Given the current climate emergency, it’s more important than ever that we all play our part in reducing our negative impact on the planet, its climate and its non-human inhabitants. Given that we spend most of our time in our households, this is a good place to start which means we need to consider how we can optimise these spaces for greater energy efficiency.
The general principles of an energy-efficient home, why it’s important, and changes that can be made to both the construction and interior of the home are outlined below.
The General Principles of an Energy Efficient Home
There are a number of principles that factor into your home’s energy efficiency but insulation, air quality and heating and cooling systems are the three that make the most difference. Importantly, they have knock-on impacts on other aspects of the build. For example, your insulation will have an effect on other aspects of your home such as the size of your boiler, air quality, ventilation, window choice and cooling mechanisms.
An important energy-efficiency factor that’s often overlooked is having good ventilation. By improving your home’s ventilation, you’ll be making the space more air-tight which can lead to build-ups of stale air, encouraging mould and condensation. Installing a dedicated ventilation system will allow you to remove the stale, moist air that comes with showering, cooking and drying without losing heat. For example, extractor fans are great additions to rooms that are regularly steamy like bathrooms and kitchens.
Heating and Cooling
This is a really important factor to get right because space heating alone makes up 46.7% of the average home’s annual energy consumption. The most energy-efficient temperature for your home is 20 degrees celsius, offering a good balance between comfort and energy efficiency. When selecting a heating system, heat pumps are generally considered the most energy-efficient option. They use refrigeration to cool air when in cooling mode and they extract heat from the air outside when they’re in heating mode.
Given that heating the home takes up almost half your home’s annual energy consumption, you’ll want to maximise on the heat you generate in your home and avoid any going to waste. This is where adequate insulation plays its part. Insulation generally relies on the materials that are used in the construction of your home and you’ll likely have a number of options available to you. Your architect will be able to talk you through these options, advising you on the best choices for your specific circumstance.
Why is Energy Efficiency Important in the Home?
The UK government has set its sights on becoming net-zero by 2050 and the housing sector accounts for 14% of the country’s energy consumption. Therefore, it’s important that energy efficiency is improved in homes to meet this target. However, the Scaling Up Retrofit 2050 report by the Institute of Engineering Technology and Nottingham Trent University found that 80% of the homes we will be living in by 2050 have already been built. This means that if we want to achieve net-zero by this date, we will need to individually improve the energy efficiency of our own homes.
There are a number of benefits to ensuring your home is more energy-efficient. The obvious one is that this contributes toward addressing the current climate emergency. Another is that your fuel bills will decrease, especially if you opt to install renewable energy solutions and improve your insulation. Additionally, you’ll be increasing the value of your home whilst simultaneously decreasing the house insurance. Lastly, improving the air quality and heating and cooling systems of your home will contribute to a healthier and comfier living experience which will pay dividends in the future.
Building Design Ideas That Improve Energy Efficiency
Specifically for those looking to undergo a house extension or modification in the near future, the following ideas relate to the house’s physical construction and how it can be optimised for greater energy efficiency.
Sun-Facing Windows: With any new builds or renovations to your home, keep in mind that sun-facing windows will save you money on heating bills. Some of the sunlight that enters your home will be transferred to heat energy, the savings from which will accumulate on a day-to-day basis for however long you own the home.
Window Shades: Adding shades above the outside of windows is a brilliant architectural design idea because they’re easy to install and can add to your home’s aesthetics. Naturally, the sun is lower in the winter than it is in the summer. Window shades take advantage of this by allowing the low winter sun in to heat the home up when it’s colder but blocking the high summer sun which needlessly warms the home. They’re a simple but effective piece of modern architecture to help energy efficiency.
Cool Roof: This type of roof is designed to increase its solar reflectance and thermal emittance which lowers the average amount of heat let into the home. They’re generally made of felt, fibreglass or polyester and is then covered in either light pigments or roofing gravel. The Cool Rood Rating Council suggested that cool roofs could save you roughly 7-15% of total cooling costs each year.
Building Frame: If you’re planning on a house renovation or extension then you’ll want to consider your framework construction. Using lightweight construction methods and materials such as structural insulated panels (SIPs) or timber frames will provide you with more room for insulation between the construction studs. Make sure you stay within the law in terms of minimal foundation requirements but this is a great way to improve your energy efficiency by making small adjustments to your home’s design and build.
Energy-Efficient Interior Design Ideas
Leaving the house’s construction to one side, there are also a number of changes that can be made inside the home to alter its energy efficiency, from painting to flooring.
Flooring: Another overlooked but effective means of improving the energy efficiency of your home is to install the correct flooring. Rugs and carpets are excellent heat insulators which is why they’re so popular in cold climates and wintertime. Hardwood, stone, slate and other hard floors are great for keeping the house cooler in warmer climates. Best of all is that this interior design factor is extremely cost-effective and can be made to compliment the aesthetics of your home.
Fans: A simple but effective energy efficient installation is a ceiling fan as they help in both colder and warmer settings. In the summer, the fan should be optimised for a counter-clockwise rotation to create a downward draft, pulling the warm air to the top of the room. On the contrary, you’ll want to have the fan rotate clockwise in winter to push hot air toward the bottom of the room. For ultimate energy efficiency, you’ll want to consider installing a light in the fan, thus killing two birds with one stone.
Furniture Insulation: If properly placed, furniture of all types can be used as extra insulation methods throughout your home. Highback chairs and sofas that are stuffed are good for this purpose and adding skirts will reduce floor-level drafts. Anything dense like a bookshelf filled with booms, a cabinet filled with items or a wardrobe filled with clothes can be used as a barrier when placed against exterior walls.
Interior Paint: Traditional light bulbs convert only 5% of the energy they use into light and the rest goes to heat. To limit the amount you need to use interior lighting, consider painting your interior walls, cabinets and furniture white as this will reflect light much more effectively, reducing the necessity for lots of lights to be turned on.
Here at Summit Architecture, we specialise in providing exceptional architectural and construction services. We’ve worked on over 300 projects over the past 25 years, constantly improving our methods and staying in keeping with technological advances. Plus, we’re proud to have recently opened offices in Manchester and Leeds, greatly extending our client base and capabilities.
If you have any further questions about energy efficiency in your home and how you can improve this, or if you’d like to discuss any of our other services from loft conversions and garden offices to interior design and planning permission, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us by calling 020 3695 3718 today!