Q: What are some of the new trends in sustainable building?
A: Ductless heat pumps are continuing to gain in popularity. Not only do they not require ducts, they can be the most affordable heating solution up front and also offer the deepest energy savings over the long haul.
Another trend is insulation for the outside of the home. Outside insulation is installed behind the siding and under the roofing. Typical insulation is broken up by the wall studs and the roof rafters.
When you add even a moderate amount of continuous rigid insulation to the outside of your walls or your roof you have a fully insulated structure. This allows homeowners to save significantly on energy costs, and the rigid insulation is capable of lasting for 100 years or more.
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Also gaining in popularity is rain-screen siding. Considered a “best practice” for climates where there is a lot of precipitation, this method involves installing siding on top of battens, which creates a ventilation space behind the siding.
In damp weather, siding will get wet on the front and back no matter how it is installed. In older buildings with no insulation, the furnace or fireplace would dry the siding when it got wet. But now that we insulate our buildings, the siding needs some airflow behind it in order to facilitate a good dry-out between rainy days.
Speaking of all that precipitation, consider creating a rain garden. Many homes have downspouts that pour onto splash plates, and roof rainwater simply flows into soggy yards all winter.
Rain gardens take water away from the house by distributing it safely into the ground. The added bonus, of course, is the beauty of the garden’s vegetation.
It may be hard to believe with all the Northwest’s cloudy and rainy weather, but solar panels placed on south, east and west pitches does work. The region has an impressively long sun arc in summer, and there are plenty of photons bouncing around even on high-white-cloud days.
Fortunately, your home doesn’t need a southern-facing roof pitch to take advantage of solar energy.
Low-slope east and west pitches produce more than 90 percent of the energy produced by south-facing pitches.
More good news: There are federal and state incentives available for homeowners who build homes with solar panels or retrofit with solar panels.
If you are building or remodeling a home, one sustainable feature to ask your contractor about is an insulated concrete-form (ICF) basement. ICF basements are an affordable way to create a comfortable, seismically sound, energy-efficient basement. Consider the silver-colored ICF blocks.
Do you own an electric car or plan to one day? If you are building or remodeling your garage area, consider creating a charging area for an electric car.
There is an abundance of electric cars in the marketplace, and hybrid models such as the 2014 Prius models feature batteries that can be charged.
Jason Lear is founder and co-owner of Batt + Lear, Inc., and is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. HomeWork is the association’s weekly column about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.