When it comes to constructing your dream home, there’s a lot to consider. You have the curb appeal factor, the functionality of the house, and the list of all the must-haves (huge walk-in closets, anyone?). However, most buyers and builders are looking beyond aesthetics and into something more quantifiable.
Energy efficiency isn’t just a buzzword. It’s something that can not only decrease the costs associated with energy bills and maintenance, but it can also increase your property value. While the thought of selling the home you’re currently building may seem too future-focused, it’s important to consider property value. Why?
Your home should be your haven and a place you’re proud to show off to friends and family. Ultimately though, a home is an investment, and whether you sell one day or not, increasing the property value of your home is a smart move.
Let’s break down five innovative materials that lower your home’s energy bills and increase property value. We’re skipping the fluff and diving deep into advanced materials and techniques here. So, buckle up and get ready to decrease costs and increase that property value!
Material #1: ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms)
ICFs (or insulated concrete forms) are premade, foam-insulated, interlocking blocks that are connected via a plastic framework. ICF blocks are filled with poured concrete, which creates solid, seamless concrete walls. The sheets are insulated on both the outside and inside, providing unparalleled home insulation. In fact, ICF construction creates a natural air barrier, so no extra insulation is needed.
Because the blocks fit together perfectly, very little air can seep in. Pretty cool, right? ICFs also squash the conversation on wood vs metal studs. For over a century, builders have been forced to choose between metal or wood studs, and while they both have their benefits, they also have significant downfalls.
Metal studs are hazardous, hard to source, buckle in high temperatures, and are duds when it comes to energy efficiency. Wood studs have some obvious downfalls. Constructing wood stud buildings that can combat fire, moisture, termites, and meet insulation standards is nearly impossible. Also, they reduce the energy efficiency of a home. So, wood vs metal studs? Neither. ICFs remove the need for both. As a bonus, ICF homes are more durable, disaster and pest resistant than both metal and wood-framed structures.
Material #2: Air Barriers
When talking about home construction, any skilled builder will tell you that both vapor barriers and air barriers are essential for high-efficiency buildings. It’s easy to get them confused, because both contribute to the prevention of water vapor penetration. However, air barriers, unlike vapor barriers, also protect the home from air leakage.
Why does this matter? Air leakage is not only bad for efficiency, but it can cause a lot of other issues. It can increase cooling and heating costs, allow debris and pollutants to get into your walls, permit moisture damage, and create entryways for rodents and pests. Air barriers regulate indoor temperatures and protect the integrity of a home by prohibiting the transfer of air and water from the outside world.
Air barriers aren’t something you can just buy from the store, though. It’s something that’s done during the initial construction process. Air barriers can be sourced from multiple materials. Builders use everything from sheet polyethylene, to spray foam, to properly sealed plywood.
The purpose of air barriers is to resist air pressure, so rigid materials like gypsum board are often used. Though flexible barriers, like house wraps, are also an option if seams and joints are properly sealed. Overall, you’ll just want to make sure your dream home has both barriers to maximize your energy efficiency.
Material #3: Windows
You can’t discuss property value and decreasing energy bills without discussing windows. From window types to placement, installation and more, windows are an essential part of the energy-conscious consumer’s mind.
From an aesthetic perspective, you have to decide what you like. There are large windows that capitalize on view and sunlight. There are windows that offer natural ventilation. There are windows that open from the side, the top, or they push out or push up. Clearly, there’s a window type to fit every preference.
When it comes to energy efficiency, though, there are several things to keep in mind. You’ll want to make sure to go with windows that are double or triple-paned. Consumers can expect to save anywhere from $101-$583 per year just by replacing single-pane windows with double-paned windows. The extra panes protect from heat and cold and improve overall insulation. As an added tip, make sure your windows have the Energy Star label. Energy Star is a government program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When a product has an Energy Star label it means that the product meets certain energy-efficient guidelines, including that the product must contribute to energy savings.
Additionally, windows need to be installed, sealed, and glazed correctly to be effective at keeping the outdoors outside. Any cracks in the frame can dramatically decrease efficiency. On the topic of frames, did you know that more heat travels through the frame than it does through the glass? So, smaller frames reduce the propensity for heat to flow into the home. Also, big windows with a large frame to glass ratio tend to be more efficient for that reason.
When designing the layout of your dream home, think about window placement. You can strategically place windows in locations where they’ll let in cool air and allow for natural lighting. You can also reduce the number of windows to maximize efficiency. Window amount matters, because windows lose heat around seven times as fast as walls do. So, the fewer windows, the less heat you’ll lose in the colder months.
Material #4: Spray Foam Insulation
Spray foam insulation is a great material for increasing energy efficiency. Spray foam insulation reduces air leakage better than any other insulation material by sealing floors, walls, and ceilings. Spray foam never loses its shape and can fit into all the weirdly shaped crevices in homes and doesn’t settle like blanket or batt insulation.
It can optimize the efficiency of your HVAC system and help to maintain steady temperatures throughout the entire house. It does this by creating an air seal in your home and blocking the flow of heat from inside and outside the house. It’s been shown to cut as much as 40 percent of cooling and heating bills. It serves as both insulation and an air barrier. You can even use spray foam on your roof to create a “cool roof.”
Cool roofs are designed to reflect sunlight rather than absorbing it, thereby allowing heat to escape. All in all, spray foam insulation is a versatile material that can dramatically improve energy efficiency and decrease the cost to heat and cool your home.
Material #5: Outdoor Solutions
On the topic of roofs, many people are turning to solar panels to decrease energy costs and increase property value. While the market in Texas hasn’t quite taken off yet, there are many benefits to going solar. On average, a homeowner in Texas can expect to save around $1,096.37 per year on energy costs, and with the high amounts of sun, PV systems are highly-effective here.
There are many other additions to the outside of the house to consider. For instance, what dream home would be complete without a porch? Most porches and patios are built with wood paneling, which can result in a lot of issues. However, a fiber cement beadboard porch ceiling looks exactly like wood, without the problems. It can endure unfavorable weather conditions, and is resistant to insects, warping, and rotting — saving you money on maintenance costs down the road. If that’s not enough, it’s also flame-resistant, so patio barbecuing is all good on this porch. Fiber cement can also be used for home siding over an air barrier. This technique results in super-protective, air leakage-resistant paneling for your home.
Beyond solar and fiber cement, if you have a pool, you can increase the energy efficiency by keeping the latest pumping, filtration, and heating systems installed. Doing so will minimize the amount of water and energy you have to use to keep it swimmable.
Energy Efficiency Leads to Lower Costs and Increased Property Value
Ultimately, there are many things you can do to ensure your home is energy efficient. From making the right lighting and appliance choices to installing smart thermostats and monitoring your usage, there are numerous small ways to cut down on utility costs in the home. However, it’s best to start thinking about energy efficiency and property value in the beginning.
All homes require a solid foundation. Build yours on one that’s focused on efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and long-term value. Seek out a qualified professional to ensure that your home is designed with your goals in mind.
Matt Lee is the owner of the Innovative Construction and Building Materials blog and a content writer for the building materials industry. He is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that save money, improve energy efficiency, and increase property value.