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Renovation Design Group
Before: To make their home more energy efficient and yet preserve some original charm, these clients sandwiched their original leaded-glass windows panes into new Pella Wiindows frames.

A home remodeling project may have several goals. We want our finished project to be beautiful and functional, stylish and timeless, solve problems and fulfill dreams. One common remodeling goal for many people today is energy efficiency. Whether the motivation is saving the environment or their pocketbook, more people are looking for ways to make their home more energy-efficient and economical.

Here are three renovation projects that impact energy efficiency.

Make your home airtight

The first rule of a more energy-efficient house is making it more airtight. Excess air exchange makes your house less energy-efficient. If the heated or cooled air isn’t escaping, it will be easier to control the inside temperature both in summer and winter. Besides being more comfortable, you will spend less money heating or cooling the inside air.

Wrapping the exterior walls of a house with an air barrier (similar to sheets of plastic) before installing siding or masonry is the proper way to construct a more energy-efficient home. Obviously, adding this step to an existing wall is a major remodel and would involve removing the home's exterior material. Since most people don’t take remodeling to this extreme, you can at least make sure any new walls installed in conjunction with your remodeling project are up to current construction standards.

Making the home more airtight in a retrofit application includes addressing drafts and gaps in doorways, around the windows and in the exterior walls. If you aren’t able to buy new exterior doors and windows, reducing the leakage will increase your home’s energy efficiency.

Increase insulation

Insulation is another serious contributor to energy efficiency. Adding attic insulation or more insulation to the walls is a surefire way to stop excessive heat loss or gain. However, as with house wrap, adding insulation into existing exterior walls is not a simple process.

If your home has a double row of bricks for the exterior walls, there is no room to add insulation. You can add sheets of foam to the exterior to increase a wall's energy efficiency, but you are then required to add new exterior materials such as siding or stucco and will need to deal with new trim and sills around all the doors and windows. Insulation can be added on the interior of a wall, but this requires building new stud walls next to the existing masonry walls to make room for insulation. This not only makes the rooms smaller but also has the same issues with door and window frames as the exterior approach.

If you have a home with exterior stud walls, insulation can be added by blowing it into the space between the studs. This is accomplished through holes made in each stud cavity (meaning every 16 inches), which results in a lot of patching and painting.

Adding insulation to the attic is an easier project. You must decide whether you want loose fill blown in to sit on top of the ceiling of your uppermost floor, or whether you want to install it between the rafters of the roof. The second installation type results in an attic with "conditioned" space; in other words, it can be heated and cooled like the rest of the house.

Exterior walls and roofs are not the only areas that need insulating. Pay attention to any location where conditioned space comes in contact with unconditioned space. For example, an interior wall may need insulation if it is between the laundry room and the unheated garage. Likewise, floors over unheated areas such as crawl spaces should be attended to as well.

Update the windows and doors

Replacing old windows and exterior doors is another great home remodeling project for energy efficiency. However, make sure the style, design, size and location of the windows is congruent with your future remodeling plans. We can’t tell you how many times we have seen this scenario with clients who come in wanting a major home remodel and drop this bombshell: They just replaced all the windows in the house. It is either something we have to work around or a frustrating waste of money when they end up redoing windows again in the name of a better house plan, more natural light or updating the curb appeal with a different style.

All new windows now come with two panes of glass, called insulated glass. Some have special gases placed between the panes, which is a topic to study if you are considering new windows. Most windows now have a Low E coating which means the glass is coated with a microscopic layer of metallic oxides. This coating is invisible to the human eye, but it helps deflect ultra-violet rays (which can fade furniture) and it helps control how radiant heat passes through the windows. The simple explanation is that in the winter, the panes reflect heat back into the house, and in the summer, they reflect heat away from the house.

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Along with providing better doors and windows for your home, correct insulation around those windows can further improve your home’s energy efficiency. Not only should the windows and doors be properly flashed to prevent moisture infiltration but all gaps should also be carefully caulked to prevent air from seeping into the home.

We couldn’t end a column without reiterating how valuable a master plan is for anyone considering remodeling. The goal is to continually move forward in making your home more functional, beautiful and comfortable. Energy efficiency translates into physical comfort and mental peace of mind. Consider the big picture as you make goals to create a more energy-efficient home.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com