A high-performance car is built with a strong motor and a braking, steering and suspension system to handle the horsepower. Similarly, a high-performance home is designed and built so that the HVAC system is properly sized for the living space, fresh-air ventilation is used to counter air tightness and improve indoor air quality (IAQ) and the building envelope is designed to reduce the chance of mold growth.
While many attributes of a high-performance home are aimed at reducing energy costs, these homes also provide a superior living environment and make for a sound investment. Homeowners, builders and remodelers who set their sights on a high-performance home aren't just reducing greenhouse gases, promoting energy independence and creating jobs—they're creating more comfortable, durable and healthy homes.
Homebuilders and remodelers are in a win-win position thanks to government energy-efficiency incentives. By encouraging home buyers to invest in energy-efficient improvements, builders also position their companies as progressive, high-quality builders. Remodelers who can explain and help homeowners cash in on incentives become a valuable ally to their customers and can attract more business and larger projects. And by being able to communicate the benefits of a high-performance home to potential customers, builders and remodelers can gain a significant advantage over their local, traditionally minded competition.
Here are some of the technologies and energy-efficient improvements that builders and remodelers can encourage:
Building-envelope improvements. The building envelope is a continuous barrier built around, under and above the living space of a home. The "tighter," or more complete, the building envelope, the less likely water will be able to get into the walls and damage the structure or cause mold growth. Understanding how to properly install a successful building envelope requires training and attention to detail during construction, but the rewards to the occupant are many. A well-sealed building envelope can reduce the risk of pest invasion, mitigate radon and carbon monoxide and make a home more durable in wet, humid and cold climates.
The overall durability of a home, from structural integrity in the framing to the strength of the foundation, relies on a well designed and properly installed building envelope to prevent moisture intrusion.
Homes with attached garages require special attention to make sure car exhaust can't pass into the house. Likewise, gas-powered furnaces need to be properly vented and contained outside the living space. The building envelope is the primary barrier between these potentially poisonous fumes and the indoor air, which is why many rebate and loan programs specifically identify the building envelope as a critical part of home improvements.
Foam insulation. Builders and home buyers are generally correct when they think insulation is all about energy efficiency, but not all insulations are created equal. Spray-foam insulations can help increase structural integrity in hurricane-prone areas and provide significant R-value to areas where regular fiberglass insulation is difficult to install. Foam-board sheathing is also an excellent insulator and can be used outside the foundation walls of a basement or on the inside walls of a crawl space. Because foam board is also a vapor barrier, if it's installed snuggly with joints properly taped and caulked, it can work well on interior walls as well.
But insulation shouldn't be considered only for walls. Insulated ducts greatly reduce heat loss and can help reduce the size of the HVAC equipment needed for the home, which can save the customer money during construction or retrofit. Insulating hot-water lines helps with efficiency and also means hot water gets to the tap faster. Properly placed and installed insulation almost always cuts down on waste, improves comfort and qualifies the homeowner for significant energy-efficiency rebates.
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