The 5 pillars of super-efficient houses

Energy efficiency is becoming a very important topic to be addressed in home building. Here you can find the 5 principles that guide this practice:

  1. Localize your energy source in your house – you normally live one room at a time, so if yo can plan your air conditioning system independently is a good idea.
  2. Insulate your house efficiently – roof areas and cool basements are important area to have a good insulation system for your home to be efficient. Some choices like insulated concrete prefab systems can help you on that.
  3. Design glass and shading for maximum benefit – the location and size of your windows are important factors that can affect your energy efficient proposal. You have to ideally plan the arrangement of all windows before buying them, and also try to work with systems that can help you avoid the inside-outside thermal changes. A good landscape design (considering tree shade positions) is also helpful
  4. Minimize air leakage and control ventilation – a window or door that is not correctly installed can be an important air leakage area that will damage the efficient index of your house. Also it will cost you a lot of money in electrical bills.
  5. Always select high efficiency appliances – more recently a lot of brands are working better with energy efficient devices. We recommend you access the Energy Star website clicking here

Water spending: You probably don’t know the numbers

Water is a big problem in some regions of USA because of a lack of lakes and water treatment related with conservation rules. So it is quite frequent for a lot of houses to have a water well.

Pie chart of our water use

Many people underestimate the amount of water they use. Here you have some interesting numbers related with that:

  1. Dishwasher: can use up to 16 gallons of water per cycle (old models). EnergyStar ® models use 6 gallons or less per wash cycle and also save electricity.
  2. Shower: A low-flow shower-head uses about two gallons a minute, or 20 gallons for a 10-minute shower. A standard shower-head uses 2.5 gallons a minute, or 25 gallons for 10 minutes.
  3. Toilet: water use can vary significantly. Older toilets can use 3.5, 5, or even up to 7 gallons of water with every flush. Federal plumbing standards now specify that new toilets can only use up to 1.6 gallons per flush (GPF), and there are high efficiency toilets that use up to 1.28 GPF.

In Massachusetts the estimated average of water use per person per day is around 75 gallons. For a family of 4 they have to be prepared to use 300 gallons per day of water (if you don’t have a large garden with an irrigation system).

Think about these numbers if you are installing a new well in your house.

Water use and population growth chart
Source: EPA website

3 Easy Ways to Seal Air Leaks

Good insulation is the secret for a comfy house. Remember that the winter is coming again (every year we have it), and if you suffered last year and forgot to revise your insulation remember to check these topics:

Insulate around recess lights

The majority of the recess lights have vents that open into the attic. This represents a direct route for heated or cooled air to escape. Some houses can have more than 50 fixtures like that, and some researchers already pinpointed them as the leading cause of air leaks. Lights labeled ICAT (Insulation Contact and Air Tight) are already sealed – look for the label next to the bulb. If you don’t see it, assume yours leaks. An airtight baffle is a quick, 10-second fix (normally they cost around 10-25 dollars). Remove the bulb, push the baffle up into the housing, then replace the bulb.

Progress Lighting P88-ICAT
Picture of an ICAD recess light

 

Use the Foam in Medium-Size Gaps

Once the biggest attic gaps are fixed, move on to the medium-size ones. Low-expansion polyurethane foam in a can is great for plugging openings 1/4-inch to 3 inches wide, such as those around plumbing pipes and vents. A standard 12-ounce can ($5-6) is good for 250 feet of bead about 1/2-inch thick. The plastic straw applicator seals shut within two hours of the first use, so to get the most mileage out of a can, squirt a lubricant such as WD-40 onto a pipe cleaner and stuff that into the applicator tube between uses.

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Great Stuff ® (is a well-known foam used for sealing

Caulk small gaps

Caulk is the best gap-filler for openings less than 1/4-inch wide. Silicone costs the most ($8-9 a tube depending on the brand) but works better next to nonporous materials, such as metal flashing, or where there are temperature extremes, as in attics. Acrylic latex caulk (around $2 a tube) is less messy to work with and cleans up with water.

If you have some time this weekend and would like to study a little bit more about air sealing we recommend the Department of Energy website (https://www.energy.gov/). They have great information about how to save energy and also you can learn a lot in their SAVE ENERGY, SAVE MONEY section. Enjoy.

Common spots for air leaking in a house

Insulation: controlling your house temperature and your money

Insulation is anything that blocks the movement of heat. Heat flows when molecules with more energy (more heat) bump into molecules with less energy (a colder place has a low movement of the molecules). We have a lot of ways to control this movement, and insulation is the building process that can do that. The simplest way to block heat conduction is the creation of an empty zone that has no matter. Unfortunately it is not possible to create vacuum in your walls. Because of that we have to install some material that will help our goals to block the heat exchange.

SprayFoam photo Wise Home Building
Spray foam application (Photo credit – http://www.techomebuilder.com)

The following are the most common types of materials used for insulation

  1. Batt insulation
    • Fiberglass batts and blankets
    • Rockwool Batts and Blankets
  2. Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)
    • Polystyrene SIPs
    • Polyisocyanurate SIPs
  3. Loose-Fill Insulation
    • Loose-Fill Fiberglass
    • Loose-Fill Cellulose
  4. Spray foam
    1. Open-Cell Polyurethane Spray Foam
    2. Closed-Cell Polyurethane Spray Foam

Take a look at your electric, gas, or oil bills from past years. Thousands of dollars are wasted every single year because homes are not weatherized to today’s building standards.

Properly air sealing and insulating is the most cost-effective home improvement you can make today. Our state has has the Mass Save program, and you and your home energy specialist can determine the most economic solutions. If your house is an old one consider changing the HVAC system if you are planing a renovation. Heat Pumps are among the best in class to help you if your goal is to decrease your bills.

As you can see here, a good advice is the start. Then consider looking at the internet the educational materials available. If you have some doubts, contact us for more specific details. Have a nice weekend

 

 

Propane or Natural Gas: what is the best option for my home?

Most people don’t understand the differences between natural gas and propane when thinking about energy source for a house. We will explain here the main concepts of both products.

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Photo source: https://www.rsandrews.com

Natural Gas

Natural gas occurs deep beneath the earth’s surface, and consists mainly of methane, a compound with one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. Natural gas also contains small amounts of other hydrocarbon and non-hydrocarbon gases, and today is one of the most clean sources of energy. Geologists who study the structure and processes of the earth are the ones that helps companies to locate the place on earth to find the rocks that are likely to contain natural gas deposits (some areas are on land and some are offshore and deep under the ocean floor). If a site seems promising, an exploratory well is drilled and tested. Once a formation is proven to be economic for production, one or more production (or development) wells are drilled down into the formation, and natural gas flows up through the wells to the surface. In the United States and a few other countries, natural gas is produced directly from shale and other types of rock formations that contain natural gas in pores within the rock. The rock formation is fractured by forcing water, chemicals, and sand down a well. This releases the natural gas from the rock, and the natural gas flows up the well to the surface. Wells drilled to produce oil may also produce associated natural gas.

Natural gas reach your house by a complex pipeline system, with different pressurization areas – you can read more about that clicking here. It is a cheap option compared with oil and electrical sources of energy.

Propane

Propane is a three-carbon alkane with the molecular formula C3H8. It is a gas at standard temperature and pressure, but compressible to a transportable liquid. A by-product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining, it is commonly used as a fuel. Propane is one of a group of liquefied petroleum gases (LP gases). The others include butane, propylene, butadiene, butylene, isobutylene, and mixtures thereof.

To use propane as your source of energy for your house you need a tank and an agreement with a company that will provide you the gas whenever is needed (some companies also provide a rental service).

Propane vs. natural gas BTU comparison

Propane contains more than twice the energy of natural gas – one cubic foot of propane = 2,516 BTUs (British Thermal Units), while one cubic foot of natural gas = 1,030 BTUs,.

Propane is much more efficient than natural gas. Just as an example, in one hour a 100,000 BTU natural gas furnace burns around 97 cubic feet, while a propane furnace burns only 40 cubic feet.

Propane vs. natural gas cost comparison

Most of New England’s gas is piped via New York from points south and west through a limited number of pipelines. The transport system is not built up to meet consumption levels in New England. The constraints are now becoming evident, particularly in the high-use winter season. On cold days, the “spot”, or daily market price, can go through the roof: on some days over the past few winters, it was twice as high in Boston as in New York.

You have to do some math if you want to find out what is the best option for your house. If the natural gas cost is $15.00 per 1,000 cubic feet, for example, the same $15.00 will purchase around one million BTUs. This is the equivalent of slightly over 11.20 gallons of propane. If propane costs $2.50 per gallon, in this example, natural gas is the cheaper alternative.

The difference between natural gas and propane

While they are similar in many aspects, natural gas and propane also have differences. Although propane is a fossil fuel, it’s a hydrocarbon and over 95 percent of the propane used in the US is produced in North America. Like oil and coal, natural gas also is a fossil fuel. Natural gas was created millions of years ago from ancient plants and animal matter which decayed under the pressure and heat underground on planet Earth. Natural gas is known as a “clean energy alternative,” since it’s clean-burning, producing less harmful emissions than other fossil fuels (oil and coal).

Although natural gas is a greenhouse gas when released into our environment, propane is not on the same level, as it has no toxicity to harm the environment. That’s why propane may be the better choice if you value “green fuel” more than greenhouse gases. Propane also is called “liquefied petroleum gas,” or LP gas for short, like natural gas, it’s odorless so processing adds an odor so people can detect its presence.

How to calculate the energy you need

You can work together with your engineer, but you can also finds some valuable information at the internet. The residential energy calculator in this website is a very good place to check it. You can use this calculator to compare natural gas versus other fuels and discover the environmental advantages of using natural gas in your home.

Remember to check your appliances

When planing for your final home setting remember the type of energy you will choose.  Appliances can work on either natural gas or propane, but the two are not interchangeable; each fuel source requires special gas utilization fittings. If you want to switch between the two, you’ll need a conversion kit for the appliances’ manufacturer for the installation process. For electric appliances like heaters, ovens or water heaters, there isn’t a conversion process; you’ll need to replace the appliance with one specifically made for natural gas or propane.

Air leaking can cost you a lot of money

“The devil is in the details”. Probably you listen this phrase before, don’t you? In in home construction it is not different: some details during the building can cost homeowners a lot of money in the future.

SprayFoam photo2 Wise Home Building
Spray foam insulation after installation

Insulation is one of the most important topics when you are planing your house building. We have clear rules dictated by the codes in place, but you also have to decide among a lot of options that contractors present you: fiberglass batts and blankets, cotton batts, rockwool batts and blankets, blown-in cellulose, open and closed cell spray foam, among others (you can find a list of different types of insulation clicking here).

Despite the importance of the R-values to pass the inspection, also you have to remember that air leaks are very important for your to have an energy efficient house. Air leaking into your attic, for example, could be costing you money—from 15 – 20% of a home’s heating and cooling energy is lost due to air leaks normally. A single 2″ hole can draft expensive heated air into your attic and suck cold air in around your windows and doors. And you don’t want to waste lots of money just because of that, do you?

Thinking of your ceiling as a solid surfaces is a big mistake: the truth is that ceiling leaks air into unfinished attic spaces through a lot of gaps and openings:

  • ceiling panels
  • pipes
  • chimneys
  • electrical wiring
  • heating and air conditioning ducts
  • access hatch

Air leaks have a chimney-like effect on the insulation of houses. When leaks exist in the attic, warm air from the living areas is funneled upward and out through the roof. As this upward suction occurs, cold air that enters the house – through leaks in the basement, for example – is funneled through the ground floor into the living quarters.

To avoid this air leak you need a caulk, tape or a spray foam (a lot of brands are there in the market). You have to seal all possible spaces that can leak air from your main living area to your attic. It is a time consuming process but not an impossible work for you. If you prefer, hire a specialized contractor to help you on that (at least to test if your house is leaking air to your attic).

The EnergyStar.gov website has a lot of good information that can help you decide if you need to improve your insulation to save money in electrical bills. It will also help our environment.

 

5 Creative Ideas to Increase your Home Value

  1. Automated blinds: this is not only luxury – installing smart blinds represents one of the most economical options to save energy. You can also set a timer remotely, and also synchronize them with your HVAC system to have the best energy efficient system (and decrease your monthly bill).

    MySmartBlind Wise Home Building blog
    MySmartBlind® mobile access
  2. Front door smart locks: many people are impressed by advertisements of having your child opening the front door using his mobile phone, miles away from your house, when you forget them in any other place and can’t find it. You have some cheap options to choose, and of course other complex and more expensive systems that are also integrated with life cameras.

    Nest® offers this type of smart lock
  3. Sprinkler system for lawn irrigation: it is a difficult decision to make when you are working with your landscape, I have to admit. Normally the landscape is the last phase of a building process (in new homes), and during that time you already spend more than you expected. So…you will think that a sprinkler will be a waste of money. Until you have the first or second dry summer, and your grass was gone. Plan to have a good system installed in your house – it will also help you a lot to increase your home price when you sell it.

    Image result for sprinkler
    Photo credit: https://www.directenergy.com
  4. Home security system: one of the fastest-growing section in this area. The majority of the systems we have in the market now are connected with mobile phones, and you can find affordable prices even for more sophisticated and advanced systems. In big cities – specifically in some neighborhoods – they are considered a must-have (even if it’s only to see if your Amazon delivery arrived safely)

    SimplySafe Wise Home Building
    SimpliSafe® have affordable options of hardware and monthly plans
  5. Smart home hub: this is a must-have if you are planing to increase the value of your house to attract millennial and gen-Z buyers. A hub works like the brain of your house: it connects all different devices (thermostats, alarms, appliances, sound systems, windows, among others). A tech-savvy buyer will be specially impressed if you have your house in the market and can provide this system as a plus in your listing.

    Smart home hubs guide – what’s the deal?
    Wink® is one of the options for your smart hub