Wouldn’t it be great if new homes came with stickers on the windows that predicted its energy performance, just like today’s automobiles? This would come in handy, especially in this era of higher fuel costs. Then too, our expectations of comfort have changed drastically in recent years. Today we not only want to be perfectly cozy whether it’s frigid or scorching outside, we want our indoor air to be clean and germ-free, with just a kiss of humidity.
Fortunately all this is achievable in your new log and timber home, provided you create a heating and cooling strategy long before you build, advises experts with the Log and Timber Homes Council.
It’s important to think of your home as a total system. Today’s modern log and timber homes can be built to be super energy efficient. That’s why one has to approach heating and cooling strategy on a whole-home basis. Rather than just cobble together a furnace, water heater and air conditioner after the home is built, one has to plan a comprehensive strategy of how the home will operate if you value your comfort and energy costs.
Start With Where Will You Be Building?
A log and timber home in the Southwest desert will need a far different heating and cooling strategy than one set along the coast of Maine. Is your area prone to power outages, wind or snow storms? Your local climate will influence the design of your heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system.
Simply orientating your home properly on the building site can reduce your energy bill by up to 30 percent, say the experts at the Log and Timber Homes Council, part of the National Association of Home Builders. Although it is best to face windows directly south, it can be oriented up to 30 degrees away from due south and lose only five percent of the energy savings.
Design Do’s & Don’ts
The volume of space can affect your heating needs, as can the number of windows and doors. Cathedral ceilings, in particular, take more energy to heat and cool since it creates more volume.
A home’s biggest culprit in energy loss is the roof. At issue is insulation and how effective it is. Discuss with your log and timber home producer how your roof will be configured, its cost and how it will affect the home’s energy performance.
Your selection in HVAC system will be influence by fuel and its costs. Natural gas is the predominate fuel in the West, fuel oil is common in the Northeast and propane is often used in areas when one can’t easily access either. If you’re building site is located far from the power grid, you’ll likely have to employ alternative technologies, such as wind and solar power.
The Benefits of Thermal Mass
Logs are an excellent insulating material, thanks to thermal mass. Log walls collect and store energy, then radiate it back. One can increase energy efficiency by adding more thermal mass—upgrading the diameter of your logs or installing tile floors in front of south-facing windows. Today’s modern log and timber homes can be built to be 15 to 20 percent more energy efficient than a conventional home.
Choices in Windows
To help keep your home cool in summer and warm in winter, window manufacturers offer “low-e” coatings that block ultraviolet rays. Compare performance with U-value ratings, which range from 1.20 to .20. The lower the number, the better the energy performance. In cold climates, a U-value of .3 to .5 is worth the extra you’ll pay for it.
Recently the Department of Energy (DOE) raised the minimum Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) for central air conditioners and heat pumps by 30 percent, from 10 to 13 SEER. You’ll pay from $400 to $1,200 more for the 13 SEER. However, the good news is it will pay for itself in energy savings in 10 years. Other air conditioning options include ceiling and attic fans, and evaporative coolers (also known as swamp coolers). The latter is only used in low humidity environments.
The Heat Is On
Here’s a rundown on your heating options:
- Forced Air Furnaces: Powered by either propane or natural gas, these units deliver warm air through floor registers. Compare performance with the AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) rating, a yellow tag on the side of the unit. Least efficient 78 AFUE; most efficient 98.6 AFUE. Builders recommend a 90 AFUE or greater. Pro: They are inexpensive and most contractors are familiar with installation. Plus, they can be paired with air cleaning systems, including filters, ultraviolet lights, humidifiers and dehumidifiers, to kill germs and airborne bacteria Con: They’re noisy and offer poor comfort because of temperature variations within the home.
- High Velocity Forced Air: Air delivered to a room enters at a higher velocity (typically 2,000 ft/sec), creating better comfort. Pro: The ultra quiet, two-inch insulated tubes can be installed nearly anywhere. Plus, these systems cost less than conventional forced air. Con: Not all HVAC contractors have experience installing them.
- Radiant Heat: Hot water radiators were the first example of this. But now the concept has been updated to in-floor units, a system that offers unparalleled comfort and energy efficiency. Pro: It minimizes heat loss by keeping heat at floor level. Plus, the boilers can also provide your hot water needs. Con: It’s slow response time for temperature changes make it impractical for infrequently visited vacation homes (which can be mitigated with Internet-enabled controls).
- Geothermal Heat Pumps: Ground-source heat pumps use the earth or groundwater as a heat source in winter and a heat sink in summer. Pro: Energy is inexhaustible and it’s energy efficient. Con: Requires a significant parcel of land for underground excavation.
- Hearth Products: A toasty fire on a winter’s night goes together like butter and popcorn. Pro: Factory made units are certified as clean burning. Plus, a plethora of fuels are available; firewood, natural gas, propane, coal, oil, electricity, corn and wood pellets. Con: Are impractical as a primary heat source.
- Combo Systems: Experts recommend combining two or more systems to provide the ultimate in comfort. Mike at Seven North, for example, often recommends a radiant heat system on the basement level, with a high velocity forced air system for the upper floors, which can deliver both heat and air conditioning for summer months.
Air Quality Control
Since log and timber homes can be super tight, experts recommend a triple approach to maintain healthy indoor air.
1) Air-to-Air Exchangers: These mechanical units, which attach to a forced air system, regulate indoor air quality by drawing in fresh air and ejecting stale air. Plus, they transfer 70 to 80 percent of the heat .
2) Humidifiers: Indoor air humidity in the winter can drop to as low as five percent, drying out your skin, lips and respiratory system not to mention damaging your home. A whole house humidifier is the solution, which range in cost from $400 to $800.
3) Ventilation Fans: Bathrooms equipped with motion activated or humidity sensitive controls exhaust steam from showers and unwelcome odors.
Instant Hot Water
Today’s gas or electric storage tank water heaters are becoming much more energy efficient. Another option can be tankless hot water heaters, which produce hot water on demand. Tankless units are available in propane (LP), natural gas, or electric models. They come in a variety of sizes for different applications, such as a whole-house water heater, a hot water source for a remote bathroom or hot tub.
Light Up For Less
Energy efficient lighting fixtures can now be found at most home centers (look for the Energy Star label). These can significantly save you money in direct lighting costs, as well as in cooling needs in the summer (lighting fixtures produce heat).
If you’re looking to tread super light on the planet with your new home, you have more options than ever. What’s more, many states are offering tax incentives to those who opt for these alternative technologies. They include
- Wind Power: A new generation of wind turbines can allow you to meet most of your electrical needs. Pro: If you’re on the grid, you can sell excess energy back to the power company. Con: Some consider them unsightly, which could be a problem in areas governed by covenants, including resorts or subdivision developments.
- Active Solar PV systems
- Wind Power
- Fuel Cells
Home Energy Costs
Just where does the average $1,400 each homeowner spends on energy go every year? Approximately 45 percent goes to heating and cooling costs; 11 percent for water heater; 10 percent for washer and dryer, seven percent for lighting, six percent for refrigerator, two percent for dishwasher, two percent for computers, two percent for TV/DVD/VCR. The remaining 15 percent can be attributed to appliances that use electricity even when they’re “off.”
When buying an appliance, remember that it has two price tags: what you pay to take it home and what you pay for the energy and water it uses. Everything from refrigerators and computers to freezers and TVs now comes with an energy rating, detailing how much it will cost to operate annually. Energy Star-rated appliances can save you anywhere from 10 to 50 percent on your energy bill.
Home Sense & Science
To create a healthy and comfortable indoor environment is a science. The addition or subtraction of one method can affect the home’s system as a whole—sometimes adversely. Members of the Log and Timber Homes Council can provide an analysis of what’s right for your local climate and give you advice on how to get the most bang for your buck.
Reprinted for the Log Homes Council