Energy Efficient Home Design – The Basics


The good design of the house takes its shape partly from the forces acting on it. Climate and weather are two of the strongest creators (there are no igloos in the tropics) since houses must be designed and built to repel the harmful effects of the world we live in. Mother Nature is always trying to destroy our buildings.

Climate and weather also affect the comfort of our homes and encourage us to look for ways to keep the temperature and humidity of our homes at tolerable levels. Much of the design effort is devoted to keeping the heat or keeping the heat, depending on the climate and the season.

This Old House

Sometimes, through American history, the shapes of our homes reflected, more or less, our ingenuity to make the indoor climates of our homes more comfortable .

The Great South settlers built deep porches around their low houses to protect them from the sun and create a cooler air tank that could be drawn into the house.

The inhabitants of New England built compact homes with small windows to protect them from winter winds and to retain as much heat as possible. And meadow houses, often built of stacked grass, were half-buried in the earth to equalize temperature changes and protect them from the violent violent storms that sweep the plains every summer.

Simple and effective strategies like these were needed because the fuel for heating homes was limited. We have created homes that have kept resources; We did not know how not

This changed with the era of cheap and abundant electricity and natural gas for home heating, and with the introduction first air conditioners for private homes in 1928. Suddenly, homes do not need to respond to their surroundings; any house could easily be kept as warm or as fresh as desired using mechanical means regardless of the weather outside. Few reflections were conducted on energy conservation strategies until the early 1970s, when the cheap energy that we took for granted suddenly became very expensive, and the ignorant houses of the climate that we had built for decades became expensive to heat and cool

This show from the 70s

But then a very cool thing happened. Architects and builders across the country have begun to revive the "lost art" of designing homes that have responded to climate and weather. Old ideas like the earth's shield and the thermal mass have been used again. New passive cooling strategies and unique ideas like the Trombe Wall have been invented.

And most interestingly, homes using low-energy techniques have taken exciting new forms. Suddenly, there was something else beside the old world inspired design. It was a fun time full of invention and experimentation.

But this era was short lived. By the mid-1980s, fuel was again cheap and the unique design of the energy-efficient house was almost forgotten

Back to the Future

So it's not surprising that we have buckled, with rising energy prices and a renewed interest in energy efficiency of homes. This is a critical concern at a time when some studies show that residential buildings consume up to 21% of the country's energy.

Current energy efficiency strategies at home are different from what they were 30 years ago. Today, the focus is on technology rather than design. New materials have been developed to make homes less climate sensitive (and there are many) to better manage the energy they need to maintain human comfort.

Technical solutions can be expensive since they require materials to work at a higher level. The windows have a "high-tech" glass with low emissivity coatings, spaces filled with argon gas and up to three sheets of glazing. Heating systems operate at higher efficiencies and can be equipped with programmable thermostats and insulated ducts. Solutions like these conserve energy and are important components in any home, but the technology crutch should not support too heavily.

Designer's Challenge

And if, instead of spending hundreds of extra dollars on high-tech windows to keep the heat of the sun, we have more carefully located our windows to avoid the direct sunlight in the first place? What if we used elements of the house to shade these windows from heat radiation and UV rays?

Suppose we take more advantage of the relatively stable soil temperature to stabilize temperatures in our homes, rather than exposing each square foot of an exterior surface of the house to the elements? Instead of a constant mechanical air conditioning to evacuate the heat and humidity, why not try opening the windows on the shady verandas and let the breeze cool the house?

What if we opened our minds a bit? – and allowed the shapes of our homes to be more shaped by the way they react to the climate and the environment in which we live?

The surprising result could be interesting and beautiful houses that cost very little to heat and cool – just like the old days.


Source by Richard Taylor, AIA

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