With the extremely cold weather we have recently experienced, I am reminded how important it is to plan for it. This doesn’t just mean stocking long underwear and packing emergency kits in cars. It can also mean incorporating energy efficient designs into our homes and businesses. This can help keep heat bills under control and keep us comfortable everywhere, not just next to a heating vent.
My interest in energy efficiency goes back to the 1980s when Linda and I built our home on the family farm. I began reading about wall assemblies and window sills in my free time. Back then, the energy efficient lingo of the day was “super-insulated.” I made sure that the R-values in the walls and ceiling would keep my energy costs low. I put no windows on the west side and only one small window on the north side. To reduce electric demand, and help cool the house in summer, I installed a heat-pump water heater.
I am very proud of the house, and Linda and I are very eager to return there once we finish our stay in Pierre. It remains comfortable and solid yet today. The energy cost savings I have realized have paid for the extra costs at construction many times over.
Since then, some features in my house have become more mainstream and energy efficiency has become a more common aspiration. Building science has seen additional advances since the 1980s and I’ve recognized a few mistakes that I made in building my house. Today, the leading standard for energy efficient building is the Passive House standard. The standard defines needed elements with rigor, but still allows customization. It can be tricky to build a home that meets all passive house standards, but even if a building cannot meet the full standard, many of the concepts can be applied to provide significant savings. The standards are outlined at phius.org.
We have applied some of these standards to the Governor’s House program. The program builds houses for income-qualified individuals and families using inmate labor. A few years ago, we upgraded insulation, tightened the envelope in the homes and added an air exchanger. More recently, we added a high efficiency heat pump system. The homes are comfortable and affordable to heat and cool.
If you are considering remodeling your current home or building a new one, I encourage you to look towards energy efficiency. A modest investment in the short-term can reap long-term rewards by making your house more economical and more comfortable.