Key Principles For Buildings that Save Energy


A sunny south facing location offers the ideal place to capture the free, renewable energy of the sun: passive solar energy.

Add one extra window on the south side, free of pine trees or things that block the sun like other houses or apartment buildings. One extra window on the south side will capture more sun in the winter. Offset this expense by eliminating most windows on the north, east and west sides as they bring in too much heat in the summer. Plan your living space around your sun space and enjoy the free warmth of the sun.

Use awnings and small utility windows as needed.

A roof pitching south with no trees in the way will be ready for your solar hot water panels and photovoltaic panels.


The caulk gun is your friend. Insulation doesn’t do much without great caulk and wind barriers like storm windows and doors.

Unfortunately, to do the job right we must rip out all the interior walls, seal and then insulate three times more than required by code. The inside walls of the house will probably have to be made thicker to hold enough insulation. The windows and doors may need to have thicker casings around them to hold more insulation.

Stopping the wind from stealing heat in winter is a key principle of energy conservation.


What is an “R” factor? An “R” = 1 inch of wood. To keep warmth inside a house 22 inches of wood are required for the walls and a whopping 50 inches are required for the ceiling attic space.


Blowing in insulation works to a certain degree. But, ripping out the walls is the best solution in order to get to the root of the problem and gain a measure of energy independence. Up in the attic three feet of blown in cellulose makes little difference if air ducts, cracks and crevices are letting the cold winds of winter blow through the house.

Windows and doors

An R7 window = 7 inches of wood in the middle of the window. Best there is out there in the marketplace today. These windows have three panes and a gas inside that keeps them clear. The gas can leak out of double and triple pane windows and doors and we need to demand excellent manufacturing standards so we do not loose the R factor we bought and become the land of foggy glass.


Tight spaces need air. It is hard to build a house that is so airtight you’ll suffocate. For exceptionally air tight houses factor in “make up air” for a dryer, cook top vent, gas appliances, etc. Also, an “air handler” is needed in well built solar houses in place of a furnace, boiler, electric hot waster baseboards. An air handler runs continuously, captures out going heat and returns it to the incoming cold air. Next in line is the air to air heat exchanger. This gadget finds warm air molecules in minus 20 degree air and brings them into the house.


A hot light bulb is wasting energy because the energy left over after making the light is spilling over to plain heat. We don’t want the extra heat in our homes in the summer. Buy a product that converts the electricity to light. Florescent bulbs do contain mercury but coal powered power plants spill tons of mercury into the air polluting our streams and lakes and making fish inedible. The mercury is contained in the bulb and we have to recycle them carefully. Yes, it costs more in transportation and recycling but these bulbs last a long time. Don’t buy the cheapies. And, try newer products like amalgam florescent bulbs and LED’s. A newer efficient light bulb can put money in your pocket and you can make more energy improvements you thought you could not afford. The savings from replacing one old light bulb is that much. Another tidbit: we loose 18% of the power generated at the power plant by the time it travels down the power lines to our homes and businesses. A lot of mercury is spewed into the air to make electricity that never gets used.

Plan your windows carefully for day lighting work spaces. “Eyebrows” above a window control strong sunlight in the spring and fall.

Shelves under high windows can be used to bounce more light deeper into a room. Lighting office spaces makes for creative open space.


A scheme for natural ventilation incorporating an attic fan and appropriately placed air intake saves far more energy than zones of air-conditioning. The air handler and air-to-air exchangers and dehumidifiers can give relief on all but the hottest weeks of summer.

Pollution unfortunately effects the comfort of many people who may require filtered or conditioned air.

The big picture: avoid the heat trapping effects of city life with green roofs, solar thermal hot water, and investing in whole house renovation. Consider trapping heat in your home for winter by winterizing. With a fair amount of insulation and plenty of caulking the house won’t loose heat in the first place.

This is a tough concept for many to understand. “You don’t need a furnace?” You don’t need to burn cords of wood, you can lower your oil or gas bill. But, it is a very messy job. How can we afford it? Financing is unfortunately hard to come by but you can afford to pay to finance the renovations with the money you will save.

How can you tell your house leaks? Get someone to come over with a infra-red camera. A $700.00 dollar camera will pinpoint areas where your home ins loosing heat. Wait until you see the areas around doors and windowsills.


What is the temperature 10 feet down under where you are right now? Probably around 54 degrees in northern New York and 56 degrees in southern New York. That’s pretty warm in winter and pretty cool in summer. Bringing that heat into your home is called Ground Source Heat Transfer. It is a little expensive and doesn’t work with some kinds of heating systems. Best is probably forced air.

Get out the shovel and dig a trench or use a pond that’s deep enough to not freeze. Digging a well requires a good understanding of the earth, rocks or sand beneath you home. Store your summer heat in the ground and bring it back out in January. Store some cooler temperatures all winter and use the extra coolness in the summer.


Everyone wants to put a little wind turbine on top of the house. Some newer systems may work but the traditional ones would shake the house and really work better high enough up to not be affected by trees or other buildings causing wind turbulence.

Wind turbines make electricity and what we really need is free heat from the sun to warm our homes more than electricity.

Measure your energy usage by going to “Count Your Watts”.

Questions? Send a note from the contact page.