Saving energy in new home construction

At a recent Rock Valley College (RVC) seminar, a group of Rockford business people provided insights into saving energy in new home construction. Since buildings consume nearly half the energy and release half the global warming gases in the United States, their efforts could help establish a new energy model for our communities.

It was exciting for us to be part of the rebirth of interest in energy-efficient buildings. The two-hour seminar was well organized and well attended, with more than 50 participants, including Frank Schier, editor and publisher of The Rock River Times. The event should have pleased him as his paper has been the leading local advocate of energy reforms for years.

Energy-efficient buildings can cut energy costs dramatically, keep more energy dollars in the community, and reduce the threat of global warming to people and the planet.

The energy efficiency seminar consisted of brief presentations that geothermal energy, zero energy homes, energy-efficient construction techniques, advantages of spray foam insulation, solar energy and small wind generators, guidelines for designing a home to maximize the use of federal tax credits and the availability of tax credits for efficiency and renewable energy in new home construction and renovations.

The session began with a presentation about the advantages of geothermal heating and cooling systems. A polyethylene pipe is inserted into the ground, which maintains a steady temperature of about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Fluid in the pipe circulates through a heat exchanger to both heat and cool a home.

A successful energy-efficient home requires a builder who provides appropriate insulation levels, installs insulation carefully and minimizes air leaks to the outside. One way to ensure a home performs adequately is to have a blower door test performed. A certificate is issued to inform potential buyers of the building’s energy efficiency.

Energy needed to provide services for an energy-efficient building are low enough to consider incorporating renewable energy. Mortgage payments should reflect the fact that monthly energy bills for an energy-efficient home will be substantially lower than a conventionally-built home. With solar and wind, it is possible to generate enough electricity to offset that used in a building.

It is important to record all equipment purchases to provide documentation essential for state rebates and federal tax credits for investments in efficiency and renewable energy.

The energy efficiency ideas and technologies presented at the seminar shed light on many useful approaches to cutting energy consumption in buildings. While they add some additional cost to home construction and renovations, those additional costs are recovered in a few years from the money saved for heating, cooling and providing electrical service.

The presentations fit well with a challenge issued to communities by Edward Mazria, an internationally-renowned American architect and author of the classic Rodale publication, The Passive Energy Book. Mazria has challenged architects and people in the building community to begin producing carbon-neutral buildings now so that by 2030, all of our buildings are carbon neutral. Starting today, all new buildings, developments and major renovations should have energy consumption levels 50 percent below the regional average for that type of building. He challenges communities to match new construction with renovations of equal square footage—all at energy consumption levels 50 percent below average.

This may be the beginning of the new energy model essential to the economic well-being of home and building owners and our communities. For the effort to become accepted and expanded, it will need informed customers willing to make an investment in energy efficiency. The seminar provided much of this information.

For additional information about the seminar and its presenters contact Jim Carey at 815-871-8318 or Len Salvig at 815-621-8923.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are also active in preserving natural areas. They are retired professors from Northern Illinois University.

from the March 21-27, 2007, issue

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