7 Ways Custom House Plans Can Minimize Your Environmental Impact
- Efficiency lighting.
- Small(er) refrigerator.
- Induction range.
- LED TVs.
- Large(r) washer and dryer.
- Quality insulation, windows and siding.
- Air source heat pump system (in South Carolina).
Want to help reduce our environmental impact as humans? Guess what – you don’t have to go anywhere to do it. The difference you make starts right at home.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), energy use is the dominant contributor to most environmental impacts of single-family homes, with “electric services (utilities) typically contributing the highest percentage” of the impact.
So, if you want to make a difference, work with a home builder to create a custom home plan designed for energy efficiency … and focus especially on reducing how much electricity you use (as well as other resources).
Here are seven ways to do that.
1. Efficiency lighting.
This first one is easy. Just install LED (light emitting diode) bulbs to cut your wattage to at least a third, at most one thirtieth of what it would be with incandescent bulbs. It helps to prep for this in your custom home plan, because you can’t always find LED bulbs that fit a standard socket.
For standard sockets, you can at least use CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs. Here are the differences:
These cost more, but it’s a great investment because LED bulbs last up to 40 times longer than incandescent bulbs. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that 40 times more bulbs than necessary going into the garbage each year is bad for the sustainability of our landfills.
Unfortunately, you can’t always find LED bulbs that fit the socket. So, a runner-up to LED lights for efficiency is the CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulb. These fit almost anywhere incandescent light bulbs do. And they still use 50 – 80% less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescents.
More on LED vs. CFL here.
2. Small(er) refrigerator.
If your dream for your custom home includes a massive 31 or 32 cu. ft. fridge that you could feed an army out of, you do you. Just be aware that if you also value energy efficiency, you’ll need to make it up elsewhere. Here are a few important fridge facts:
- The most energy-efficient models stand at about 16-20 cubic feet.
- Top-freezer refrigerators tend to be the most energy efficient.
- Replace your fridge after 10 years.
- To be even more environmentally friendly, recycle your old fridge by asking an appliance retailer to come pick it up.
3. Induction range.
Let’s say you only have two options for your stove as you put hookups in your custom house plan: gas or electric. At first glance, it might seem electricity is the better choice. Isn’t it cleaner than carbon emissions caused by fracking for natural gas?
Then again, consider that it takes about three times more energy to cook on an electric range than with natural gas. And that extra energy to heat up a cooking surface traces back to coal-burning power plants.
So, you might as well reduce your cooking time with gas … if those are the only options.
But there is a third option: an electric stove with an induction range. Induction cooktops transfer electromagnetic currents directly from the surface to your pots and pans, as long as they have some iron content. You can boil water up to 50 percent faster than with gas or electric.
This is how to get the best of both worlds. Electricity is arguably better for the environment than gas in general, but only if used efficiently. Induction on top solves that problem nicely.
4. LED TVs.
Your custom house plan will likely include an area where the family can watch a nice, modern flatscreen TV. But what size? Will you mount or keep it on a base? And most importantly to the environment, what kind?
Like stoves, there is a dizzying number of TV model options out there. But not all are made equal in terms of environmental impact.
Speaking of gas, that’s basically what plasma is: ionized gas. The screens in plasma TVs are basically made of tiny CFL bulbs that can be lit up to produce the picture. These have the highest energy consumption.
Liquid crystal display (LCD) TV screens are similar to plasma, in that they are made up of millions of pixels lit up to produce the picture. But they don’t generate light so much as filter the white backlight source to create an image. That requires less energy than plasma, but still 50-70 percent more than an old cathode-ray rube TV.
The difference between LCD and LED is the light source. As explained above, more efficient lighting means less energy output. These use slightly less energy than regular LCD TVs.
5. Large(r) washer and dryer.
You might think the larger a washer and dryer set, the more energy it needs to run. Actually, a larger capacity lets you get more laundry done in less time. That means less energy used.
Washers and dryers with the Energy Star designation tend to have other energy- and water-saving features.
- Efficient dryers have moisture sensors that stop the machine when the clothes are dry.
- Washers also save water with load-sensing adaptive fill (limiting water usage) and longer agitation strokes (more turning over means less water needed to clean clothes).
6. Quality insulation, windows and siding.
Making sure the structure of your home is efficient is an important part of creating your custom house plan. An inefficient home is an energy guzzler, which puts stress on the environment and your bank account.
This all comes down to R-values, the measure of a home’s ability to resist heat traveling through it. In our part of the country, South Carolina’s Lowcountry, we work to meet the Zone 3 standards for attic, exterior walls and floors. There’s a range. The higher the R-value, the better, to a point.
Efficient windows and skylights with the Energy Star designation can lower your energy bills by an average of 12 percent nationwide. Instead of R-values, efficiency for windows is measured by the U-factor. In this case, the lower the U-factor, the better.
Like insulation, siding is also measured by R-factor. Any option by itself is fairly low (under R1 when insulation is typically R25+). Insulation is a far more important factor in efficiency. The siding just has to be durable enough to keep your exterior walls intact.
7. Air source heat pump system (in South Carolina).
Once you’ve properly planned to prevent heat loss, you can choose your efficient heating and cooling system. Most homes throughout the country are heated with a central furnace powered by electricity or gas and cooled either by a central air unit or window unit.
A more environmentally-friendly option is to include a geothermal heating and cooling pump in your custom house plan. These efficiently pull relatively warmer or cooler air from about 4’ to 6’ below the surface, where it is stored at a pretty constant rate year-round regardless of the air temperature above.
Alternatively, temperate climates like we have here in the Hilton Head Island, Okatie and Bluffton areas are ideal for less-expensive air-source heat pumps. These move heat out from the indoors in the summer, and “scavenge” heat from the outside air in the winter months.
While air-source heat pumps tend to be inefficient in very hot or very cold climates, the Lowcountry climate is ideal for them.
A CUSTOM HOME IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO REDUCE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
From lighting to appliances, structural insulation and a smart heat source, new homes can be among the most important factors in softening our human environmental impact.
If this is important to you as you begin your process of building your custom home, let us know. We want to take every aspect of your dream home into consideration here at ALS Construction.
And that dream may have just as much to do with the house as it does the world in which it’s built.
Contact us today to talk about how your new custom home can contribute to a greener world.