By Bailie Wilson
In Austin, it’s “going green;” in Bryan/College Station, it’s “energy conservation.” Whatever you want to call it, there are a number of ways to save energy and money around your home while still being kind to the local environment.
The home is important. It is where people spend a significant amount of time, both in quantity and quality. Whether you reside in a charming old home or you are ready to begin the building process, there are choices you can make to keep energy savings up and utility bills down–some that won’t cost a single penny.
“You don’t have to care about the trees at all,” says Hugh Stearns of Stearns Design-Build. “It’s looking at your home as a system that is connected to the environment and making wise choices for your family.”
The first step is becoming familiar with the local environment and the issues related to location. In Texas, a prominent challenge is economically maintaining a cool interior temperature in the sweltering summer heat.
For those looking to add energy saving features to an already existing home, Stearns’ recommendation is to start by sealing the envelope of the house. He says one of the greatest losses of heating and cooling comes from uncontrolled air leaks in the envelope. While most people are aware of the airflow coming through windows and doors, other leaks often go unnoticed and can add unnecessary expenses to your utility bills.
Making sure your house is properly insulated is also critical when it comes to energy saving. The task of adding insulation can initially be costly and complicated, but in the long run can save you a significant amount of money.
“In Texas, we are most worried about our air conditioners,” says Stearns. “The most efficient systems we use are called geothermal.” Geothermal systems involve drilling wells 300 feet below the surface and takes advantage of the earth’s ambient temperature in order to reduce energy consumption.
While there are plenty of ways to save energy in an older home, the options are unlimited when building a house. Of course, the great advantage of building is starting from the beginning. This gives you full control over every aspect of your home as you make choices throughout each step of the building process.
“Some people come in and say, ‘We want to go as green as we can without spending more money.’ And we can do that,” said Stearns. “It doesn’t cost extra to orient your house in the right direction.” Orienting the house from east to west, where the home faces south, causes the home to be exposed to as little heat as possible.
Choosing optimal building materials is also critical. “We do discourage exterior masonry,” says Stearns. “And if it is a desired feature, which more often than not it is, we recommend avoiding it on west-facing walls.” Rock tends to suck in heat and push it into the house, increasing energy consumption on those hot Texas days.
“We actually encourage masonry products inside the conditioned space as it will help moderate temperature fluctuations,” Stearns explains. “Brick can also be sourced fairly close, and hill country limestone is also a popular choice.”
Because windows are often the least energy efficient part of the home, Stearns recommends using high quality windows and placing them strategically throughout the house. “We use natural light as much as we can to reduce the amount of electrical light we have to provide,” explains Stearns. “Higher-quality windows leak less air and provide higher insulate values.” Not only are high quality windows more energy efficient, but they are also more aesthetically appealing, giving a polished look to any room.
No matter your budget, Stearns makes one thing clear: it is worth exploring energy saving options because they may save you money.
“One of the first things we ask people is what their return of investment is,” says Stearns. “Do they want to have it paid off in 10 years? 5 years?” What he wants people to understand is even if the initial cost is higher, green building really does save money in the long run.