30 misconceptions about home BUilding and energy improvements

Home building is littered with misconceptions and pitfalls. Be aware of fanciful dreams about new homes and home improvements. If you are going to build a new home, you have a once in a lifetime opportunity to create an extremely comfortable, durable and low-energy home.

1 Misconception 1: Saving Money in The Short Term

You may save money by keeping the size of your house modest, and by refusing the details of opulent construction, but do not try to save money with what’s critical for energy efficiency: 1) very high insulation levels, 2) air-tight construction, 3) high-performance doors and windows, 4) alternatives to air conditioning and central heating, 5) low-energy lighting and appliances, 6) a good landscaping… You will end up paying many thousands of dollars more, in the medium and long run.

2 Misconception 2: Large Homes Are Great

The greenest and most efficient homes are small or modest sized. Keep the size of your new home modest. You don’t need a large home to be happy.

There is no easier way to squander money and energy than to build a large home.

See: Home Size

3 Misconception 3: Fanciful Home Shapes and Luxury

Be aware to large homes with complex construction details (rooflines, dormers, skylights...) and luxury features. Be aware to large glazing surfaces, very high ceiling heights and other fancy features.

Prefer a simple building shell. Consider carefully the layout and the shape of your house, and its orientation to the sun, breezes and winds…

See: Home orientation, Shape and Siting

4 Misconception 4: Fanciful Design

Be cautions with designers’ and builders’ proposals, and features like «walls made predominantly of glass to allow natural light in».

Design matters, but not in its most popular forms. Things that count most - such as the size and number of windows in each side of the house - are often forgotten.

5 Misconception 5: Builders and Designers are All Alike

Many builders and designers aren't familiar and informed with the best low-energy home practices and options. Be aware.

Most of them follow habits, trends and practices that are not the best ones – even if they meet the requirements of the building codes. Building codes are still failing to provide guidance on energy efficient buildings.

Inform yourself on the process of green and energy-efficient construction, and choose well-informed partners.

6 Misconception 6: Landscaping is For Good Looks and Privacy

The landscape around your house is not just about good looks and privacy; it has a great impact on your comfort and energy bills. 

See: Landscaping for Energy Savings

7 Misconception 7: Ignoring the Wind, the Sun and Breezes

Pay attention to home siting. In a cold or moderate climate, the site should provide direct sunlight and protection from freezing winds, while in a hot climate you should look for a site able to provide shade and sun protection.

Trees and hedges can provide shade but also protection from winds, or drive cooling breezes towards your home, or block street noise.

Do not compromise on these basic principles.

Home orientation, Shape and Siting
Landscaping for Energy Savings

8 Misconception 8: High Tech Homes

Not all “smart” homes are really smart. Many high-tech approaches are poor choices from an energy-savings standpoint; they can be expensive and steal money from more useful features.

Take the example of central lighting systems; they are no more a luxury, but they only make sense in very large homes with complex lighting designs – which is a poor choice for energy savings.

9 Misconception 9: Central Heating Is The Best Choice

Low-energy homes are able to reduce heat loss to the minimum. And because of it, they do not need significant amounts of heat to be comfortable, even in the coldest climates. In other words: they do not need central heating…

Central heating is expensive and a poor choice for energy efficiency. If you do need a central heating system, consider a simple one, with a short duct system located within the thermal envelope of the house.

See: Heating for New Homes

10 Misconception 10: Air Conditioners are Indispensable

Airtightness, insulation, proper glazing, shade, natural ventilation and a good home-siting can sharply reduce the needs of air conditioning, or replace it entirely.

Do not undervalue the importance of design, airtightness or natural cooling.

Natural Cooling Guide
Air Conditioners Guide

11 Misconception 11: There is Little Difference Between Old and New Appliances

New high-performance refrigerators and freezers can cut refrigeration costs by as much as 50%.  And the same is true for most other appliances.

Take it into consideration. Home appliances and electronics contribute to about 40-50% of the average household electricity consumption.  

See: Residential Appliances Efficiency Guide

12 Misconception 12: Home Electronics Consume Little Energy

Yes, it's true: most home electronics aren't energy-intensive... But their large number makes them responsible for about 10-15% of the average household electric bills – a figure that can be reduced by using some simple tips.

See: Home Electronics Efficiency

13 Misconception 13: Beautiful Large Windows

Be aware with windows. Do not oversize. We all need the sunlight, the fresh air and the views that residential windows provide. But that comes at a high price: windows are also a major source of home energy loss, unwanted heat gains, air leakage and glare.

Windows Energy Improvement Guide

14 Misconception 14: Hydronic Heating is Better Than Forced Air Systems

Many people love hot-water space heating and dislike furnaces and forced-air heating systems.

But hydronic systems are not necessarily better than other central heating systems, from an energy or comfort standpoint. Systems like radiant floor heating only make sense in homes with low or moderate levels of insulation and air sealing – that is, in low energy-efficient homes. It's easy to spend too much for too little results…

Boilers And Hydronic Systems
Furnaces Efficiency
Small Heaters Guide
Heat Pumps Guide

15 Misconception 15: Residential Geothermal Heat Pumps

Residential geothermal heat pumps can be a good choice for cold climates, in large buildings with high heating and cooling consumption, but they do not make sense in super-insulated and air-tight homes.

They are too expensive to install, and designed to provide large amounts of power, which is in contradiction with the energy-savings approach.

See: Geothermal Heat Pumps

16 Misconception 16: Photovoltaic Systems Are Always Advantageous

Solar photovoltaic (PV) are great in low-energy homes. In other cases they can be too expensive and will only meet a small part of the home’s electricity consumption.

See: Photovoltaic Systems

17Misconception 17: Duct Systems

Avoid central heating and cooling systems; consider ductless systems.

If you do need a ducted system, the ducts should be as straight and as concentrated and short as possible. Also prefer round, rigid metal ductwork; and install them in the conditioned space.

See: Ducts Guide for Efficiency

18 Misconception 18: Wall Insulation Matters Little

Walls can be as important as the attic, the roof and the windows. Walls need insulation. Without it, the heat will flow to the outside through the materials they are made from. Wood, steel, concrete and other construction materials do not impede heat flow. 

See: Low energy Walls

19 Misconception 19: Lighting is Inexpensive and Non-Polluting

Lighting is a lot more expensive and indirectly more polluting than many people realize. Be careful with your home's lighting design and the number of lights.

Do not leave the lights on longer than necessary. Consider using light controls. See if you have fixtures providing more light than you need, and if you can install new efficient lamps (LEDs, fluorescent lights) with a smaller wattage. This strategy is especially valid for lights that are left on for large periods.

See: Lighting Improvement Guide

20 Misconception 20: Floor Insulation

Most homeowners and builders do not recognize the importance of floors for energy efficiency, and they end up with homes that are expensive to heat and cool.

Floor & Energy Improvements

21 Misconception 21: Non Reflective Roofs and Attics

The major function of roofs, besides keeping the water out, is to keep the heat out of our homes during the summer. That’s important to reduce air conditioning costs.

Hence the importance of using reflective roofing materials.

See: Roof Guide

22 Misconception 22: Attic Ventilation Fans

Roof ventilation can help keep attic temperatures lower. Just do not overestimate its importance, and do not increase ventilation beyond the necessary. And be cautious with attic ventilation fans; they can be very ineffective.

See: Attic fans

23 Misconception 23: Radiant Heating is the Best

Strong arguments are often made about the advantages of radiant floor heating. But radiant floor heating may not be a wise choice for low-energy homes and energy savings.

See: Radiant Floor Heating Efficiency

24 Misconception 24: Traditional Skylights

Skylights can be great for lighting, and for views and natural ventilation. But do not forget their possible downsides: they can cause serious problems of glare and ultraviolet radiation, and overheating and huge heat loss (in cold climates).

Skylights Energy Guide

25 Misconception 25: Patio Doors and Large Glazing Surfaces

Patio glass doors and large glazing surfaces are affordable and may look nice, but that comes at a high cost. They are a major source of heat loss and gains.

Glass can't ever be a good insulator, and a door based on it will never be a good choice for energy savings.

Patio Doors Energy Performance
Exterior Doors Basics

26 Misconception 26: Fireplaces and Heating Stoves Are Great

Don’t let yourself be fooled by the romantic or aesthetic appeal of traditional fireplaces.

Be cautious about wood and other biomass heating stoves. Most of them are energy wasters, as unsafe and as unhealthy as traditional fireplaces. They have a greater heat output than fireplaces, but they are pollutant and inefficient. 

Fireplaces and Stoves Energy Performance

27 Misconception 27: Foundation Design

Many basements and crawlspaces are a source of problems. If you are building a new home, consider another type of foundation in soils with poor drainage and high water tables, or in areas that have a high risk of flooding. And avoid crawlspaces; they are too prone to problems.

See: Basements and Energy Improvements

28 Misconception 28: Low–Voltage Lights Provide Low Energy Consumption

Outdoor lighting can be costly, energy-inefficient and pollutant. And the idea that high levels of night lighting provide more safety and security is false. Do not forget that more light also provides more exposure to the eyes of strangers.

Low-voltage outdoor lighting uses 12 volt instead of the common household 110/120 volts. But be aware; low-voltage doesn't mean low energy consumption.

Outdoor Lighting

29 Misconception 29: Yard and Garden Machines Haven’t to Be Very Efficient

A single gas-powered leaf blower can consume as much energy and emit as much pollution in one hour as dozens of cars operating for the same period of time; and gas mowers are responsible for about 5% of the world’s pollution…

Garden and Yard Equipment 

30 Misconception 30: It’s Very Difficult to Reduce the Energy Consumption of Residential Pools

Typical residential pools are energy wasters.

Many swimming pool owners keep their pool pumps running 24 hours per day, which goes far beyond the pool's filtering needs or the mixing of chemical cleaning products.

Swimming Pools Energy Improvements

See also:
20 Commandments for Energy Improvements
The Golden Rule of Energy Improvement
Design, Architecture & Home Construction
Working and finding construction professionals
First Priorities When Building a New Home or Making a Big Renovation




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