Energy Efficient Buildings: Understanding the Basics


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Energy Efficient Buildings: Understanding the Basics

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Photo by the Vistaza Team: Energy Efficient Multifamily Residential buildings

Energy efficiency has become a top priority for businesses and homeowners alike. An energy-efficient building is designed to provide a comfortable living or working environment while minimizing energy consumption and waste. The goal of energy efficiency is to maximize resource efficiency, minimize operating costs, and reduce carbon emissions. In this article, we will explore the basics of energy-efficient buildings, including what they are, why they are important, and how they work.

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy refers to energy derived from sources that are naturally replenished, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, and geothermal heat. Applying renewable energy in buildings involves integrating technologies that harness these sources to generate power.

One common method is the installation of solar panels on rooftops to capture sunlight and convert it into electricity. Wind turbines can also be installed to harness wind energy. By utilizing renewable energy sources, energy efficient commercial buildings can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, promote sustainability, and contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

What are some renewable energy sources

Renewable energy sources are types of energy that come from natural resources that can be replenished, like wind, sunlight, water, and geothermal heat. These energy sources are quite important because they offer a sustainable alternative to finite resources like coal and oil.

By using renewable energy sources, energy-efficient buildings can reduce their reliance on non-renewable energy sources and minimize their impact on the environment. This is important because buildings are major consumers of energy and significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

What is an Energy Efficient Building?

An energy-efficient building uses minimal energy to operate, without compromising comfort or energy output. It is designed to optimize the use of resources throughout the building’s lifecycle, from construction to operation, maintenance, and demolition. The building envelope, heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) systems, lighting, and appliances all play a crucial role in achieving energy efficiency.

Step-by-Step Guide to Energy-Efficient Buildings:

1. Building Envelope:

Energy efficient building envelope: Photo by Vistaza Research

The building envelope is the physical barrier between the exterior and interior environments enclosing a structure. It consists of various components and systems that protect the interior space from environmental effects such as precipitation, wind, temperature, humidity, and ultraviolet radiation.

The building envelope serves three main functions: support, control, and finish. It provides structural support against internal and external loads, controls the exchange of water, air, condensation, and heat, and contributes to the aesthetic appearance of the building.

The physical components of the building envelope include the foundation, wall assembly, roofing systems, glazing, doors, and other penetrations. These components must be properly connected and compatible to ensure the effective functioning of the building envelope.

The foundation, for example, transmits the loads from the building to the underlying substrate and also controls the transfer of moisture and thermal energy into the interior space. Insulation and waterproofing measures are often applied to the foundation to regulate thermal energy transfer and prevent moisture intrusion. Proper drainage systems around this the foundation are also important to prevent water damage.

The wall assembly consists of various components such as exterior cladding, sheathing, insulation, vapor barrier, and interior sheathing. These components work together to provide support, control, and finish functions. The roofing system, including shingles, vapor barriers, wood sheathing, and insulation, plays a crucial role in keeping the weather out.

Glazing refers to the panels in windows, doors, and skylights that allow light to pass through. Doors, being potential weak points in the building envelope, should be properly sealed for improved thermal efficiency. Other penetrations in the building envelope, such as chimneys and vents, should also be carefully designed and installed to maintain the integrity of the envelope.

2. HVAC Systems:

energy efficient building design through HVAC SYSTEMS: Photo by Sergei A on Unsplash

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems account for a significant portion of a building’s energy consumption. Energy-efficient HVAC systems use high-efficiency equipment, proper sizing, and optimized controls.

3. Lighting:

energy efficient lighting

Energy-efficient lighting includes the use of LED bulbs, daylight harvesting, and occupancy sensors. Energy-efficient lighting plays a crucial role in reducing energy consumption and promoting sustainability in buildings. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lighting accounts for about 10% of the total energy usage in residential buildings and 18% in commercial buildings.

By adopting energy-efficient lighting technologies, such as LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs, significant energy savings can be achieved. LED bulbs consume up to 75% less energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. Additionally, they produce less heat, reducing the strain on cooling systems.

4. Appliances:

Energy efficient appliances

Energy-efficient appliances, such as refrigerators, dishwashers, and washing machines, use less energy to perform their tasks.

Why are Energy Efficient Buildings Important?

The construction and operation of energy-efficient buildings account for a significant portion of global energy consumption and carbon emissions. By making buildings more energy-efficient, we can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, minimize the impact of climate change, and save money on energy bills.

Principles of Energy Efficient Buildings

There are several principles that define energy-efficient buildings, including:

1. High-Quality Insulation for Energy Efficient buildings:

Energy efficient building insulation: Photo by Vistaza Research

Good insulation helps to keep the building’s interior warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Insulation materials can include fiberglass, cellulose, foam board, and spray foam.

2. Heat Control and Robust Windows:

heat gain from energy efficient windows: Photo by Kenrick Baksh on Unsplash

High-performance windows are designed to minimize heat transfer and provide superior insulation. Other features that can improve thermal performance include double- or triple-glazed panes, gas fills, and insulated frames.

3. Airtight Construction:

non energy efficient construction: Photo by Vistaza research

Airtight construction is the process of sealing gaps and leaks in the building envelope to prevent air from leaking in or out. This helps to maintain a consistent indoor temperature, reduce drafts, and improve energy efficiency.

4. Heat Recovery Ventilation:

energy efficient building heat recovery ventilation: photo by Vistaza research

Heat recovery ventilation (HRV) is a system that provides fresh air to the building while recovering heat from the exhaust air. This reduces the need for heating and cooling, improving energy efficiency and indoor air quality.

Today more and more buildings are becoming energy efficient by obtaining the passive house certification.

What is Passive House Design in energy efficient buildingsPassive house building design: photo by the Vistaza Project Management Team

Passive House design is a specific approach to energy-efficient building that emphasizes the importance of airtight construction, high-quality insulation, and heat recovery ventilation. The Passive House standard was developed in Germany in the 1990s and has since become a global benchmark for energy-efficient building design.

Elements of Passive House Design

Passive House design emphasizes five key elements:

1. High-Quality Insulation

Passive House design requires a high level of insulation to minimize heat loss and maintain a consistent indoor temperature. This can involve the use of materials such as expanded polystyrene (EPS) or extruded polystyrene (XPS) foam.

2. Heat Control and Robust Windows

Passive House windows are designed to be highly energy-efficient, with low-emissivity coatings, triple-glazed panes, and insulated frames. They are also strategically placed to maximize solar gain and minimize heat loss.

3. Airtight Construction

Airtight construction is a key component of Passive House design. The building envelope is sealed to prevent air from leaking in or out. This reduces drafts and improves energy efficiency.

4. Heat Recovery Ventilation

Passive House design incorporates a heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system, which provides fresh air to the building while recovering heat from the exhaust air. This reduces the need for heating and cooling, improving energy efficiency and indoor air quality.

5. Thermal Bridge-Free Design

Passive House design aims to minimize thermal bridges in the building envelope. This is achieved through the use of insulation, careful detailing, and the strategic placement of windows and doors.


Energy efficiency in buildings

Energy efficiency is an essential component of sustainable building design. By aiming at using renewable energy, prioritizing high-quality insulation, heat control, airtight construction, heat recovery ventilation, and thermal bridge-free design, builders can create energy-efficient buildings that offer several benefits, including lower operating costs, improved indoor comfort, reduced carbon emissions, and increased property value. Whether you are a homeowner or a business owner, investing in energy efficiency is a smart choice for the future.

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