Energy-Efficient Building Guide for Sustainable New Homes

Listen, it’s 2022, and we’re all trying to make more eco-friendly choices. From the clothes we buy to the energy plans we sign up for, every decision has a ripple effect. That’s why we’ve created a guide that breaks down energy-efficient home designs, climate features, and the best energy efficient building materials. Whether you’re looking for energy-efficient home improvements for a current home or a new build, this guide is great for anyone looking to live in a greener home.

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Energy Efficient Homes vs Green Homes: What to Know Before Building

Before getting too deep, let’s clear something up: Energy-efficient materials aren’t the same thing as green home materials.  If something is considered “green,” that means it's certified as being good for the environment. This could mean it's made from sustainable, natural materials, or that it lowers your carbon footprint by relying on renewable energy. Green home materials can be costly and not terribly energy efficient. And speaking of... 

Energy-efficient home materials can also lower your carbon footprint by reducing the amount of energy your home uses. However, these materials aren’t always sustainably sourced, nor are they always natural. For the purpose of this guide, we’ll be discussing energy-efficient materials—but stay tuned for more on green home design.

Sustainable Home Building Costs: Budgeting for an Energy-Efficient Home

 How much more do energy-efficient materials cost than regular materials? How much can I expect to save in the long-term? Is building an energy-efficient home worth the cost? If you’re interested in this subject at all, it’s likely you’ve had these questions. While it’s impossible to exactly predict the average cost of building a green home, we can tell you this:  

As of 2022, the average home price in the U.S. is $348K. And according to the Rocky Mountain Institute, energy-efficient homes go for around 1-8% more than the average home. With those numbers in mind, we can assume the average energy-efficient home costs anywhere between $351,380 and $375,840. Now remember, so many factors will influence this number. Where you live, the size of your home, the type of land you’re building, special features, the design and appliances will all impact the final cost.

5 Most Impactful Energy-Efficient Home Features

If you’re building an energy-efficient home on a budget, fear not! There are so many things you can do to save some money—but these five hacks are easy ways to keep your costs low:

  • Use good insulation and install it continuously 
    • Continuous insulation means it spans all structural components without “thermal bridges.” This can help reduce ventilation, heating and cooling costs that’ll save you a ton of money. 
  • Consider using a prefabricated home 
    • Because they’re pre-built, you’re making better use of the energy and materials. Not to mention, this is a much cheaper option than building from scratch. 
  • Look for local, recycled materials 
    • Construction materials like from train tracks, utility poles, or shipyards are going to be way more affordable than imported materials. 
  • Position your home accordingly 
    • For example, the longest side of your house should face south to give you maximum sun exposure in the winter—reducing the amount of money you’ll need to spend on heating.  
  • Plant some trees 
    • If you’ve never heard of “passive shading,” let this be your newsflash: Shade is your most important cooling strategy.

Best Locations in Texas for Energy-Efficient Homes

When you’re looking for a great location to build or buy an energy-efficient home, it’s important to consider things like the climate of the region, the average heat index, the humidity levels, and the chances of flooding. In Texas, these factors will play a massive role in your decision, but what we can tell you is that the Lone Star State is home to several energy-efficient cities that you may want to explore: 

  • Houston is home to 247 Energy Star-rated buildings, and when that’s paired with its green power program, the city and its government have been named the #1 renewable city in the U.S. Not to mention, the Department of Energy granted Houston $23 million dollars to use toward the Residential Energy Efficiency Program (REEP), which reduces residents’ energy consumption by installing energy efficiency upgrades free of charge. 
  • Meanwhile, Dallas was ranked #5 in the nation among the EPA’s Energy Star-rated cities. Several of the city’s buildings are required to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, so if you want to live in the northern part of the state, this city has the infrastructure to support your energy-efficient needs. 
  • And finally, there’s Austin. Known for its climate-forward policy and environmental consciousness, the city set a goal to have net-zero emissions by 2050. Not to mention, it’s the most walkable city on the list and many residents who do have cars drive hybrid or fully electric models. With a beautiful landscape and access to nature, Austin is a great spot to build an energy-efficient home.

Choose a Green Home Architect or a Sustainable Home Builder

 If you’re planning to build your own energy-efficient home, you’ve likely got more on your plate than someone who plans to buy an existing house. You’re having to find the plot of land, source the materials, design the space, and more. Luckily, there are several sustainable home builders in Texas for you to choose from. From ones who prioritize processes and net-zero buildings or ones that offer custom-built homes already for sale, there’s a builder for everyone.

Energy-Efficient House Plans for New Sustainable Home Builds

Whether you choose to work with a green builder or not, it’s important to know some of the key elements of energy-efficient home designs. As we’ve mentioned already, the location of your home can make a major difference in your energy consumption, but the layout of your home can be even more critical. Here’s what we mean: a building that’s wide and spread out is going to be less efficient due to heat loss than a more compact building. That’s why a lot of energy efficient home plans emphasize building up versus building out. Take this into consideration if you want a one-story house as you’ll want to make it compact rather than spread out.

Energy-Efficient Foundation & Framing Materials, Windows & Doors

 At the base of every energy-efficient home is a foundation, and when it comes to choosing the best material to build a house on, plastic is becoming a major contender. When paired with concrete, you can create an insulated concrete form (ICF) which insulates the building from the inside and the outside. Not to mention, structural insulated panels (SIPs), made from plastic foam core laminated to sheets of high-strength strand board, can save you hundreds of dollars each year on energy bills.  

When it comes to doors and windows, the most energy efficient home building materials can be found at Energy Star. Use their product finder to source the most cost-effective energy efficient option for home. Remember, installing Energy Star-rated windows, doors and skylights can help lower your household energy bill by an average of 12%. 

Reducing AC Costs with Energy-Efficient Insulation Materials, Flooring & Walls

Here’s an inside scoop to the world of construction: Insulation is categorized by an “R” value. The “R” number will indicate how well the insulation will resist heat—meaning the higher the value, the greater the insulation performance. A good rule of thumb when choosing insulation for energy-efficient walls is to pick something with an R42 value or higher. And guess what? Windows also use this system, so you can apply this same knowledge there, too. 

Here’s a few other tips we recommend for the most efficient home insulation: 

  • Increase your wall thickness 
    • When your walls are thicker, there’s more room for insulation 
  • Use continuous insulation 
    • As we mentioned earlier, this prevents any lost energy 
  • Spray wood framing with cellulose filler 
    • This keeps your walls airtight 
  • For colder climates, insulate your floors 
    • Doing so can prevent seasonal ground-freeze

Low-Energy and Energy-Efficient Climate Control Options

Ther number one thing you can do to reduce your energy use in your home is to ensure it’s airtight. So, before installing climate control systems, try air-sealing your space with an aerosolized sealant. It’s the most sophisticated way to plug a leak and it’s way more efficient than trying to track down every possible air leak.  

So how does it work? First, you’ll perform “large scale air sealing.” This is basically covering any obvious wall cavities, holes under the tub, or caulking around pipes and wires. Gaps less than half an inch can be skipped. Next, the building must be pressurized with a blower door and pump. With several aerosol spray heads placed around the building, the blower is turned on and the sealant is sprayed into the air. The whole process takes about 3-4 hours, and a computer monitors the air leakage so the spraying stops when the desired level is reached.

Energy-Efficient Lighting Options that Keep Electricity Costs Low

There’s the obvious answer: Use LED lighting or any bulbs with an Energy Star rating. But there are a few other things you can do with the bulbs you currently have: 

  • Use less lights 
    • Aside from the kitchen or office space, you don’t need to over-light your space. 
  • Install dimmers 
    • Dimming your lights can lower the amount of energy you’re using. Plus, they’re easy to install yourself. 
  • Use a timer 
    • This helps ensure your lights are only on when you need them, saving you money in the long run. 

If you're interested in installing smart home devices that can help you save on your energy bill, check out our list of ogre-approved items!

Home Appliances that can Save You Money on Your Electricity Bill

You’ve learned how to increase the efficiency of your lights, but what other home appliances may be wreaking havoc on your energy bill? Well, there’s your refrigerator, central A/C, and dishwasher. But one of the biggest culprits is your water heater. In fact, it may be worth it to place it outside in order to reduce its effect on the internal climate and temperature of your home. Not to mention, it can be more energy-efficient to put your water heater outside as it can get to hotter temperatures more easily.

Energy Independence: Power Options for an Off-the-Grid Home

So, you want to go mostly off the grid. You’re already looking to build an energy-efficient home, so it makes sense. But what power source do you use? You’ve got a few options. You could install roof panels and rely on solar energy. You could install a geothermal heat pump and get power from below earth’s surface. You could set up turbines and use wind energy. If you live by water, you could use hydroelectricity. You could even create a hybrid power system by combining two or three of these options.  

But let’s say those feel a little daunting. They not only require a bit of strategic location planning and researching, but they can be pretty costly upfront, too. Instead, let Energy Ogre help you stay green by signing up for one of our all-renewable green energy plans. It’s easy, convenient, and totally eco-friendly. Choosing to build (or buy!) an energy-efficient home is possible—and we hope this guide helps give you the tools you need to start living a more sustainable life.

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