install underfoot, overhead or inside the walls of your home, it is getting easier to think outside the (fiberglass) batt. Homeowners concerned that traditional insulating materials might emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or otherwise contribute to environmental pollution or deplete natural nonrenewable resources can select from an array of insulation alternatives. These include soy-based foam, cellulose composed primarily of recycled newsprint and cotton batting made from old jeans.
Soy-based insulation is a soy-and-water sprayed-on product that, within seconds, expands to 100 times its liquid volume, forming foam that has the appearance and texture of angel food cake. The foam, which is inert, stable and semirigid, permanently adheres to building surfaces, filling cracks and crevices and sealing any gaps. Spray foam insulations such as BioBase 501 and HealthySeal, which use soy, are rated at R-3.5 to R-3.7 per inch.
Cellulose insulation typically uses a minimum of 75 percent recycled material, primarily newsprint, which is combined with nontoxic fire-resistant additives. It is sprayed or blown, and conforms to any substrate, including pipes, outlets and other uneven surfaces. It has excellent sound and thermal properties, with R-values of about 2.8 to 3.8 per inch -- the same as sprayed fiberglass insulation.
Cotton batting insulation is made from old jeans or other recycled cotton, sometimes containing as much as 85 percent post-industrial recycled natural fibers. It is formaldehyde- and resin-free, and fire-, fungi- and corrosion-resistant. Installed with a pure aluminum barrier to stop air currents, moisture and radiant heat, the batting also acts as a sound barrier. R-values range from 2.8 to 3.7 per inch.
William and Patti Feldman
5. Mold-Resistant Building Products
Talk to just about any salesperson or product rep in the building industry these days and chances are you'll hear the words, Of course, it's mold resistant. Mold resistance is quickly becoming an essential quality of building products, because mold itself is a hot topic. The damaging effects of mold in the home, to both the occupants and the building, are well documented, and savvy manufacturers, builders and homeowners are taking notice.
Mold spores, which are prevalent in every home, grow when sufficient food and moisture is present. Building materials such as wood, drywall, paint, acoustic tiles and even some insulation can provide the necessary food source. To retard mold growth, homeowners should make sure leaks and condensation problems are taken care of promptly, control moisture by dehumidifying indoor air and use specially treated building products.
USG, for example, manufactures a number of mold-resistant building products, including Sheetrock Humitek gypsum wallboard. Designed for interior use, these panels have moisture- and mold-resistant gypsum cores encased in mold-resistant papers. DensArmor Plus, an interior gypsum wallboard from G-P Gypsum, a subsidiary of Georgia-Pacific, has a moisture-resistant gypsum core reinforced with inorganic glass fibers. The panels also are coated with glass-mat facings, which reduces the organic content on which mold can feed. And a number of manufacturers, including Johns Manville and Owens Corning, make insulation products that are mold- and mildew-resistant.
Other companies are getting into the act. Zinsser makes a mold-resistant paint, called Perma-White, that uses an EPA-registered fungicide to prevent the growth of mold. And EnviroCare has just introduced ForSite, a coating that owes its long-lasting mold- and mildew-resistant properties to the use of EPA-registered, FDA-approved engineered silver. ForSite can be applied to construction materials such as wood and concrete.
Although these and similar products cannot eliminate mold completely (no product or system can do that), they go a long way in preventing mold growth and keeping your family and your home healthy.
6. Whole-House Ventilation
Until recently, whole-house ventilation consisted of a very large fan, located in the ceiling at a central location, which drew cool night air in through open windows and exhausted the home's stale, hot air through a large vent in the attic. But whole-house ventilation has been reinvented in recent years as homes have become more airtight and as homeowners educate themselves about indoor air quality.
For today's airtight houses, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers recommends a ventilation rate of 0.35 air exchanges per hour, or completely replacing the air in a home every three hours, to help prevent the buildup of indoor air pollutants. Modern incarnations of the whole-house ventilation system stress tighter control over the air exchange rate. The best of the newer systems -- heat recovery ventilators (HRVs) and energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) -- also supply fresh air to the entire house, but with far greater energy efficiency.
Not to be confused with attic fans, which ventilate only the attic space, the newer whole-house ventilation systems have two basic configurations:
Exhaust-only systems simply push stale air out of the building envelope, relying on natural
infiltration to replace the exhausted air.
Balanced systems control both exhaust and intake. Many of them transfer heat, via heat exchanger cores, saving energy in both heating and cooling seasons. Some systems also are capable of transferring water vapor between airstreams to control the moisture level in the home. This feature is especially useful in winter when indoor humidity levels tend to be too low.
Because of their heat-recovery capabilities, modern whole-house ventilation systems are effective and efficient, and can cut energy bills significantly. Installation costs range from about $1,000 to $2,500 for new construction and are somewhat higher in retrofits.
Charlie Wing and Rob Fanjoy
7. Super-Efficient Heating Systems
Big changes are taking place in the home heating industry. New systems with higher efficiencies enhance energy mileage.
Geothermal systems, for instance, take advantage of the free and abundant renewable energy that is readily available in the shallow earth. EarthLinked heat pump systems from ECR Technologies enable the direct exchange of energy with the earth without the need to pump water through an intermediate heat exchange loop. The system typically operates in an efficiency range of 350 to 400 percent, which means it delivers 3.5 to 4 units of heat for every unit of electrical energy required to operate it. Installation is minimally invasive to the property. And because it's so quiet, it can be installed in a basement or utility room, out of sight and protected from weather.
Another type of super-efficient heating system is a condensing boiler, which increases efficiency by extracting additional BTUs from the condensate within the system. The Summit by Laars Heating Systems, for example, is a low-water-content lightweight condensing boiler that achieves 96 percent operating efficiency. A sleek, direct-vented, sealed-combustion boiler that uses either natural gas or liquid propane, the Summit is ideal for baseboard, radiant-heat and hydro-air (water-to-forced-air heat exchange) applications in medium and large homes.
Even traditional furnaces, like the Affinity models from York International Corp., are achieving efficiencies of 90 percent and higher, thanks to their innovative designs. The Affinity furnaces feature stylish designs that incorporate single- or two-stage heat and advanced diagnostics for ease of installation and serviceability. The 90+ furnace is Energy Star qualified.
A resource list with contact information for the companies and manufacturers mentioned in this article is available on our website, http://www.smarthomeownermag.com .