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Why Real Energy Efficiency requires a Whole-House Approach

Homeowners often slowly upgrade one aspect of their house, whether it’s a new energy-efficient furnace, better humidifier or a new attic fan. However, it always makes more sense to incorporate specific home improvements into a whole-house approach to energy efficiency. This can help you realize big financial savings while also reducing your energy footprint. You can apply the whole-house approach to energy efficiency for new construction, but it can also save you money when remodeling or adding on to your home, or simply upgrading your HVAC equipment. 

A Systems Viewpoint

Rather than looking at the benefit of buying an energy-efficient window air conditioner with the federal Energy Star label on it, you should view your house from a more comprehensive perspective. The air conditioner is one component; take a step back and consider whether the window into which you will install it is also energy efficient. Are the walls surrounding the window insulated sufficiently? Is the outlet you’ll be plugging into sealed against air leaks? What about the attic above; does it have enough insulation that the air conditioner’s cooling isn’t lost to convection currents?  Moreover, have you considered upgrading to a central A/C system, which is much more efficient than using multiple window or portable units?

The whole-house approach to energy efficiency examines the entire home, its occupants and its contents, and looks for ways to save energy and resources. So before you upgrade your A/C, consider the return on investment of replacing all your windows with highly energy-efficient triple-pane windows and installing a split-system central air conditioner or heat pump. If you already have adequate insulation, you should not only consider the benefits of retaining heat during the winter, but also the value of the insulation for keeping your occupied rooms cool in summer. 

Your Whole House

Viewed through the lens of a whole-house approach to energy efficiency, your Chicago area home is a web of interdependent factors: 

  • The local climate
  • Home Appliances
  • Insulation and air sealing
  • Lighting and daylight
  • Space heating and cooling
  • Water heating
  • Windows, doors and skylights

The Sum of the Parts

One of the key shifts in thinking with a whole-house approach to energy efficiency is being aware of the ripple effect that one change will have on all the other factors. Take a simple change, for example. Replace an old-fashioned manual thermostat with a WiFi programmable thermostat. You may only consider the upfront expense and installation costs. But when you step back and look at the cascade of changes this will trigger, you will see many benefits:

  • Maximum control of heating and cooling costs
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Reduced energy consumption   
  • More information about energy use in real time
  • Automatic adjustments to changing outside conditions

This sort of change in thinking will occur for every energy decision you make. The multiple benefits of changes in one system by taking a whole-house approach to energy efficiency will help you make wise buying and remodeling decisions. 

Rather than simply delaying installation of a highly efficient condensing gas furnace, for example, you can calculate its impact and increase the rate of return on investment by considering the ripple effects. If, before paying an HVAC contractor to size your new equipment, you upgrade insulation and seal air leaks, you may be able to step down to a smaller heating system, saving you money at installation and through the life of the furnace. 

A Happy Home

Some additional benefits of taking a whole-house approach to energy efficiency:

  • Increased home comfort levels
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Reduced use of fossil fuels
  • Stretch equipment life and efficiency by reducing loads
  • Save on equipment replacement and maintenance costs
  • Potential savings on “energy-efficient” mortgages or refinancing
  • Higher resale value should you choose to move

A Happy New Home

If you are considering new construction on your Chicago area home, the whole-house approach to energy efficiency will pay off enormously, starting right from the design stage. Working with your architect and HVAC contractor, advocate for this design and construction method. Details include all this and more:

  • Advanced framing systems – to use 2x6 instead of 2x4 wall construction to make more room for insulation
  • Integrated envelope sealing – to include airtight caulking and taping of drywall and house-wrapping to prevent air leaks
  • Energy-efficient windows – including, during design, orienting the house for best solar exposure
  • Optimally sized mechanical systems – using Manuals J, S and D to size heating and cooling systems for improved insulation, ventilation and air sealing

For more information on the many benefits of a whole-house approach to energy efficiency for your Chicagoland home, contact us at to find a contractor in your area. 

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