From the Field

9 smart steps you can take to min­i­mize your en­ergy use and max­i­mize your sav­ings.

Log Home Living - - CONTENTS -

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.

1 Build by the Book.

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.

2 Con­duct a blow­er­door test.

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.

3 Up­grade to spray­foam in­su­la­tion

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 in- su­la­tion 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? Here are a few ideas:

4 Switch to LED lights.

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!

5 Opt for on-de­mand hot water.

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.

6 Choose the right HVAC sys­tem.

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.

7 Choose qual­ity win­dows and doors.

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.

8 Em­brace smart-home tech.

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.

9 Change your life­style.

None of th­ese sug­ges­tions will mat­ter if you don’t do your part. Re­duc­ing water con­sump­tion, whether you buy a split­flush­ing 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.

Dan Mitchell is a builder, Log & Tim­ber Home Univer­sity pro­fes­sor and the 2018 Pres­i­dent of the Greater Knoxville HBA. He owns Ea­gle CDI in Ten­nessee.

By prop­erly build­ing your log home and then out­fit­ting it with smart me­chan­i­cal sys­tems and com­po­nents, you can save hun­dreds on your an­nual en­ergy bills.

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