12 Point Energy Checklist For New Homes

July 08, 2021

12 Point Energy Checklist For New Homes

With the rising costs of energy it is important for any home builder or homeowner to think about their energy and water consumption.

We use energy in our home for heating and cooling, hot water, refrigeration, lighting, cooking and appliances.

When building a new home it is important to think about how you will use energy and water so you benefit by having lower energy and water bills but not having to give up your comforts to achieve this.

new home energy checklist

Photo by I Do Nothing But Love on Unsplash

How can you minimise your heating and cooling costs?

Let’s walk through the key areas in your home you need to consider. 

1. House size and configuration

The larger the home, the more space there is to heat and cool, which leads to higher bills, more to keep clean and the more expensive to build.

So to keep costs to a minimum consider the following:

  • Build a smaller home or ensure that the home you are designing is a reasonable size but uses the latest design initiatives to give you a comfortable area to live in. 
  • Slab-on-ground construction with edge insulation and northern orientation will add to thermal stability of your home
  • With central ducted heating or cooling make sure it is zones and flexible so that you can choose to heat/cool only those parts of the house you are using
  • If possible design the home in compartments that can be sealed off for heating and cooling purposes. 
  • High ceilings increase heating/cooling costs and reduce comfort
  • If you have a two storey home, have a closed stairwell so that downstairs heat is not lost in a constant flow to the upstairs.

2. Passive Solar Design

In winter the sun is low in the northern sky, in order to maximise passive or free heating from the sun, it is desirable to face living areas to the north. If you install north facing windows to let in the sun you can passively heat your home.

  • Northern windows should shine onto areas of internal thermal mass, ie an exposed concrete slab floor or trombe wall. The thermal mass will store the sun’s heat and release it after dark giving you free warmth in the evening.
  • Windows lose heat quickly in winter and gain it quickly in summer so they should be protected with internal window coverings and shading. (more on this below)

3. Wall Design

There are many different wall systems available. Ideally walls should consist of thermal mass (i.e brick or concrete) on the inside of your home, with insulation and aesthetic cladding on the outside e.g. reverse brick-veneer

  • Thermal mass stores heat and moderates the interior temperature of a dwelling in all seasons
  • Insulation slows the rate of heat lost to the outside in winter and gained from the outside in summer

4. Insulation

The effectiveness of bulk insulation is measured in R-values. This simply refers to the insulation’s resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation at stopping heat moving in and out of your home. 

  • All ceilings and walls should be insulated with as much bulk insulation as possible, ceilings with at least R5 and walls with R2 or more.
  • Underfloor insulation can be installed
  • New homes are generally wrapped in reflective insulation, which acts as a mirror to radiated heat, and should be installed in the walls and under the roof trusses to reduce heat gain in summer

Windows in a new home

Photo by Francesca Tosolini on Unsplash

    5. Windows

    Glazing allows heat to flow very easily so to reduce heating or cooling bills and improve dwelling comfort, windows should be situated carefully

    • Ample window space can be provided on the northern face of the house to aid in passive heating (but should be adequately shaded in summer and insulated internally with insulating window coverings to reduce heat loss in winter.)
    • Glazing should be minimised on the eastern, western and southern faces of the dwelling to reduce heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer
    • Double glazing will reduce the rate of conducted heat loss/gain from windows, but it is expensive. As a priority start with the living areas and then work from there depending on your budget.

    6. Internal Window Coverings

    Windows lose heat quickly, therefore it is advisable to install insulating internal window coverings such as blockout drapes or similar.

    • Internal window coverings should be designed to reduce the rate of heat conducted through the window coverings themselves. This would include blockout backing and as many layers of fabric as possible. Two layers is good but if you can add a third level (such as felt) between the aesthetic fabric and backing, it will provide two air pockets and more insulating effect.
    • Internal window coverings should also seal the air in the window reveal to prevent convection currents forming, which means some form of pelmet on top, some way to seal the window coverings to the wall or reveal frame (such as velcro or wraparound curtain tracks) and coverings of an appropriate length.

    7. Shading

    Once sunlight has passed through your home’s windows it is absorbed by the object it hits and re-emitted as heat. Internal window coverings will reflect a little light back out the window before  it is turned into heat. 

    A far more effective way to keep your home cool is to externally shade any windows which admit the sun.

    • In summer the sun is high in the sky so it mostly falls on the eastern and western faces of your home, so these windows definitely need shade.
    • Northern or southern windows may need shading depending on the situation (beware bright, reflective surfaces like concrete paths or paving next to windows.)
    • Eaves are built-in shading but will not always be sufficient. Think about awnings, shade sails, verandas, pergolas or vegetation. (if using vegetation on the north of the house make sure it is deciduous).
    • Blockout fabrics like canvas stop the most heat from entering your home while other fabrics such as shade cloth partly reduce the heat build-up whilst allowing some light in.

    garden at front door of a home

    Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

      8. Heating and Cooling Appliances

      3 key factors to consider when designing your home:

      • The efficiency of your heating. Look for the more efficient forms of heating and/or cooling.
      • The volume of air to be heated. It is not a good idea to heat rooms you are not using. 
      • The fuel used in the heating. Using gas for heating costs less per unit of heat produced than electricity.

      9. Ventilation

      In summer, think about the most common direction of the night breezes. Plan your design to make use of the most common wind direction. 

      10. Hot Water Heating

      Generally the most efficient hot water heating is gas-boosted solar, electric boosted solar, gas instant and then electricity.

      • If using solar install a manual booster switch so you can turn the booster off during the warm months
      • Group wet areas together to reduce dead water losses from long pipe runs to the hot water heater.

      11. Lighting

      Energy efficient lighting is improving rapidly especially with LED lighting.

      • Downlights should be avoided if at all possible. They use a lot of energy, can be a fire hazard, reduce the effectiveness of your ceiling insulation and are often used incorrectly for the purpose they were intended.
      • LEDs last up to 50 times longer than incandescent bulbs and use a lot less energy.
      • External lighting should be sensor activated so that they are not accidentally left on.

      12. Wiring and Plumbing

      It is desirable to plan the electrical and plumbing system in your house carefully because they are difficult and costly to retrofit. 

      House surrounded by trees

      Photo by I Do Nothing But Love on Unsplash

      By thinking and planning about all these 12 points will give you a great start when planning an energy efficient new home.

      If you already have a home then these points will help you make some subtle changes to your home in key areas.

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