Everything you need to know to build an energy-efficient home

Everything you need to know to build an energy-efficient home

Are you OK with wasting $600 a month?  If you neglect these critical details when building your new home, you may as well throw that money in your custom-built fireplace.

The average American family spends about $2,000 on monthly energy bills.  But you can spend 20-30% less every single month – or more! – if you take these simple steps when designing your new home.

Think it’s a bit of a luxury to custom-build your new home?  Actually, if you build smart, you can design a home that pays you back, year after year.

Planning on custom-building your new home?  Congratulations!  You can have a home built to your needs, just the way you want it, with almost total control.  And that’s great!

As you work with your home design professional and your construction team, there are plenty of choices you’ll need to make.  Of course, you’ll need to make sure the specifics of your dream home design fit within your budget.  There are countless details to consider.  But there’s an important aspect of planning that you can’t afford to forget.

Keeping within your construction and design budget as you build is important now.  But don’t make the mistake of forgetting about tomorrow.  Smart choices made today can save you money once you move in, and keep saving you money year after year.  While you focus on creating a beautiful home, don’t overlook the importance of making it energy-efficient.  Because if you don’t follow these simple but essential tips, you could be paying for it for years.

Planning, designing and building an energy-efficient home


If you don’t want to build a home that leaks money, you must start at the beginning, in the construction phase.  New home building techniques take energy-efficiency into account from the start.  Not only will this save you money later, it costs less to build this way in the first place.

This approach is called advanced house framing.  Also known as optimum value engineering, it is a state-of-the-art framing technique that constructs a home in the most efficient manner possible.  Advanced home framing uses less lumber, and wastes less material.  Efficiency in lumber use is paired with increased insulation.

This is a win-win situation.  First of all, it costs less to build using this technique.  It can lower material costs by $500 to $1,000 for a 1,200 to 2,400 square-foot house.  What’s more, it’s quicker, and can cut labor costs by three to five percent.  That’s significant.  Even better, the benefits don’t stop there.  You can expect to reduce your annual heating and cooling costs by up to five percent with just this one step.


Paying special attention to insulation when building your home is the best way to guarantee that you won’t be spending more for heating and air conditioning than you must.  Choosing the right type of insulation for your climate and style of home is paramount if you want to save money for the life of your home.  Work closely with your home construction and design team to ensure that you have proper insulation.

Roof design

So-called “cool roofs” help keep your home energy-efficient.  These designs take standard roofing materials like tiles, shingles, or paint, and integrate them with reflective components.   This can result in big savings, especially if you live in warm climate.  If you rely on your air conditioning year-round, you might even consider more advanced features like solar panels or green roofs.

The foundation of energy efficiency

Framing, insulation, and roofing are three parts to building an energy-efficient home.  Closing the box, so to speak, is the type of flooring you choose.

Inefficient floor designs can suck heat out of your home.  First, make sure that your flooring construction is consistent with the needs of your climate.  Once construction is completed, the interior design choices you make can create better energy efficiency.  Carpets and rugs create warmth, both visually and environmentally.  They also help with soundproofing.  Especially on your ground floor, choosing the right flooring and carpets can make a big difference.

Closing the door on heat loss

Doors aren’t just run-of-the-mill any more.  Doors come in so many designs and configurations, it can be overwhelming.  Before you just pick one at random and skip right to color choice, consider the door itself.

Exterior doors have energy-efficiency ratings.  Checking these scores first is a quick and easy way to compare how well each door retains heat in the winter and cool air in the summer.  Start with the best-rated, most energy-efficient doors to reduce your selection, and then decide on design.  Whether you like a bold color or prefer more traditional styles, you’ll be thankful that your door won’t be leaking money.  Don’t forget to install storm/screen doors for maximum efficiency, no matter what your climate.


Skylights are one of the most popular features in home design.  They fill your home with sunlight, transforming boring rooms into showcases.  They can also improve energy efficiency – but only if they are chosen and installed correctly.  Improperly installed skylights can leak when it rains, and waste energy continuously.  Quality skylights are better insulated, and have UV protection.  There are even ultra-modern skylights that include lighting, heat-transfer and other cutting-edge techniques.  Whatever model you choose, be sure you use a qualified professional to install skylights.  This is not the time to cut corners.

Although skylights are beautiful, don’t go overboard.  The U.S. Department of Energy recommends they be no larger than five percent of the floor area in rooms with several windows and 15 percent of the floor area in rooms with minimal windows.

Skylights create light, warmth and beauty.  Choose and install carefully, and you will love them.

Windows and window treatments

Windows are another extremely important element when designing an energy-efficient home.  There are four aspects to consider:  frame, glass, design and installation.

Window frames
Windows may be framed with vinyl, wood, aluminum or wood-clad.  Each has some advantages.  Vinyl is inexpensive, and can be practical if properly installed and paired with insulated glass and tight construction.  Vinyl is limited in color choices, and has a distinct look that doesn’t appeal to some people.
Wood, while offering the best insulation, may require more upkeep, especially in damp, humid or rainy climates, or ocean-side.  Well-built wood frames made from high-quality cuts and durable types of wood, however, can last for decades, even centuries.

If you live in rainy or humid climate, rot is a concern.  Although not the most energy-efficient material, aluminum may be more practical in those climates.  If you live in a hurricane-prone area, aluminum meets stringent building codes due to its strength.

Wood-clad frames combine low-maintenance exteriors with wood interiors.  These may be problematic for wet climates, as they are prone to water-incursion.

Window Glass
Obviously, what’s inside the frame is of key importance.  Double-paned windows make a huge difference in your home energy bills.  Look for features such as Low-E glass and a vacuum-sealed argon fill.  These will protect your home from the sun’s heat, filter out UV rays, and even protect your furniture from fading.  These windows may be more expensive, but they save money in the long run.

Window design and installation
Window types include double-hung, casement or picture.  Double-hung windows are the traditional windows where the bottom slides up to open.  Casement windows swing open with a crank, and seal tightly, and are good choices in windy climates.  Picture windows don’t open at all.  Glass choice and argon-fill are especially important with large picture windows.

Even the most energy-efficient window won’t make a difference if it’s not installed correctly. Expanding foams or sealants are not waterproof, and should not be a crutch for poorly fitted windows.  Pre-installation insulation, and adequate flashing and caulking, will prevent headaches later on.

Window treatments

The last part of making sure your windows are both beautiful and energy-efficient is paying attention to your interior design choices.  More than just a vital element of your home décor, window treatments are the final step in creating well-insulated windows that will save money.  Consider double-layer treatments, which may use a translucent curtain to allow some light in while screening out UV and heat.  The type of material you choose for your window treatments, how they open and close, and even their color, all determine how energy-efficient your windows will be.  Work closely with a designer who is well-informed about the energy implications of your choices.

Color considerations

Once your home is built, it’s time to consider the paint or stain.  Don’t discount the effect of your color choices on your home’s energy efficiency.  Take your overall climate into account.  Light-colored exteriors help keep a home cooler, while darker colors help maximize heat retention.

Ceiling fans

Ceiling fans are an important element in any energy-efficient home, especially if you have high ceilings and live anywhere with warm summers.  By circulating air, and forcing warm air (which naturally rises) down, ceiling fans are essential in saving home cooling costs.  There are endless styles to match any home design.  Whether yours is colonial, modern, Southern low-country, Adirondack, Cape Cod, or any style imaginable, there’s a ceiling fan design that will go perfectly in your home.

Appliances and fixtures

These days, most home appliances and fixtures come with Energy-Star ratings.  Before you start the challenging job of selecting kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures, begin your selections by considering these scores.  With thousands of models to choose from, starting with those with the highest energy scores will simplify your selection while still providing you with more than enough choices.

It all adds up to big savings

Don’t design a home that leaks money.  With a little planning and attention to detail, you can design a dream home that’s not just beautiful, but that saves you money for years.

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