By: Tracy Fox
When it comes to our homes, we have a lot to be thankful for. Every single day, our houses battle the elements and provide shelter for our families. But lucky for us, log homes don't have to work as hard as other building systems.
According to the Log Homes Council, a typical log home is up to 15 percent more energy efficient than an identical stick-framed structure, thanks to the durability and thermal mass of logs. Still, there's always room for improvement. To make your log home even more earth friendly, consider opting for durable building products that will add to your health and comfort while considerably cutting your utility bills. Here, we cover the top three areas where it makes the most sense to go "green" in your home: heating and cooling systems; windows and doors; and roofing. If you invest in one or more of these, you'll remember to count your blessings—and the savings you'll enjoy, both in tax credits and energy costs.
Heating & Cooling
As it turns out, the true gas guzzlers in most houses are the heating and cooling systems, which account for about 56 percent of the energy use in a typical American home. So, if rising energy prices have you feeling like it's time to go hybrid on the home front, here are a few options to consider.
Solar Water Heating
About a quarter on every dollar of a home's energy costs is put toward heating water. An environmentally sound way to reduce that ratio is to install a solar water-heating unit, which consists of collectors, storage tanks and plumbing systems. Nothing new here, these have been in use since your grandparents were building their first log home.
Here's how it works: Instead of using gas or electricity, solar thermal systems rely upon the continual energy of the sun to heat water for your home, which is cost effective and eliminates the need for gas or electricity for water heating. Plus, many states offer incentive programs for installing these systems. Log on to www.dsireusa.org to see if you qualify.
Green tip: Insulate ducts in unheated areas, such as attics and crawl spaces, and keep them in good repair to prevent up to 60 percent of heat loss.
Geothermal Heat Pumps
Among the most efficient heating and cooling technologies currently available are geothermal heat pumps. These use the Earth's constant internal temperature to provide homes with heat, central air conditioning and, in most cases, water-heating capabilities. No matter the weather, just a few feet below the ground's surface, the temperature remains warm all year round. A geothermal system takes advantage of this by piping that heat into your home through a ground-heat exchanger in the winter. In the summer, warm air is drawn out of the house and then absorbed by the Earth. They're also quieter and last longer than air-source heat pumps.
There's more to windows and doors than meets the eye—products that look alike can perform very differently, so be sure to check out window ratings before you buy. The National Fenestration Rating Council (www.nfrc.org) provides homeowners with detailed performance ratings. Also, look for a solid warranty, which shows a manufacturer is confident in its products.
In the world of windows and skylights, a slew of new technologies have enhanced performance significantly, including exterior glass glazes that repel dirt and water spots; coatings that protect interior furniture and carpets from fading; and soundproofing windows that create quieter, more comfortable rooms.
But when shopping with energy efficiency in mind, the most important factor is your local climate. For example, in colder regions, the U-factor, which rates a window's insulating capacity, is very important. The lower the U-value, the greater the insulation, so in northern regions, you'll want to choose windows with a value of 0.35 or less, whereas you can opt for a value of up to 0.75 in warmer climates. Also, in sunnier areas, pay close attention to the solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC), which measures a window's ability to block the sun's heat. The SHGC is the fraction of the heat from the sun that enters through a window, which is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. The lower a window's SHGC, the less solar heat it will allow into your home and the less AC you'll have to blast.
|Green tip: Installing exterior or interior storm windows can reduce heat loss by 25 to 50 percent. Storm windows should have weather stripping on all moveable parts; be made of strong, durable materials; and have interlocking or overlapping joints. Low-E windows, which are coated with an invisible low-emittance material, will save even more energy.
Like windows, exterior doors afford a limitless array of options. Entryway, patio and sliding doors are all available with the Energy Star label, which identifies products that are energy efficient according to strict guidelines developed by the government. Good thing, since exterior doors can account for up to 11 percent of a home's air leakage, according to the Department of Energy.
For an even more efficient entryway system, look for improved core materials (these also come with a U-value), multiple glass panes and tighter seals around the edges. Reclaimed wood and doors certified by the Forest Stewardship Council also are widely available and can be finished with low-VOC stains and finishes. VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are emitted as gases and include chemicals that can cause short- and long-term health problems, so a low-VOC coating is a sustainable and safe option. Still, reclaimed doors will not be as energy efficient as their steel and fiberglass Energy Star-qualified counterparts.
When it's time to top off your log home, the best choice is energy-efficient and durable roofing materials. Sure, they may cost a little more upfront, but increased energy savings and reduced maintenance costs offer a big long-term payback. Plus, the more durable your roofing is, the less often you'll need to replace it, meaning less waste for landfills and more money in your pocket.
The inherent qualities of a metal roof are appealing: It will never split, warp, mold or rot and it contains reclaimed content in addition to being recyclable at the end of its long and useful life. Metal roofs are available in shingles and standing-seam styles and get an extra dose of energy efficiency when they're covered with a reflective roof coating. Available in a variety of colors, these coatings absorb less heat and can reduce air-conditioning costs by up to 20 percent, according to recent studies.Green tip: Visit the Cool Roof Rating Council web site (www.coolroofs.org) to learn if a "cool roof" is right for your climate and for a list of manufacturers offering energy-efficient coatings on asphalt shingles, concrete tiles and metal roof products.
Does a roof that generates electricity sound remarkable? Growing in popularity, building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) roofing products interlock with roof tiles and shingles to convert sunlight directly into electricity safely, quietly and without harmful carbon dioxide emissions. Rather than mounting solar panels on a rack on top of your roof, BIPV roof panels and shingles provide a seamless look because they integrate with traditional roofing materials. Most BIPV packages include all of the necessary components you'll need for installation and are offered by several manufacturers, including GE Energy, BP Solar, Atlantis Energy and Sharp. They also can be installed with standing-seam metal roofs for a perfect log home complement.
It's simple—just pick the right products and it's easy to turn your dream house into a green house. Trust us, Mother Earth and your wallet will thank you.