Energy is used in many different ways in homes, schools, offices, and other buildings. It is used to turn on the lights, keep the air conditioner running, and power computers, printers, and other devices. A lot of energy is consumed inside buildings around the country. In fact, about 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States are produced by buildings where people live and work.
Some buildings are more energy efficient than others, which means they consume less energy to perform the same tasks. What makes a building energy efficient? Here are the key features found in many energy efficient buildings:
Energy Efficient Light Bulbs
Most energy efficient buildings use halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), or light emitting diodes (LEDs) instead of traditional light bulbs. These energy efficient light bulbs come in a wide range of colors and light levels, so they can be used in many different settings.
All three types of energy efficient light bulbs last between three to 25 times as long as traditional light bulbs and use up to 80% less energy.
Saving energy isn’t the only benefit of using these light bulbs. Switching to energy efficient light bulbs can lower utility bills, too. It costs about $4.80 to power a traditional light bulb for two hours, but it only costs about $1.00 to power an energy efficient light bulb for the same period of time.
Energy efficient buildings are typically designed with plenty of insulation, too. Insulation keeps warm air inside the building in the winter and outside the building in the summer. As a result, the heating and cooling system will not need to consume as much energy to maintain a comfortable temperature within a properly insulated building.
Insulation can be installed in many different areas within a building, including floors, crawl spacements, attics, basements, and walls. The amount and type of insulation that a building needs to be energy efficient will vary depending on its location. Buildings in extremely cold climates, for example, will need more insulation than buildings located in mild climates. Buildings in cold climates may also require the use of bulkier insulation materials than buildings in warmer, milder climates.
Energy efficient buildings are often powered partially or completely by energy from the sun, also known as solar power. Solar panels capture solar power and convert it into electricity. These panels are typically placed on roofs so they are exposed to as much sunlight as possible.
Solar panels can offset a building’s energy costs. How? Solar energy is free. The more solar power the panels generate, the less electricity the building will draw from the power grid. In other words, solar panels can significantly reduce or completely eliminate a building’s electricity bills.
Solar panels also reduce a building’s greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity is typically generated by burning fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas. Burning these fossil fuels leads to the release of harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. But buildings can generate clean energy with solar panels, which do not produce greenhouse gases. Thus, installing solar panels can help the environment and slow down the effects of climate change.
Energy Efficient Design
There are a number of design elements that can make a building more energy efficient as a whole, including:
- Overhangs: An overhang can provide shade and prevent heat from entering the lower levels of a building.
- Orientation: The positioning of the building can affect its sun exposure. In warmer climates, buildings must be positioned to minimize sun exposure, whereas in colder climates, they should be positioned to maximize sun exposure.
- Positioning of doors and windows: The placement of the doors and windows can impact a building’s energy efficiency. Doors and windows on the east or west, for example, can waste two times as much energy as doors and windows on the north or south of a building.
A cool roof is another feature commonly found on energy efficient buildings. Cool roofs are designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than other roofs. By preventing heat from coming inside the building, a cool roof makes it easier for your air conditioner to maintain a comfortable temperature. Because the air conditioner won’t need to work as hard, it won’t consume as much energy, which will lower the building’s overall energy consumption.
There are several types of cool roofs. Some buildings feature cool roof coatings, which are special paints that are applied on top of existing roofing materials. Another option is installing cool asphalt shingles, which are made with specially coated granules with light-reflecting properties.
These are some of the many features that are used to improve the energy efficiency of a building. Incorporating these features into the design of homes, schools, offices, and other buildings can save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help prevent the effects of global warming.