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Energy Efficient Home Design in 2017 & Beyond

Home Efficiency
May 30, 2017

From PANTONE's 2017 Color of the Year (we're looking at you Greenery) to marble accents in the kitchen and bathroom, you've got plenty to choose from when it comes to this year's home design trends. But there's another design trend worth paying attention to this year: energy efficiency, the trend that helps your home run cheaper and cleaner.

Owning a home means providing your family with a warm, safe space for all of life’s greatest moments, and the modern home combines high-performance features and eco-friendly design. The great news? There are plenty of home upgrades that offer this winning combo, and as energy efficiency continues to improve, so do your potential savings.

These home design upgrades are aimed at making your home and community more water and energy-efficient. From solar panels to double-paned windows, if you're interested in ways to make your home look and feel better while conserving energy, we've got you covered.

1. Solar Panel Systems

We can't talk about energy efficient home design without taking a look at solar panels. More homeowners are adopting solar energy than ever before, and for good reason. As solar technology improves, many are finding that the benefits of solar panels are worth the investment. Discovering these benefits can be a part of your homeowner journey, too.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels are designed with one purpose in mind: harness the power of the sun to create usable electricity. This means you can sit back and relax while the sun does the hard work for you.

How does this hard work actually happen? When the sun shines on your solar panels, the panels' cells generate Direct Current (DC) electricity. DC electricity filters through an inverter—essentially the brain of your solar panel system—and converts to Alternating Current (AC) electricity. This electricity can then be used to power your home.

Solar Design Advancements in 2017

As the solar industry expands, so do your choices as a homeowner. Recent developments in solar technology have made solar panels more affordable and design-friendly. These are just a few of the solar trends you can expect to benefit from in 2017:

  • Solar panel with inverter: The solar industry has long been focused on making solar panels more efficient, and inverters¬ have been used to help this process along. In the past, inverters were installed separately, costing homeowners more in time and money. In 2017, inverters are included in your purchase. This means your solar panel system just got smarter, which equates to big savings.

  • Double-sided solar panels: Double-sided solar panels are a popular option because both surfaces of the panel can capture sunlight. This increases power output, ensuring you get the most bang for your buck.

  • Frameless/clear solar panels: Looking for a different style of solar panel to match your home design? You’ve got options, as many manufacturers are now offering frameless panel systems that come with specialized mounting fixtures.

  • Tesla solar tiles: Tesla does more than futuristic cars. The company has introduced new roof panels that are designed to provide the power of solar energy without sacrificing style. You can choose from four stylish shingle designs that capture energy from the sun.

How Much Do Solar Panel Systems Cost?

There are many myths regarding solar panel systems, and one of the biggest misconceptions is that solar panel systems are too expensive. The cost of solar has actually decreased by 80 percent since 2008 . As solar panels become cheaper to make, homeowners are finding solar panel systems to be more affordable than ever before.

The cost of installing a solar panel system depends on your region’s policies, how much sunshine your home gets, and the size of system you purchase, but there are ways to estimate overall expense.

According to EnergySage.com, U.S. homeowners can expect to pay between $2.87 and $3.85 per watt to install a solar panel system in 2017. Watts are a measurement of power; wattage indicates how much power output you can expect to get out of your solar panels. The higher the watt rating, the more powerful—and expensive—the solar panel system.

Right now, the average cost per watt is $3.36, making the average cost of a 5000-watt solar panel system $16,800. It’s an intimidating number to be sure, but don’t give up on your solar dreams just yet, as there are ways to reduce this cost.

You can still take advantage of the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC). This tax credit was first offered in 2006 and will remain available until 2021. The clock is ticking, though; as solar energy becomes more popular, government incentives are being phased out. Until 2019, the tax credit covers 30 percent of the total cost of your solar panel system. Each following year, the rate decreases, meaning your potential savings get smaller and smaller.

With PACE financing, you can immediately access the money-saving benefits of solar energy and pay off the panels over time through an assessment on your property tax bill.

How Much Can You Save with Solar Panels?

Solar panel systems are a great way to save money. How much they save you depends on a variety of factors including local laws and rebates, your electric bill, and the size of the system.

It can be hard to pinpoint exactly how much you can save with solar panels, but a recent study performed by the NC Clean Energy Technology Center sheds light on the solar savings in the country’s 50 largest cities. According to their data, customers who invested in a 5,000-watt solar PV system saved an average of $44 to $187 per month during the first year.

2. Windows

Windows provide your home with warmth, light, and ventilation, and upgrading them offers plenty of fantastic benefits. New windows can reduce heating and cooling costs, provide more UV protection, and enhance your curb appeal in one fell swoop.

Selecting the right windows is crucial. Older windows are often crafted from outdated materials that don’t hold up. Cracks in a window’s frame allow air to leak in and out, creating unpleasant drafts. These issues can force your home’s heating and cooling system to work much harder, leading to energy waste and higher costs.

New Energy Star certified windows are designed with energy efficiency in mind. Find yourself avoiding the window seat during warm summer months? Inefficient windows allow the sun’s rays to creep into your home and increase the interior temperature. Energy Star certified windows can reduce the amount of heat that penetrates your home without reducing visible light. This means your rooms stay cooler and you still get the light you need, no matter how hot it gets outside.

What Makes an Energy-Star Window Better than Non-Efficient Window Upgrades?

Energy-Star certified windows have to meet certain criteria: they must be crafted by an Energy Star partner, and are independently tested, certified, and verified by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). These windows are also rated by the NFRC under strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

When Should You Replace Your Windows?

Be on the lookout for signs your windows need replacing. If your energy bill seems abnormally high, drafty windows may be forcing your HVAC system to work overtime. If your windows take on a frosty, cloudy appearance, condensation has likely made its way between the glass panes. If you notice your windows are difficult to open and close, there may be balancing issues within the framework. Any of these signs may indicate an issue, but we always recommend consulting with a professional before making any decisions.

Repair vs. Replace

Some homeowners choose to repair their windows before replacing them completely, but this can be a waste of money. While some issues can easily be remedied through at-home repairs, larger framework and sealing issues can have serious consequences. If the structural integrity of your windows is failing, you could throwing away a small fortune in energy costs.

How Much Do Energy Efficient Windows Cost?

Energy efficient windows vary in cost depending on size and style, but we can make some assumptions on overall cost with help from The National Association of Realtors. Their "Remodeling Impact Report" provides a cost breakdown for installation of two popular window types on a 2,450-square foot house.

The installation of all-new vinyl windows for an average home costs around $15,000. Installing wooden windows on the same house would cost around $26,000. These two examples show that replacing your windows can be a significant investment, but many homeowners find the benefits outweigh the cost, as they enjoy their homes more and save big in energy costs.

How Much Can Upgrading Your Windows Save You?

Data from the Remodeling Impact Report shows you can save hundreds of dollars each year with energy efficient window replacements, and that homeowners generally recover about 80 percent of their costs. This study also found that 61 percent of homeowners have a greater desire to spend more time in their homes after installing new windows—that's a benefit we can all get behind.

When it comes to energy use, the savings are real. According to Energy Star, replacing existing windows with energy efficient windows can save you between 7 and 15 percent on your energy bill.

3. Insulation

Insulation upgrades can have a significant impact on energy costs and your family’s comfort. Increasing or replacing insulation in your home means using your heating and cooling system less. This can help reduce your energy bills and make for a truly energy efficient house design. Older homes usually lack insulation, and bringing your home’s insulation up to modern standards can offer some serious savings.

How to Compare Different Types of Insulation

Every type of insulation features a label detailing the material’s R-value per inch. The R-value defines the material’s ability to resist heat transfer. The larger the R-Value, the more effective the insulation is bound to be. In tight spaces, insulation with high R-Value should be used, but in open space areas, thicker layers of a lower-rated material can do the trick.

There are various types of insulation, generally broken up into four categories:

  • Spray foam: This insulation seals gaps and leaks in walls. A liquid solution is sprayed into the walls, where it then hardens into a solid foam. Homeowners like this insulation because it offers the highest R-value of all insulators.

  • Blown-in: This type of insulation uses a mechanical blower to fill a space with white cellulose. It offers a high R-Value, and is especially effective in tight, hard-to-reach spaces. Many homeowners appreciate this insulation’s ability to resist moisture and keep pests and insects out.

  • Fiberglass batts: Homeowners looking for an inexpensive insulation solution turn to Fiberglass batts, a cheap type of blanket insulation made of fiberglass that can be stapled into place. As long as they’re installed correctly, these rolls of insulation can prove to be a quick fix.

  • Reflective/radiant barriers: This type of insulation is usually found in the attic, as the material helps reduce heat and cold. Radiant and reflective barriers reflect the sun’s rays and absorb heat before it makes its way into your home, keeping you and your family cooler. Generally, this insulation is better for homes that see the sun more often.

How Much Does an Insulation Upgrade Cost?

The price of insulation depends largely upon where you plan on insulating, but many other factors can affect overall cost for this energy efficient home design feature. Common expense factors include the size of your space, the type of insulation selected, and installation fees. The average attic insulation project costs anywhere from $400 to $1,800 according to the U.S. Department of Energy. This investment is a small price to pay when compared to the energy savings it provides.

While federal tax credits and rebates expired a few years ago, certain states still provide rebates and discounts for insulation upgrades. As you draw up your energy efficient home plans, check with your local districts to determine if there are incentives in your area.

How Much Can You Save with Insulation Upgrades?

Investing in an insulation overhaul can pay off in the long run. Insulation helps keep your home at your desired temperature, which means using your HVAC system less. The EPA reports that you can save an average of 15 percent on heating and cooling costs with insulation and air sealing home improvement projects.

4. New Roofing Materials

In 2017, energy efficient roofing is set to take center stage. Cool roofing is becoming a hot commodity amongst modern homeowners, and for good reason.

What Are the Benefits of a Cool Roof?

Almost 90 percent of the roofs in the U.S. are dark-colored. The surface of these black roofs can increase in temperature by more than 100°F, leading to a hotter home, increased use of cooling systems, and a shorter lifespan for your roofing materials.

Cool roofs are designed to reduce these effects. Cool roofing systems help reflect the sun’s rays, which in turn reduces heat transfer to your home. Cool roofs provide advantages for more than a single home; these advanced systems can help reduce local air temperatures in areas that have become too hot, often referred to as the Urban Heat Island Effect.

What is the Urban Heat Island Effect?

Urban Heat Islands occur in cities where natural land cover has been replaced with buildings and pavement. These manmade surfaces absorb heat and make surrounding areas hotter, which can increase energy costs, promote air pollution, and lead to heat-related illnesses.

Incorporating cool roofs into energy efficient home design may be the remedy for this dangerous and costly effect. Urban Heat Island Mitigation, or UHIM, uses cool roofs to combat the negative effects of Urban Heat Islands. They’re doing their part in the energy efficient revolution, and so can you.

Various Types of Cool Roofing

Whether you’re considering a full roof replacement or want to buy upgrades for your current roof, making the switch to cool roofing can be a solid investment. There are various methods and types used to create cool roofing for energy efficient homes:

  • Green roofs: Green roofs incorporate rooftop plants. This vegetation forms a barrier, helping reduce the amount of heat that flows into the building. Green roofs work best on urban buildings that have flat or shallow-pit roofs.

  • Reflective coating: Homeowners can transform their current roofing system into a cool roof with solar reflective coatings. These coatings are designed to reflect sunlight, helping to extend your current roof’s lifespan and stop the growth of algae and fungus.

  • Tile roofs: If you have tile roofs, they’re likely composed of concrete, clay, or slate. Some of these materials are naturally reflective enough to meet the standards for cool roofing, and surface treatments can help tiles achieve this status.

  • Metal roofing: Unpainted metal roofing provides great solar reflection, but is generally only effective for steep-sloped roofs. Painting your flat metal roof can help deflect the sun’s rays, keeping your home cooler.

5. Smart Home Additions

Smart home technology has transformed energy efficient home design. Adopting some of these breakthrough technologies can help you enjoy your home more.

A smart home provides more than cool, futuristic features; the rise of smart home technology has also seen a significant reduction in energy use and waste. Homeowners across the world are doing what they can to optimize their home for energy efficiency, and the proof is in the pudding: The global home automation system market is expected to grow to $78.27 billion by 2022, and smart features are becoming a hallmark of energy efficient home design.

Certain smart home additions can mean fantastic savings in terms of energy efficient home design:

  • Lighting control: Motion sensor lighting and dimmer controls can help homeowners save money. Motion sensing switches ensure lights are turned off whenever a room is vacated—never leave home with the lights on again. Dimmers can be tailored to your lifestyle, letting you use only the amount of light you need.

  • Smart meters: There are advanced meter systems for a variety of home products. Looking to conserve water and energy? Your water heater is a huge energy suck, and whether water is being used or not, your water heater spends astronomical amounts of energy heating and reheating water in a tank. A smart water heater monitor allows you to schedule hot water heating to fit your schedule.

  • Programmable thermostats: Smart thermostat maker Nest reports energy savings of 10 to 12 percent on heating and 15 percent on cooling among its users as of February 2015. Since the bulk of your home’s energy bill is due to heating and cooling costs, a programmable thermostat can significantly reduce your bills. These systems let you program your HVAC system to turn on at a specific time, so you don’t waste energy to cool or heat the house when no one is home.

Picking the right home improvements can result in big savings. Reducing your carbon footprint has never been so cool, and designing an energy efficient home has never been so easy. Fall in love with your home all over again with these energy efficient home design trends. Find out more about planning these projects with Renovate America on our home improvements page.