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Building Up Home Energy-Efficiency

August 26, 2014 - 11:00am


Building or remodeling a home provides an opportunity to build energy-efficiency into your design from the ground up. | Photo courtesy of Paul Norton, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Building or remodeling a home provides an opportunity to build energy-efficiency into your design from the ground up. | Photo courtesy of Paul Norton, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

My mom just began the daunting task of building a house. While she's not responsible for actually hauling lumber or using a table saw, she still has a lot of decisions to make. And many of those decisions involve optimizing energy-efficiency. So before you start that remodel or build a new property, consider investing in these energy-efficient home approaches. You'll save money and your home will be comfortable and durable.

Whole-House Systems Approach

If you are doing an extensive remodel or building, a whole-house systems approach is the best way to maximize efficiency. This approach considers the house as an energy system with independent parts, each of which affects the performance of the entire system. Be sure when you hire design and building teams that they consider all the variables and interactions that could affect energy use.

Some of these variables include:

  • Site conditions
  • Occupant behavior
  • Climate
  • Appliances and home electronics
  • Insulation and air sealing
  • Lighting and daylighting
  • Space heating and cooling
  • Water heating
  • Windows, doors, and skylights

If you are remodeling you may want to consider an energy audit and use a Home Energy Score to help plan upgrades.

Efficient Buildings Strategies

When building a house or adding on to an existing one, consider using advanced house framing which reduces lumber use and waste and improves energy-efficiency in wood-framed houses. Fully implementing advanced framing techniques can result in up to $1,000 savings on materials, between 3% and 5% on labor costs, and an annual heating and cooling cost savings of up to 5%.

Cool roofs are another efficiency option, designed to reflect sunlight and absorb less heat than a standard roof. Just like wearing light-colored clothing can keep you cool on a sunny day, cool roofs use solar-reflective surfaces like reflective paint, coverings, and tiles or shingles to maintain lower roof temperatures. 

But be sure your climate is fit for a cool roof. In warmer climates, cool roofs can achieve significant savings especially in the summer months, but in colder climates they can actually increase energy costs due to the reduced residual wintertime heat gains.


Depending on where you live, different landscaping options could help optimize your home's efficiency by maximizing natural cooling or heating effects throughout the year. For example, in a temperate region, you want to deflect winter winds with windbreaks of trees or shrubs on the north and northwest side of the house. In a hot-arid region, providing shade for roofs, windows, and walls keeps a house cooler year round. In humid regions, avoid planting beds close to the home if they require frequent watering. And in cool regions, allow the sun to reach south-facing windows.

Financing Efficiency

There are many benefits to buying, selling, or remodeling an energy-efficient home. If you plan on buying an energy-efficient home, an energy-efficient mortgage or (EEM) takes into account lower utility costs and may help you qualify for a more expensive home.

Also be sure to check the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's State Energy Efficiency Policy page for local and state incentives that can make buying, building, or remodeling an energy-efficient home worth your while.

Energy Saver has several wonderful resources to explore during your renovation or building project. For more information visit our energy efficient home design and remodeling page.