There are many ways in which to heat your home in colder months; portable kerosene or electric heaters, wall-mounted electric cooler/heater units, central heating, and underfloor heating to name some of the main ones. Keeping your home at comfortable temperatures throughout the year, though critical to a good standard of living, can make up a large part of your monthly expenses.
There has been a lot of research into thermal efficiency, both to provide a higher standard of living at affordable cost, as well as to cut down the amount of energy required to do so. By decreasing the energy required to maintain our current standard of living, we not only make it affordable to more people, but we also downsize our carbon footprint.
We already have many forms of renewable energy sources, ie, wind, solar, hydro, but with our current demand vs energy output, such renewable energy sources are not ready to be the primary source of power. We also need to prepare for the possibility that there will be no magical energy source that will be “too cheap to meter“, such as nuclear fusion or thorium-based nuclear power generation.
This is where we take on the “we do what we can with what we have” mindset. With current and continually advancing alternative and renewable energy sources as well as constructing thermally efficient homes, we can create an environment that optimizes the energy required for a comfortable living temperature. In other words, decreasing it (energy required).
Home Thermal Efficiency
Being that we spend a large part of our lives within closed quarters, such as our homes and indoor work spaces, it should be no secret that thermal efficiency in the design phase of a building or home is extremely critical. Gone are the days in which words like “insulation” and “thermal efficiency” did not exist in the dictionaries of house-builders.
Today, the R-Value of homes is a huge selling point in the housing market. No one likes living in a freezing house in the middle of winter, and being that energy isn’t free, those who are smart will educate themselves in what thermal efficiency is, and the specific monetary difference between one that is efficient and one that isn’t.
I’ll list some standard home features that are essential for a well-insulated home with a reasonable R-Value:
1.) Double-paned windows or insulated glass units (IGU). Some people mistake this for double windows, but double-paned is simply 2 separate sheets of glass within the same window for the purpose of both thermal insulation as well as sound-damping – two birds with one stone. Double windows are even better, but are both more expensive as well as take up more space.
2.) Adequate insulation in all walls, floors and ceilings that contact the exterior. Obviously, there are many kinds of insulation with varying R-Value, as well as the quality of installation that will determine the actual results. For example, common types of insulation such as glass wool or rock wool may have an equal R-Value per unit area with cellulose, but because the latter is installed tightly around obstacles such as plumbing, ducts, and electrical wiring, real world results weigh heavily in its favor.
3.) Minimal thermal bridging. A thermal bridge is a continuous unbroken path that lacks adequate insulation, through which heat is transferred via conduction. Typical thermal bridges in homes are wall studs and flooring joists. Though insulation is packed between wall studs, the studs themselves act as a thermal bridge. This is inevitable.
Consequently, wall studs for the perimeter of the house should be made of a material with as low a thermal conductivity as possible, such as wood, without compromising the structural integrity. Note here that density and insulation are reverse properties, which is why air makes a good insulator. However, air on its own allows heat loss through convection, so must be used along with a housing material that “traps” it. More in Next Stop – Insulation Station.