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Building A Higher Performing Home on a Production Builder's Budget

4/27/2015

To build a house to the super-rigorous energy conservations Passive House requires involves a large investment that may be challenging to many profit-minded home builders. The idea of lowering the home's carbon footprint is certainly appealing to many homeowners, but the substantial upfront cost is a roadblock that may be tough to overcome.

That's why many enterprising home builders "steal smart" from their high-end building brethren to construct homes that are impressively comfortable, efficient, and more marketable to a broader range of prospective home buyers.

It starts by critically thinking about all the areas where thermal bridges and outside air can compromise home heating and cooling performance, from the attic to the basement. Here are a few ideas:

Tape. Tape. Tape. Remember, without airtightness, there's little or no insulation benefit. Tape-up and caulk all the usual leaky soft spots – windows, door frames, service outlets, foundation-framing seams and attic-framing seams.

Consider Optimum Value Engineering (OVE). Advanced framing with 24 inches on center can be a more efficient (and cost-saving) way to install more insulation and less wood without affecting structural performance. OVE techniques incorporate single studs around windows and no stud packs in the corners, so double-check local code first. Any approach that maximizes insulation coverage will have obvious acoustic and thermal (energy-saving) advantages.

Bonus Room Blues. Separating conditioned space from unconditioned attic areas around a bonus room can be a long-term homeowner headache. Are you insulating attic kneewalls? Adding an attic-side air barrier? It can be a simple remedy to a common aggravation.

"What's That Duct System Doing in My Attic?" Yes, what is it doing there? Avoid placing duct systems in any unconditioned area, especially attics in Sun Belt state climates. There are ways around this in new construction; consider making the adjustment.

Oops, Missed a Spot. It's easy to do a walk-through of the framed home and hit any uninsulated areas you and your team may have missed with wrap, tape and insulating fill. Any uncovered spot is a big setback for home heat loss/gain. Also, check to see insulating cover is uniform throughout.

Basement Windows? Unless they're a mandatory, consider building without them. Basement windows offer very little light, especially if they're shielded by outside shrubbery, and are famously drafty.

Better Windows = Smaller HVAC System. A superior weather-tight window can work wonders on reducing reliance on heating and cooling needs. Check it out. The extra cost for a better-grade window could be smartly offset by a smaller (less expensive) HVAC unit.

Talk It Up with the Trades. Take the time to huddle with your construction team, especially installers. Let them know that you're looking for their ideas and cooperation on the weather-proofing front. You might be surprised by the helpful feedback and extra installation diligence.

You don't need to build to a Passive House standard to create a better product for home buyers. By observing a few affordable conservation techniques, you can deliver a higher performance home that's a market winner at a competitive price point.

Related Tags: Thermal | Performance