• Air-sealing systems like this one from Owens Corning are invaluable for reducing infiltration and helping to cut down on utility bills, speakers at a recent International Builders' Show session said.

    Air-sealing systems like this one from Owens Corning are invaluable for reducing infiltration and helping to cut down on utility bills, speakers at a recent International Builders' Show session said.


Think building an energy-efficient home requires a higher budget? Not necessarily, according to panelists at a recent International Builders’ Show session, who told attendees that better-performing houses can actually improve a builder’s bottom line.

Energy-conscious construction doesn’t need to break the bank and many builders can make a significant dent in their homes’ performance by going back to basics rather than focusing on maxing out whiz-bang gadgetry, Ed Hauck of Builder Partnerships in Littleton, Colo., told the audience of “Building an Energy Efficient Home on a Budget” at the Las Vegas event today. What’s more, builders can capitalize on energy efficiency features to better market their homes to grow their bottom line, said co-panelist Vernon McKown of Ideal Homes in Norman, Okla. Hauck and McKown were joined by Michael Gestwick of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Speaking from a builder’s perspective, Hauck, who specializes in cost-effective homes, recommended a number of basic strategies. “Go back to design basics,” he said. Creating a cost-effective box at the start can allow a builder to invest more of the budget into energy-efficiency measures. Before beginning a project, calculate the target square footage to remain profitable, and keep this size in mind as you progress through a project.

Be detailed in your specifications. “I tell my architects what products I want in the house,” Hauck says. “If you let someone else start specifying what you’re putting in a house, they’re spending your money for you and that’s not necessarily a good thing.” Other cost-based strategies recommended by Hauck include:
- Know the costs of the materials you are specifying and include a list of products.
- Build over a garage when possible. “The space over your garage is usually one-third the cost of other spaces so if you maximize your footprint there, you’ll get a more cost-effective house,” Hauck told attendees.
- Replace operable windows in foyers and open areas with fixed glass to reduce air leakage.
- Consider using single-hung windows instead of double-hung. “We thought we had an up-sale with double-hung windows, but most people didn’t care about it,” Hauck explained. “In trying to get the energy ratings lower, we found single-hung windows to be more efficient.”
- Watch your overall percentage of glazing on exterior walls. Think about how heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer will affect energy loads, and question whether a big bank of windows can be redesigned to reduce loads. Consider whether or not people will be put curtains on a window span, such as a large-scale window wall surrounding a front entryway.

Identifying specific design details to consider as a means of easily improving energy efficiency, Hauck suggested the following:
- Use manufacturer specifications to write your scope of work. In comparing in-field practices against manufacturer-recommended procedures for high-performance equipment, Hauck found that little details were missing that in turn made a big difference on efficiency.
- Seal your ducts, don’t duct tape them. Over time, duct tape deteriorates and sealing rather than taping doesn’t necessarily take more installation time—it just takes education, Hauck said. And doing so can reduce duct leakage by up to 40 percent.
- Put continuous insulation on exterior walls and caulk-seal all exterior plates.
- Insulate behind bathtubs to stop air infiltration. This may be required by code, but ensure that you are executing it properly.
- Check the firebox. Many people don’t insulate a fireplace box properly and then think the fireplace is leaky, Hauck said, but it is usually the box that is the problem.
- Use a low-expanding foam around windows instead of insulation.
- Make sure framed wall cavities are enclosed on all six sides to prevent air from flowing through the cavity.
- Caulk all penetrations to avoid air leakage. “You can’t believe how many penetrations you have,” Hauck said. Even if you think you are doing a good job, walk through a building and check.