Housing - resources
Photo of Energy Star triple glazed windowPhoto of double wall construction in energy efficient housePhoto of cellulose insulation in double wall with deep window returnsPhoto of solar panels on highly energy efficient house, Wisdom Way Solar Village, Greenfield, MAPhoto of WMECO net electric meterPhoto of Viessmann high efficiency gas boiler and indirect hot water heating systemPhoto of solar cells on house at Wisdom Way Solar Village, Greenfield, MASustenance logo
Photos: (1) High efficiency triple-glazed U 0.18 window (2) Double wall construction to accommodate added insulation (3) Cellulose insulation inside netting in double wall, with deep window returns (4) High efficiency home under construction with addtional insulation and photovoltaic panels, Wisdom Way Solar Village, Greenfield, MA (5) Net electric meter to give homeowner credit for electricity generated by home photovoltaic panels that is linked into the grid (6) High efficiency, gas-fired Viessmann wall mounted boiler, coupled with indirect, boiler-fired hot water heating system (7) High energy efficiency home with solar panels, Wisdom Way Solar Village, Greenfield, MA.
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Organizational resources, national

U.S. Green Building Council -- This national organization advocates for environmentally friendly and energy efficient buildings. The Council adminsters the "LEED" program to certify buildings constructed under rigorous environmental standards, covering water and energy conservation, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved indoor air quality, and other aspects of construction. Their Green Home Guide offers extensive background information on environmentally friendly building materials, as well as tips on how to make a home more energy efficient.

The Rocky Mountain Institute -- This alternative 'think-tank' has for decades been a pioneer in new thinking on energy. Among many other resources and reports, they offer lists of energy-saving steps the homeowner can take, from simple to more complex, at Home Resource Efficiency.

American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. Although the Council is focused on high-level national energy strategy questions, they've also produced and sell a Consumer Guide to Home Energy Saving. For short, free downloads on energy-saving steps you can take, as well as information on ordering their book, go to ACEEE Consumer Resources.

Energy & Environmental Building Alliance. The Alliance does education around environmentally sound and energy efficient construction techniques. It sells guides to such construction for different regions of the country. (See our review of their very good Builder's Guide to Cold Climates, below.)

Passive House Institute US (PHIUS). PHIUS is hoping to bring the European "Passive House" concept to the U.S. This system of super-insulated, super airtight housing reportedly can be heated simply by the heat thrown off by appliances and the body heat of the occupants. One key component is a high-efficiency heat exchanging ventilator system, where warmer exhaust air blown out of the building is passed through colder incoming air in a heat exchanger. The heat exchanger captures much of the building's heat and moisture that would otherwise be lost in the ventilation exhaust air. PHIUS has produced a book on passive houses, Homes for a Changing Climate: Passive Houses in the U.S., with case studies of a number of such houses done here. For a quick visual tour of the concept, they've posted a link to a cross-sectional diagram of a passive house, published by the NY Times (4/30/09). Many of the passive house concepts can be applied to other energy efficient housing types.

One California affordable housing group, the Community Land Trust Association of Western Marin (CLAM) is hoping to build one of the first affordable houses in the U.S. certified as a passive house. Thanks to Marin County affordable housing activist Rae Levine for letting us know of this effort, and for suggesting we give some information about the passive house concept.

Media

EnergyStar.gov . The federal government's Energy Star website has numerous links geared to homeowner's looking to reduce their household energy use. This includes a handy link to explanations of the myriad tax credits now available for home energy efficiency improvements.

BuildingGreen.com . This website is a publication of Environmental Building News and several other green-oriented building publications. It's a source of information on green / energy efficient construction and green building materials, with articles like a "Primer on Tankless Water Heaters." Some articles are only available in full to subscribers.

Journal of Light Construction (JLC). This publication and website focuses on the latest thinking in how to build homes and other smaller buildings. My brother, whose views on construction I deeply respect, as both an architecture school graduate who argued with professors the whole way through about the practical aspects of building construction and maintenance that always seemed to get ignored, and more importantly, as someone who deeply values the upkeep and upgrading of buildings and has spent hundreds of hours doing both over the years, has long recommended this journal to me. The Journal of Light Construction also regularly comes up in discussions at housing and energy conferences where people are discussing both the theory and the practicalities of insulation types and placement, air and thermal barriers, construction methods and the like.

Take a look at David Joyce's very well illustrated and explained, "Retrofitting Exterior Insulation" (Nov. 2009) in the JLC online, and the posted reader comments, for starters. In a few pages it will give you a sense of the value of the JLC and a snapshot of the energy-efficient housing revolution that is gathering momentum across the U.S. --- RP

Home Power. This bimonthly magazine and website is geared towards home renewable energy systems, including solar thermal (hot water and space heating directly from solar panels), photovoltaics ("PV" -- solar panels that convert sunlight to electricity), home wind turbine units, geothermal and other renewable sources. Articles are well-illustrated and show construction detailing, and products are discussed by brand names and models. The latest issue had, for example, an eight page chart comparing photovoltaic panels of various manufacturers.

Books, articles, reports

Fine Homebuilding's Energy-Smart Homes (Winter 2010). This issue of the The Best of Fine Homebuilding is a great quick guide to dozens of home energy efficiency strategies and products, including articles on low-energy lighting, spray foam insulation, energy-efficient windows, lower-pollution, higher efficiency wood stoves, fireplaces and wood furnaces, and more. It's beautifully illustrated, with scores of helpful photos and diagrams. Inspiring photo tours of elegant, energy- efficient homes in different regions of the country top it all off.

Builder’s Guide to Cold Climates – A systems approach to designing and building homes that are safe, healthy, durable, comfortable , energy efficient and environmentally responsible, by Joseph Lstiburek, available through the Energy & Environmental Building Association, www.eeba.org.  This detailed builder’s how-to guide takes us step-by-step through how to achieve tight air seals in our homes, wall, roof and foundation design for energy efficiency and moisture control, insulation techniques and more.  There are literally hundreds of detailed construction diagrams making clear how to accomplish each of these aspects for the energy-efficient design or redesign of your home.  Lstiburek’s book focuses on the essential construction design of the home needed for energy efficiency and durability, and is not a detailed source of information on the alternative energy components some net zero advocates are bringing to bear.  Still, it is a fundamental starting point for any serious student of housing redesign in the northeast and other cold regions.  Highly recommended if you are a builder or a homeowner designing (or redesigning) a home in cold climates.

Green from the Ground Up – Sustainable, Healthy, and Energy-Efficient Home Construction, by David Johnston & Scott Gibson.  A broader overview of the topic, and abundant color photographs in the field, may make this book a little more accessible to the casual reader than Lstiburek’s important work (see above).  There is also a greater focus on “green” alternative construction materials, as well as chapters on solar energy systems and indoor air quality, in Johnston & Gibson’s book.  If you are seriously interested in making your home greener and more energy efficient, then spring for both books if you can.

Plan C -- Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change, by Pat Murphy, chapter 10, "The Energy Impact of Buildings." Pat Murphy may be best known for the documentary film he co-produced, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, a film that describes what Cuba did to survive when their supply of cheap Russian oil was cut off. His book, Plan C, combines a radical critique of our existing fossil-fuel-based society, with specific suggestions on the changes we can and must make in housing retrofits, transportation, food production and other arenas, in order to build a sustainable society. Chapter 10 of the book offers a useful review of energy use in American housing, and why it is so high, as well as an overview of "general retrofit guidelines" outlining how to bring energy use down in our houses. This chapter is not written anywhere near the level of detail of, say, Builder's Guide to Cold Climates, but it is a good quick introduction to energy efficiency strategies for housing.

Page last modified: 2/6/10

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Page last modified: 2/6/10