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Old 01-24-2006, 08:17 AM   #1
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Building a new house, how to make it efficient?

My wife and I plan to build a house out in a small town in the start of the Texas hill country. I will be building the house myself, but will hire a contractor for the major things like pouring a slab and maybe the framing. What are things that I should include to keep energy bills down? Right now I'm thinking of making the outside walls 6" thick instead of 4" and using a good quality insulation. Cost is an issue so suggestions can't be too expensive, but I'm willing to pay a little more to have things done right. I guess I should look into energy efficient windows and things like that. I haven't been researching all the new home gadgets yet.

Temperature down here can go over 100 in the summer and it stays hot most of the year. The real challenge will be finding an energy efficient cooling system. Winter lasts a month or two, and even then it rarely drops below freezing. We intend on having a wood burning stove for those days and an electric heating system as backup. Also, the floorplan we want to build is almost 3000sqft, but might not build it all at once. We are going to try and stay away from things like lofted ceilings and such.

The house should be pretty neat once it's built though. All the water will be collected from the rain, as that or a well is your only option out there. The location we want to build on is next to a creek, so we'll use that for irrigation. If I could only get the house on renewable energy, it would be completely self-reliant. However, I'm not sold on the idea of solar electricty - too expensive as of now. I might run some outdoor lights and other small things off a solar panel and battery, but that's all I could see happening.
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Old 01-24-2006, 09:06 AM   #2
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Considering your climate I

Considering your climate I think the wood burning stove is a good idea. If it were anywhere else I'd recommend looking into geothermal heating.

As for cooling, you might want to look into a swap cooling system. We use it here in Utah and I think it's wonderful. It won't cool as much as an A/C system, but it's plenty more efficient.

Don't be cheap with insulation and windows. you might want to install a few skylights to save on electricity as well.

There are a few wind generators that are cheap and can mount on your roof. It's a good alternative to solar power (especially if you have a high wind profile there).

I can get you in touch with my friend who is an architect and is especially interested in efficiency if you want.
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Old 01-24-2006, 12:50 PM   #3
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energy efficiency

Everybody immediately thinks of heating and cooling when it comes to energy efficient housing, but efficient appliances and lighting can have the similar savings impact for a LOT less investment.

For example, about 30% of an average home's energy use is for heating water. A tankless, instant-on Takagi, Bosch or Rinnai water heater with drainwater heat recovery (power-pipe.us)will use half that amount, for a lot less than 2x6 walls, special insulation and windows.

Likewise Energy Star (EPA) qualified refigerators and washing machines will use much less energy than standard appliances. Refrigerators use almost as much electricity as water heaters because they run 24/7. Energy Star washers wring out more water so the dryer has to evaporate less.

Finally, installing built-in fluorescent fixtures will save lots on electricity without looking tacky.
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Old 01-24-2006, 02:17 PM   #4
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Thanks for the good info. I

Thanks for the good info. I was planning on buying all energy star rated appliances and such. Skylights are a good idea for keeping electricity down. I was going to include some anyway but didn't even think about the energy savings aspect. I'll have to look into fluorescents energy consumption. Would it be just as good to use low energy bulbs (fluorescents also, but not as big)? I converted my whole apartment to low energy bulbs already and I think it helps. I'm a fan of things like accent lighting which I might try to use some LED's for. Tankless water heaters sounds like a good idea. These are the kinds of things I need to look into, as well as the cooling system Matt mentioned.

Thanks for the tips and info. If anyone wants to add anything it'd be appreciated.
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Old 01-24-2006, 02:51 PM   #5
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D'oh... good point Sludgy.

D'oh... good point Sludgy.

All of the lights in my house (except for the bathroom vanity lights) are the flourescent bulbs. There was a sale at Costco a few years ago when they were brand new. I bought two 8-packs for $2 each. I should have gotten more because I'm almost out. My energy bill dropped in half after installing those.

Energy star is the way to go. I forgot all about the tankless water heaters. I'd actually like to install one. They come as either gas or electric powered. you need to shop around for the right unit for your needs. Some of them can only handle one application at a time (ie, can't use the shower and do dishes at the same time). I'd personally spend the extra money to get one that allows for at least two applications. You think you don't need it but wait until someone tries to take a shower without realizing that the washing machine is running.

I'm kind of a nut for space. I like a minimalist approach, although I'm a collector of junk. This is another reason I love the tankless water heaters. They take up about zero space and arn't ugly like the conventional water heaters.

COnsidering where you live you can really benefit from skylights. It's also important to make your house face a certain direction in order to get the most sunlight possible.

If I were you I'd also install a fireplace just for the hell of it. Not only are they hella cool, but they can act as a backup wood-burning stove, and they're romantic as hell.

Oh, and get a plasma TV too. Space space space!
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Old 01-24-2006, 03:06 PM   #6
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Just found this... thought

Just found this... thought you might like it. The guy's monthly electricity bill is $5/mo.

http://www.discover.com/issues/feb-06/features/energizer/
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Old 01-24-2006, 07:35 PM   #7
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"Green Homes"

There are some builders in my area that specialize in "Green Homes". I got to tour some -- you may be able to search around for some near you to check them out and get some specs. I really wanted to go green when I bought new about a year ago, but the initial investment is sizable, and for the location and size, I couldn't afford it. It's funny to say that, because after 5 years or less, I will have probably paid the difference in what I would have saved. Unfortunately I'm stuck with the least efficient heat-pump and furnace you can buy (not kidding -- the yellow EnergyGuide sticker has a range of efficiency like 10.0 to 48 and I'm at 10). Moral of the story, pay a little up front to save in the long run is a great idea...

RH77
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Old 03-26-2006, 10:51 AM   #8
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Texas has more cooling days

Texas has more cooling days per year, then heating days, correct? warm sunny dry summers, cool rainy, overcast winters?
I'm used to building energy efficent houses in Wisconsin, not in Texas, but I'll do my best to give some good advice, as building houses like this is what I have been doing for the last 4 years, and have been around renewable energy all my life, with our current house's electric bill being around $15 a month, for 5 people.

Windows: Low-E glass lets slightly less light thru it (a widely overlooked side point), their main advantage is that they reflects radiant heat, thus keeping your heat from radiating out thru the glass to the great unheated outdoors, if you want your windows to help heat your house put them on the south side where they will get the most sun, if you want your house to loose heat thru windows, put them on the north side, in otherwords, if you life in a place where you need to heat your house, large windows on the north side are an extreamly bad idea, the largest window you should have on a north side might be a small bathroom window, but if you live in some place like arizona, or maybe parts of texas, you don't want alot of windows on the south because of how much they will heat your house in the summer. but to conterdict my self you might want to go with south windows, and skip the east and west windows, if you get alot of hot morning, and evening sun in the summer that would be coming dirrectly in from the east and west, if that is the case, south and north windows, with a good roof overhang (in the summer the sun is overhead at noon, and lower in the sky in the winter) a good roof overhang shads the south windows in the summer, and alows full sun to enter the house in the winter (we do 3 foot overhangs, and no, they don't look funny), basicly, if you plan your windows correctly, and think about your roof overhangs, and live in a mild climet you can get away with minumal heating and cooling, saving you a ton of money, an example of this is a house I built 3 years ago that I visited this summer after it had been 100 degrees for a few weeks in the summer, and inside the house it felt almost cold, 72 degrees, and they didn't even own an airconditioner, good atic venting, good roof overhangs, and insulation.

Roofing: As I already said, let your roof overhang enough to shad the windows, there should be charts on the internet that tell you, based on where you live how much overhang you need for a window of a hight to get enough shade, while alowing full sun in the winter.
what you make your roof out of also makes a differnce, black shingles should not even be made, while, or grey reflect alot of heat, and if you get snow they are less likely to melt the snow, and snow can act as free insulation, some people don't like steel roofs, but if you are willing to go for steel it can be a great choice, it will last 50+ years, (compared to traditional asfalt shingles at 10-15 years, 35 years of you get the best) of course some people don't like how they look, and if you don't insulate your attic (insulate your attic!) you can hear the rain, and it sounds like you are in a shed or barn, oh, and after your steel roof has come to the end of it's useful life you can recycle it, asfalt shingles are considerd toxic waste, like car tires, and if you want to collect rain water off your roof, steel or clay is really the best option, unless you like the taste of tar.

Insulation: 2x4 walls are just silly unless you want to partition off a room inside, however 2x4's are cheap, and if you want to better insulate your house doing what is called a strap wall works extreamly well, as wood conducts heat, having a solid piece of wood (stud) go from the inside of your house to the outside, every 16 inches is alot of wood conducting heat, a strap wall is a 2x4 wall, with 2x2 straping nailed horizontaly, making your wall thicker, and leaving only small areas to conduct heat directly(thermo brake), this is a widly accepted building practice, and altho it does take a little more work (attaching the straping) it doesn't cost alot more then a 2x6 wall, and you get a higher insualtion value without making the wall thicker, and quiter, you can also do dubble straping, by putting 2x2's on both the inside, and outside of the 2x4's.
I would never build a house that has less then an R40 insulation in the attic, as that is where you loose most of your heat, and gain aot in the summer, all the houses I have built have had R65-R70 in the attic (around 20 inches of celulose/ground news paper), of course we also do about R45 walls, but this is Wisconsin.

Skylights: they are cool, pretty, cost alot, and are knowen for leaking, I am personaly a fan of light tubes, 12" tubes that have a clear dome on your roof, and a reflective duct to carry the light, I know they sound kind of hoky, but I've installed them in a number of houses, and seen them in in a number of others, and they are extreamly bright, and make a smaller hole in your roof, so less heat loss, and less area to calk/risk leaking.

You can take any point of energy savings to the extream, but most people don't even have it cross their minds while building.
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Old 04-16-2006, 10:58 AM   #9
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There is a book called

There is a book called "Residential Energy" by John Krigger and Chris Dorsi see if you can get a copy from the library or buy a copy for yourself. The fourth edition is a couple years old now but it is very informative and probably has lots of the information you are looking for.
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Old 04-16-2006, 07:17 PM   #10
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make your walls 1.5 feet

make your walls 1.5 feet thick and use hay bales !!!
i think the r-value of hay is well over 150
if they are lightly treated or sealed they present less fire hazard than wood...
its also very inexpensive...usually free...especially when compared to any insulation rated over r-50
i'm not sure what is used to seal or spray them with...if at all...
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