The misconception that energy efficient buildings will cost more to build is almost impossible to shift.
Most people in this area seem to miss the point. For the most part energy efficiency in the home isn’t about technical solutions such as wind turbines, photovoltaic, heat pumps and the like. There’s a danger that these gadgets become a kind of fashionable style rather than a cost efficient, environmentally sound, comfort orientated, choice of materials and design. In fact an energy efficient home needs to be economic to run, simple to maintain, and gimmick free and the design may or may not include these gadgets.
The first rule of a home’s energy strategy should be to reduce or even remove the need for energy consumption. “Things need to be as simple as possible but no simpler “ Albert Einstein
For example an airtight and super insulated building which recovers the heat from the kitchen will need very little if any heating or fuel storage therefore saving all the running and maintenance costs that involves. The financial savings from this designing out of technology can pay for increased fabric quality – a straight trade off with no extra up-front costs.
Another example would be for dealing with humidity. Hygroscopic materials, which are readily water absorptive and evaporative (e.g. clay plaster and untreated timber) are up to 9 times more effective at dealing with indoor humidity levels than mechanical ventilation. Therefore with careful considered design the home is self-regulatory and healthy. The financial savings from not needing fans, ducts, grilles and filters easily pay for the specification of slightly more expensive components and wall finishes.
Energy efficiency design requires a combination of simple common sense with a sharp uncluttered approach. It is rooted in the passive design approach. Passive design requires a degree of scientific understanding coupled with lashings of common sense.
Technical fixes and add on solutions should be rigorously scrutinized. The economic questions such as payback periods and annual degradations in equipment efficiency must be properly addressed. More often than not solving a problem with a gadget gives you another problem to solve. What is required is a holistic approach to design, equipment, and choice of materials.
Author: John Wolfendale
Bio: John is a founder of Eco Vida and is passionate about bringing modern design and construction practices to Spain. He believes a home which is warm in winter and cool in summer is largely a matter of design and selective use of materials. He is British and a Chartered Surveyor with 18 years experience living and working in Spain.