Renovation projects normally have the goal of improving home appearance. However, they also provide an excellent opportunity to improve energy efficiency and indoor air quality. The result is a home that looks better while having reduced energy bills and a healthy indoor environment.
Energy efficiency and indoor air quality measures can be implemented at any time, but doing so during a home renovation brings several advantages. Home elements like walls and ceilings are often removed or modified during renovations, exposing components like electrical wiring and air ducts. Since these installations can be accessed directly, they can be upgraded or modified more easily. Under normal conditions, sections of walls and ceilings must be opened to reach some components.
A home renovation provides an opportunity to improve several aspects of the property at once. For example, if you were planning to replace the lighting fixtures, you can upgrade to LED lights with the ENERGY STAR label. You can also inspect the air ducts for leakage, and seal them to improve air quality and save energy.
Recommended Energy Efficiency Measures for Homes
In homes and commercial buildings, the largest share of energy consumption can be attributed to HVAC systems: heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Space heating consumes more energy in hot climates, while air conditioning consumes more in warm climates, but HVAC, in general, is the largest load in homes.
To save energy, the first step recommended by HVAC engineers is improving insulation and airtightness. A home with air leaks and poor insulation wastes energy, since it loses more heat during winter, forcing the space heating system to work harder. The opposite happens during summer since the building gains more heat and the air conditioner consumes more electricity.
A home renovation provides an excellent chance to install high-performance insulation systems, such as insulated concrete forms (ICF) in walls.
Normally, insulation can only be applied as a layer on existing surfaces or sprayed into cavities.
During a major renovation, insulation and airtightness can be integrated as part of the walls and roof.
If you are planning a window replacement, consider triple-pane glass with low-emissivity coating, which reduces heat transfer through windows by over 60%.
After improving insulation and air sealing your home, the load on space heaters and air conditioners is reduced. These appliances can then be replaced with newer and more efficient units, to achieve even greater savings. If you only upgrade HVAC systems without improving insulation and airtightness, you will not reach the highest possible savings.
Hot water systems also consume plenty of energy in homes. If you are considering an upgrade, gas-fired tankless heaters normally offer the lowest operating cost. If you use electric resistance heating, a heat pump can reduce consumption by over 50%.
LED lighting is a simple energy efficiency measure that can be deployed during a home renovation. LED lamps consume 80-90% less power than incandescent and halogen bulbs, and 30-50% less power than fluorescent lamps. They also last longer, saving many lamp replacements over time.
Improving Indoor Air Quality During a Home Renovation
Indoor air quality tends to get less priority than saving energy, but it is fundamental for human health and comfort. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air is 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, and we are indoors 90% of the time.
The first step to improve indoor air quality is eliminating pollution at the source:
- Any appliance that uses combustion should be properly vented, and indoor smoking should be avoided.
- When purchasing construction materials for a home renovation, ask the supplier for options with a reduced content of volatile organic compounds (VOC). These substances are emitted by newly installed construction materials, including fresh paint.
- New furniture also releases VOCs, and one example is the emissions of formaldehyde from wood furniture.
As stated by the US EPA, outdoor air is cleaner than indoor air. As a result, indoor air quality can be improved by simply providing effective ventilation. There are now smart ventilation controls that can constantly measure indoor air pollution, and they increase the ventilation rate when high pollution levels are detected.
Air humidity is technically not a pollutant, but it stimulates the growth of mold, dust mites, and bacteria. These organic pollutants affect human health, and they can be controlled by reducing humidity. However, the air should not be excessively dry either, since viruses spread more easily and pollutant particles stay in the air longer. To improve indoor air quality and minimize health issues, ASHRAE recommends a relative humidity of 30-60%, and ideally 45-55%.
Indoor air quality can also be improved by adding a HEPA filter to your ventilation system. HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air, and this type of filter can capture 99.97% of air particles with a diameter of 0.3 microns (one micron is one-millionth of a meter).
A home renovation enhances the appearance of your property, but you can also use the opportunity to deploy technologies that improve energy efficiency and air quality. This way, you get three benefits: a property that looks better, lower electricity and gas bills, and indoor spaces that are healthy and comfortable.
Energy efficiency can actually help you pay for the cost of a home renovation. If you get a bank loan for the renovation, the electricity and gas savings can help you cover loan payments. Indoor air quality can also be considered an investment since it helps you avoid medical expenses.
Accent Renovations is extremely passionate about our work, clients, results, and ability to make a positive impact on the environment. If you are looking for a reliable, trustworthy, and professional renovations contractor, the team at Accent Renovations has got you covered. Every project is carried out with dedication to quality.
About the Author: Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of Nearby Engineers and New York Engineers, an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of more than 30 mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City, and has led numerous projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia. He specializes in sustainable building technology and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.