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Designing an Energy Efficient Home

The design and build of a new home is a great opportunity to incorporate all of the very best energy efficient technologies and design features. Most things can be done retrospectively but it is often cheaper and easier, and causes less disruption, to deal with it at the build stage.

When designing an energy efficient home it’s important to consider all of the ways in which energy is consumed. That includes heating, lighting, cooking, appliances and washing. You also need to think about how energy is wasted or used unnecessarily.

Choose an Architect Who Specialises in Energy Efficient Design

Assuming you employ an architect, choose one who specialises, or has experience in, designing energy efficient buildings. Ask to see examples of his previous work and ask him to talk you through some ideas.

Orientate the Building So That It Is North/South Facing

Having a south facing roof is important to get the most out of solar panels, which are an important element of an energy efficient house as they can produce a lot of the electricity your property needs without any carbon emissions or fuel costs.

As well as being good for solar panels though, a north/south orientation will give the south facing side of the house an even amount of light and heat from the sun throughout the day. You should therefore think about which side your lounge, which is the room you are likely to spend the most time in, will be on. Facing your lounge south will mean it gets more free heat and light from the sun and you’ll not need to rely on artificial heat and light as much.

Facing bedrooms north will help keep them cool in summer and mean there is less need use fans or to open windows at night (which could make the rest of the house too cold). It will also mean they will stay darker later in the summer months meaning your sleep is less likely to be disturbed.

Insulation and Draught Proofing

The biggest consumer of energy in UK homes, by quite a margin, is space heating, so it’s vital that no corners are cut with the insulation and draught proofing measures. This means full thickness loft insulation, cavity or solid wall insulation and even underfloor insulation.

In addition, good quality double glazing, particularly the kind which allows heat in but does not allow it to escape, should pay for itself in the long run. All the windows should be draught proofed as well as all doors, internal and external (internal so that certain rooms can be left unheated without cold air from them affected heated rooms).

A spring or brush letterbox will further prevent heat loss as will keyhole covers. Try to avoid external doors which lead directly into the living space and which have too much glass in them. If you have the room, a small vestibule between the main external door and the hallway will help prevent cold air from outside entering the main house.

Designing a Property to Be Light Efficient

As mentioned above, facing your lounge south will mean it gets more natural light from the sun throughout the day and you’ll need to use less electric light as a result. There are other steps that can be taken to reduce the amount of energy used to produce light.

The most obvious step is to use energy efficient light bulbs, which use much less energy than standard ones and although more expensive to buy initially, should save around 75% over their lifetimes compared to standard bulbs when taking into account the energy they use and the length of time they last.

Large windows, provided they are well draught proofed and the glazing is of high quality, will allow more natural light in.

Consider the overall design of your rooms to ensure there are not too many shadowy corners and consider facing seating areas toward the windows. Painting a room in in bright colours such as brilliant white, magnolia, lemon or sky blue which make it appear lighter.

Energy Efficient Heat and Hot Water

As a minimum, a modern condensing boiler should be installed to provide hot water for both washing and heating, however a clean energy system should also be considered as an alternative to fossil fuels.

There are two main alternatives that are capable of producing all of the hot water your home requires., biomass boilers and heat pumps. Biomass boilers work much the same as the conventional version but use wood chip or grain instead of fossil fuels. The amount of carbon the fuel releases when burned is equivalent to that which it absorbs while growing so it is carbon neutral (except for the energy used in production and transportation). You’ll need a cool, dry place to store the fuel, which will actually cost more than mains g
as, the financial advantage being in the renewable heat incentive payments should they be introduced in April 2011.

Heat pumps cost around the same as installing a biomass boiler and although they do not heat the water to the same temperatures as a boiler, they work well with underfloor heating in well insulated properties and that, coupled with the fact that the coils which absorb the heat need to be placed in trenches in the garden and buried, makes them ideal for new builds. They do use electricity to power the pump.

Energy Efficient Appliances

Buying “A” rated appliances such as washing machines and fridge freezers can save yet more energy. Modern, “A” rated dishwashers can actually be more efficient than washing up by hand.

Generating Your Own Electricity

Installing solar panels can generate 50% of a property’s total electricity needs. Usually electricity sensibly can increase this figure, for example by washing clothes and using dishwashers during daylight hours when electricity is being produced. Obviously solar panels work better in summer than in winter.

Another option is a wind turbine. This will produce a more even amount of electricity year round however it is only really suitable to country side areas as there tends to be too many obstructions in urban and sub-urban areas.

Design a Low Maintenance Garden

Hedgerows and lawns need to be cut, usually with electrical or petrol driven tools, which uses energy. Also, lawns need to be watered. Think about a paved or gravel garden, with perhaps just a few plants in pots. Alternatively, what about a vegetable garden? Growing your own food will not only save money but will also reduce your carbon footprint.

However you design the garden, make sure you leave room for a clothes line so you can dry clothes naturally in summer without the need for an electric dryer.

4 Comments to Designing an Energy Efficient Home

  1. James Mc Anespy's Gravatar James Mc Anespy
    February 7, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I am presently engaged in a energy adviser (home) pilot training program in N Ireland and I am very interested in green deal consept,I have attanded conferenceses and tried to get as much information as possible about the green deal and it apears to me that there is a lot of general information on the princable but very little practical information on how this is going to work

  2. February 11, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    We are designing many more ‘Eco-Homes’, to a standard well over and ahead of the regulatory timetable for implementation as homebuyers become switched on to the benefits of a greener lifestyle and the financial incentives and savings available. In fact aswell as self builders, more commonly we are approached by developers looking to offer their customers a product over and above the standards required as they now view such considerations as a major marketing tool.

  3. March 2, 2011 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    It is well worth mentioning that draught proofing sash windows is extremely effective and will reduce heating bills. This will apply to most of London with single glazed traditional sash windows.

  4. George's Gravatar George
    February 28, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    It is also a good idea to use compact architecture – to maximze the space-wall ratio. You get more energy efficent house that costs less to build and maintain (actually you pay for walls,not space)

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    January 10, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

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