Sealing windows

Cost-Saving Construction Practices for Your Home Remodel

Sealing windows

When you’re remodeling your home, you look for the most effective way to spend your money. What you may not think about though, is how your home’s construction can affect your wallet and your comfort later on. During the planning and design stages is when you should make some important decisions about energy efficiency, weatherproofing and other factors that can save money year after year. That’s why we’re offering these cost-saving construction practices to consider for your home remodel.

Take a Whole-House Systems Approach

bathroom with skylight

When designing your remodel, take into account how the remodeled section will impact or interface with the entire house. This ensures that all systems and variables will work smoothly together and that you will save money on energy bills.

Energy efficiency is one of the highest priorities in the whole-house approach. For example, you’ll want to look at how daylight plays into lighting and climate control systems, along with placement of windows, doors and skylights. You’ll also need to know if and how your heating and cooling systems will work with the new space. Do you need to add capacity or even a separate system? Is passive solar design a priority?

In addition, how you use energy should be taken into consideration for:

  • Appliances and home electronics
  • Lighting
  • Heating and cooling
  • Water heating
  • Insulation and air sealing

Consider Solar Tempering Techniques

kitchen window with cellular shade and awning

You can design your remodel to take advantage of incidental solar gain. This can mean orienting rooms and windows to take advantage of a southern exposure to provide light and warmth in the winter, and avoid direct sun in the summer. Through solar tempering techniques, you may be able to reduce your heating costs between 10% and 20%!

Other ways to include solar tempering include:

  • Cellular shades with an R-value close to 4 that can be closed to reserve heat in winter and prevent heat in summer
  • Moveable exterior shading, like awnings
  • Installing Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) windows on the south side of the home to block heat from the sun. A low SHGC means the window transmits less solar heat.

Focus on Air Sealing

Up to 40% of the energy you use to heat and cool your home can be lost to air leaks, reports ENERGY STAR. That could lead to 10% of your total yearly energy bills! Your remodeler should discuss with you ways to reduce drafts and heat loss with air sealing around doors and windows, the chimney, plumbing and recessed lighting, using weather stripping, caulk, spray foam and more.

Air sealing can:

  • Improve indoor comfort by regulating temperature, drafts, noise and moisture
  • Improve indoor air quality by eliminating pollutants and dust
  • Lower energy bills
  • Exceed minimum construction standards for a higher-quality product

Choose Highly-Insulated Windows and Doors

porch addition

Windows and doors are available with energy performance ratings called U-Factor ratings. The lower the U-value, the greater a window can resist heat flow and reduce heat loss, and the better its insulating value. Good U-Factor ratings fall between 0.20 and 1.20; and ratings are marked on a window’s label.

U-values involve low-emissivity (low-E) coatings of microscopically-thin metal layers applied on clear film suspended between the glass panes to reduce heat transfer. Inert gasses between panes, like argon or krypton, also reduce heat transfer.

The U-value differs from a window’s R-value, which rates thermal resistance, or the ability of heat to transfer from hot to cold through a material. A typical double-paned window has an R-value of around 2, but the most energy-efficient windows have an R-value of 5 or higher. For a less expensive alternative, consider adding storm windows to your home.

Save money on door by replacing them with better-fitting and insulated doors, and by caulking and weather stripping around them.

Other tips for energy savings include:

  • Installing tight-fitting window shades, or insulated “honeycombed” shades
  • Closing curtains at night to prevent heat loss in winter, or during the day to prevent heat gain in summer
  • Application of low-e film inside the windows
  • Use of sun-controlling or reflective film on south-facing windows

Super-Insulate All Sides of a Space

When insulating your space, insulating not only the walls, but the ceiling and floor as well, is a great cost-saving construction practice. Every side of a space requires insulating material, with each requiring materials that fulfill its specific need. Techniques can include:

For Walls:

  • Advanced framing techniques to save wood and provide extra room for insulation
  • High-performance walls that offer a higher R-value, especially on exterior walls
  • Double-plated walls that offer a thicker cavity for colder climates. In moderate climates, like Northern Virginia, a cavity of 8” or 9” should be enough.
  • Basement walls should be insulated on the exterior, perhaps by insulating concrete forms

For Ceilings:

  • Blown-in insulation within a flat ceiling, or building a sloped ceiling to allow for ample insulation
  • Closed-cell spray foam insulation, also called high-density foam, to improve airtightness and reduce water vapor. This is best suited for crawl spaces or unvented attics.

For Floors:

  • Blown-in dense pack insulation under wood-frame floors, and sealing of the floor sheet perimeters with construction adhesive
  • Foundation vents placed where they won’t interfere with insulation
  • Slab floors have fewer air leaks, and may not require much, if any, additional insulation

Maximize Air Quality

After your home is sealed from air leaks, create a healthy indoor air quality with the use of automatic, controlled ventilation and good air filtration. This cost-saving construction practice saves on energy as well as healthcare costs.

Builders and remodelers can improve air quality in homes by following the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Indoor airPLUS Program that requires construction practices and product specifications that minimize exposure to airborne pollutants and contaminants.

To qualify, the home must be designed to earn the ENERGY STAR Certified Home label—the government-back symbol for energy efficiency. This will incorporate both the ENERGY STAR and the Indoor airPLUS practices and specifications.

Heath benefits of better air quality include reduction or elimination of:

  • Mold, pollen, pet dander and other allergens
  • Pests
  • Chemical agents like formaldehyde, radon gas, VOCs and combustion products

Select an Efficient Heating and Cooling System

Heating and cooling a home accounts for up to 48% of your energy costs, so it makes sense to select a system offering the most efficiency. Heat can be transferred in three ways: through radiation (top down), conduction (bottom up), and convection (circulating air). You will feel the warmest and coolest through convection, as air circulates around you.

Ways to save costs during construction include:

  • Selecting energy-efficient products like those with ENERGY STAR ratings
  • Installing a programmable thermostat and using a low setting in winter, and a high setting in summer
  • Designing heating systems where they won’t be blocked by draperies, furniture or carpeting

Be Smart About Water Heating

In a zero energy home, the builders and designers look at the type and location of the water heater, and how hot water will be used by the residents.

Types of water heating equipment designed for cost savings include:

  • ENERGY STAR rated appliances for optimal performance and energy savings
  • Solar water heating through a solar thermal system
  • An efficient heat pump water heater that draws heat from its surroundings
  • An electric resistance water heater that uses in-tank heating elements
  • Circulating water systems that use a pump to rapidly push hot water to the farthest area of the home from the water heater
  • Demand hot water systems

Choose Energy-Efficient Appliances and Electronics

The ENERGY STAR Product Finder will help you research and select the most cost-efficient models of appliances and electronics. For cost savings, look for those offering the lowest yearly electrical consumption. Also, consider the smallest size that will suit your needs. Larger appliances require more energy.

Contemplate these choices:

  • An induction stove top is 12% to 30% more efficient than an electric or gas range, respectively
  • Microwave oven over gas or electric
  • Front-loading washer, or one with energy-saving cycles
  • Heat pump dryer
  • Low water-consumption dishwasher
  • Manual on-off switches or power strips for electronics like TV sets, gaming consoles and computers

Opt for Power-Saving Lighting

LED Bulbs

Switch from incandescent bulbs to LED lighting and you can save about 15% on your home’s electricity use. When designing your home, look for ways to incorporate natural light, and choose lighting products with the greatest energy savings. Save money after construction with the use of timers, dimmers and automatic exterior lighting.

Northern Virginia Remodeling at its Best by Schroeder Design/Build

At Schroeder Design/Build, our designers want you to have the best experience living in your home, and that includes efficiencies like energy savings. We’ll look for cost-saving construction practices that enhance your quality of life while saving you money.

We’re a family owned and operated business, so we understand what it’s like to live in a home we’ve built. After all, we’ve remodeled our own homes, as well as homes for more than 1000 clients throughout Northern Virginia in our 35-year history.

When you’re looking to remodel, come talk to us. Contact Schroeder Design/Build at 703-449-1700

In the meanwhile, sign up for our newsletter to receive tips, promotions and invitations to informative seminars, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.


How to Kill a House

Did you know that blowing insulation into an older home’s walls can create moisture problems that can rot the wood from the inside out? We’re reposting this article from Pro Remodeler that explains how trapped moisture can kill a house.

Wood has only a few enemies—termite, fire or a weekend warrior. These are almost always fatal. But there is a fourth enemy: water. Although wood is amazingly resilient, and get wet over and over again, it must be given a chance to dry.

German post-and-beam homes used to use straw as insulation, and a lime-based plaster parging as the cladding and air seal. This assembly could hold moisture without causing it to condense. And the plaster could dry very quickly. Water in the walls was rarely an issue and these buildings lasted for hundreds of years.


The Quest for Energy Efficiency Could Kill an Older House

Homes build in the 1950s worked similarly. The walls were wrapped with overlapping paper layers with little or no flashing at openings or horizontal exterior trim elements. This allowed the sheathing and wall cavities to get wet but heating from inside the homes dried out the wood. Although this was inefficient in terms of energy use, it didn’t kill a house.

Since the 1950s, the quest for energy efficiency has become another enemy. Not only did builders begin adding insulation, but they did it in the worst possible way. They drilled holes from the outside, blew in cellulose, plugged the holes, and painted over everything.

The insulation they placed between the studs of the pre-WWII homes became the single worst element in the wall assembly. Uninsulated, unsealed walls dry out because they can “breathe.” Adding insulation—and doing nothing else to manage bulk, vapor or ventilation—destroys this cycle.

While adding batt insulation is bad enough, drilling holes through the cladding, the drainage plan, and sheathing completely destroys a wall’s first line of defense and paves a path for bulk water to enter a wall cavity. Then filling that cavity with an absorbent material like cellulose (which holds moisture) so that leaks will go undetected, and the walls stay wet longer. In no time (sooner in stucco walls), moisture levels will rise exponentially in the wall cavities. The time depends on the integrity of the drainage layer through which the holes for the insulation were drilled.

To maximize the damage and really kill a home, add a set-back thermostat that drops the nighttime temperature to 65 degrees. This will create capillary condensation action on the sheathing, framing and insulation that will further speed the process.

In today’s construction, we don’t want a home’s enclosure to “breathe.” The only ventilation should come through mechanical means or via open windows and doors. The rest of the house should remain sealed.

Insulating an Older Home

If you want to insulate an older home, the cladding and weather barrier must be removed. Drill the sheathing and blow or inject loose fill or foam insulation, replace the windows, install flashing properly integrated with the water-resistant barrier, and replace the cladding. Ideally, add a rainscreen. On the home’s interior, you must air seal penetrations, replace window millwork and repaint with vapor-retarding primer.

According to the author, Michael Anschel or Otogawa-Anschel Design + Build in Minneapolis, all this is an expensive proposition. And there’s more. You must also perform a combustion spillage test, which will fail and require replacement of the furnace/boiler/water heater. And the home will likely not meet ventilation requirements, so a heat-recovery ventilator/energy-recovery ventilator must be added, or the house will rot from the inside.

The Bottom Line

Insulating the walls of an old house is a serious undertaking and should be an all-or-nothing proposition. If you cannot afford to do the entire process, look to air seal other parts of the home, but do not insulate the walls.

Don’t Kill Your House: Talk to Schroeder Design/Build

In our region of Northern Virginia, many homes were built prior to WWII. These homeowners love their neighborhoods and their proximity to Washington, D.C. are now turning to remodeling to update, upgrade and make their homes more energy efficient. We’d be glad to talk with you about remodeling your home. Contact Schroeder Design/Build to set up your free initial consultation.

See Pro Remodeler’s Tips for Insulating Older Homes

–This article was excerpted from “How to Kill a House” by Michael Anschel, August 2016.



Simple Green Remodeling Projects You Should Consider

A Guide to Eco Friendly Home Design

Sustainable design. Energy efficient. Green building. Three popular terms in today’s eco friendly building world that all mean essentially the same thing – to optimize the efficiency of a building’s usage of water, energy and material resources to reduce the negative impacts on the environment and human health. Green building used to be an emerging trend, but today, builders and homeowners are more educated and aware of the importance of integrating eco friendly home design elements when planning a remodel or buying a new home. Not sure where to start; you’re not alone. This guide will help educate you on some of the core elements of green remodeling. Read more