9 smart steps you can take to minimize your energy use and maximize your savings.
We’re all trying to do our part to save our planet’s natural resources, particularly when building our log homes. This effort has an added benefit — it can save money on our monthly energy bills, as well. That’s a win-win, and it’s not hard. Here’s how.
Just because log homes all use logs as the fundamental building material doesn’t mean they’re all built the same. Construction techniques can vary widely from manufacturer to manufacturer. It’s essential that your builder follow the construction manual provided by your log home manufacturer. This is the most important thing you can do to ensure that your house is as energy efficient as possible. If you don’t, any other measures you take will be ineffective.
See also Log Home Package/Kit Options
Once your log home is dried-in (meaning the logs are up, the roof is on and all window and doors are installed), hire a certified pro to conduct a blower-door test. This test identifies where any energy failures in the structure may be, so that they can be sealed. Do the test before interior walls are constructed so you can access trouble spots. In most cases, compromised areas can be fixed easily and inexpensively with caulk. Caulk is your best friend.
Logs provide their own measure of heat transference, thanks to thermal mass, however your house will still require insulation in areas that aren’t full log, such as crawl spaces, gable ends, roof systems, etc. Though it costs 15 to 20 percent more upfront, spray-foam insulation is worth every extra penny. Spray-foam seals up the house more completely than other insulation products, which can gap. Think of it as the difference between a Yeti cooler and a wicker basket.
Now that we’ve sealed the house tight, what other measures can we take to boost a home’s energy performance?
See also Building an Air-Tight Log Home
Lighting can be one of the most aggressive energy vampires in your home, but switching to LEDs can help bring your electric costs down significantly. Years ago, LED bulbs were expensive and the ROI had yet to be fully understood. Now, the cost has dropped dramatically, and the lifespan is typically five times greater than traditional incandescent bulbs or even CFLs (compact fluorescents). An average LED bulb should last close to 20 years — a big plus in a 20- to 30-foot-high vaulted ceiling!
It stands to reason that if you have a large heater warming water continuously, you’re wasting energy. But did you realize that over the course of a year, you could be spending close to $200 on heating water that you’re not even using? On-demand hot-water systems, solve that problem. Most on-demand systems run on gas or propane and have to be vented to the outside, so it’s best to plan for them upfront. Install them in areas relatively close to an exterior wall, so you can channel the venting as directly as possible. However, you’ll also want them to be centrally located to the areas that will need hot water, so it won’t have to travel far, wasting the heat and defeating the purpose. Bonus: On-demand systems are smaller and less obtrusive than a traditional 50-gallon tank.
The kind of system you need to heat and cool your house varies depending on where you live and what you’re building. For example, if you’re planning a two-story house in the southeastern part of the U.S., consider splitting your systems, installing a heat-pump to serve the second floor and using a gas unit on the ground level (if gas is available to you). Why? Gas systems heat more efficiently than electric, and since heat rises, you really only need the second-story unit to cool the second level. When shopping for a heat pump, look for one with a higher SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating. The higher the number, the more efficient the unit, the more money you can save. But don’t buy more than you need! You can get a 22-SEER unit, but you really won’t need it. It costs more money and there’s no additional return on your investment. To get the most bang for your buck, look for a unit between 12 and 18 SEER, but be sure to check with your builder about code requirements first. If there are rooms that you don’t use often, such as a guest bedroom or a bonus room over the garage (or your log cabin is quite small), mini-split units are an option for those occasional or small-space HVAC needs.
Window and door manufacturers are required to meet energy-code guidelines, and products that are ENERGY-STAR rated are ideal. In most areas of the country, double-pane windows are required by code. Triple-panes, Low-E coatings and argon-filled cavities (see examples above) offer even more insulating value and could be mandated in areas like the northeast, but may not provide a solid ROI in other regions. Consider this: The average house has 26 windows. If you’re spending $200 more per window for triple-panes or argon fills, you’re spending an extra $5,200. Do the math and make sure the savings will offset the cost. Remember: They’re measured by U-value, and, unlike R-value, the lower the U the better.
There are so many technology products that are designed to help you manage your energy use in an easy and affordable way. Programmable thermostats are one of the most basic and most effective. Being able to regulate temperatures through the day to coincide with your living patterns (and controlling it via an app when you’re away) can save more money than you think. Just be sure to keep your temperature swing within 5 degrees, otherwise the energy your HVAC will need to reach your desired temp will negate any savings. Other smart home devices, including programmable blinds and shades, home alert systems and voice/app controlled lighting/motion-sensitive switches all help save energy and money.
None of these suggestions will matter if you don’t do your part. Reducing water consumption, whether you buy a split-flushing toilet or simply take a shorter shower, will add up over time. Turn your lights off when you leave the room. Turn down the heat/air temps on your thermostat. It all starts with you.