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Ask the Expert - Energy Efficiency for Today's Log Home

We know you have questions about the energy efficiency of log homes. We've asked industry experts, Katahdin Cedar Log Homes to help us with the answers.

Written by Amanda Phillips

Log homes are reliably energy efficient, but that achievement goes beyond the logs. Improvements in other building materials and developments in log home construction methods to bolster the energy efficiency of logs while retaining the home’s log look have improved home comfort and lowered heating costs.

Each month in our Log Home Living Newsletter we will feature one question and answer. If you're not already receiving our weekly newsletter, you can sign up here.

We'll archive all the questions on this page for easy reference and if you've got a question, please email Amanda at aphillips@aimmedia.com.
 

How does moisture content and settling affect my home’s energy efficiency?

There are many things that can affect the quality and energy efficiency of your log home. One that is often overlooked is how dry or how much water there is in your logs. This is referred to as moisture content. The drying process takes place when wood exchanges moisture with air. The rate and amount of dryness depends on the relative humidity and temperature of the air. This moisture relationship has an important influence on the quality and performance of your log home.

High moisture content in your logs can have a detrimental effect on the heating and cooling of your log home. If your logs have a moisture content above 12%, noticeable shrinking will occur as your logs dry out. Because the logs will shrink at different rates, gaps between the logs will slowly appear. Installing caulking and foam between the logs and chinking the exterior may help alleviate air leakage. However, all of these products have limits to their stretching and swelling abilities. The best way to prevent air infiltration in your log home, and increase its energy efficiency, is to buy logs that are dry before they are erected.

The optimum moisture content differs depending on your climate. An average of 12% or less in most areas of the U.S. dramatically minimizes potential air leaks because most, if not all, of the shrinkage has already occurred. With very minimal air leakage your log home is much easier to heat and cool because the conditioned air stays in your home.

When speaking with the log home companies of your choice, please remember to inquire about the moisture content of the logs your home will be built with, because dryer will always be better.

Published on: January 11th, 2018


Should we hire an Energy Rater?

As regular readers of this column would recognize by now, there are a LOT of options when it comes to increasing energy efficiency of a log home. But how do you know which options will work best for you? Hiring an Energy Rater can help. Here’s how:

RESNet, a non-profit organization based in California that develops industry standards and training to conduct home energy ratings, has developed the Home Energy Rating System, or “HERS.” The HERS rating ranges from 100, which would match your home against an average home’s energy usage in your area. Scores descend from there, with 0 equaling a “net zero” home, meaning that it produces and consumes an equal amount of energy. Negative number scores indicate that the home is producing more energy than it needs.

There are a number of benefits to achieving a low HERS score. The first and biggest benefit is that your home will be more energy efficient, more comfortable and cost less money to operate year-round. A home with a low HERS score can also help you save in other ways. Studies have shown that energy efficient homes enjoy a higher resale value. Your bank loan officer may also note another study that showed energy efficient homes have an average 32% less chance of mortgage default. So, documenting your home’s energy efficiency can make your home more valuable and a more attractive risk to lenders.

For new construction, it’s a good idea to contact a RESNet rater while you’re still in the design phase. The energy rater can work closely with the design department and your builder to evaluate the plans, solar orientation, HVAC specifications, windows, doors and insulation to develop an initial HERS score. The rater can then evaluate and advise possible changes that might yield higher energy savings. All the information is entered into the RESNet software and stored for future reference in tabulating the final score.

After your plans are finalized, the Home Energy Rater will inspect the home at least two times: first, when the exterior envelope is completed but prior to interior finishing with cedar tongue-and-groove paneling or wallboard. And again once construction is completed.

The average cost for a start-to-finish new construction consultation is between $400-800. The final figure is often based on geographic location, as well as the size and complexity of the home. RESNet’s website has a locator tool [http://www.resnet.us/directory/search] where you can search for RESNet Energy Raters in your area. Any professional located on the website is certified and up-to-date with training.

We encourage everyone to include energy auditing in their home construction budget. It really is money well spent!

Published on: July 27th, 2017



Does “smart home” technology really increase your home’s efficiency, or is it just a gimmick?

Most homeowners these days are extremely concerned with their home’s energy bill and log homeowners are no exception. After all, you may pay off your home in 10, 20 or 30 years but, unless your log home is totally off the grid, utility bills are forever.

If you’re concerned about energy efficiency, the first, most important step is to build a well-insulated and sealed log home and make sure it’s properly orientated on your land to take advantage of passive solar gain. But beyond that, what can a homeowner do to increase and maintain energy efficiency once their home is built? Smart home technology actually does have the answers.

When we say “smart home technology,” we’re not talking about George Jetson’s sky pad. Rather, we are talking about new home innovations that can monitor your energy usage to help you regulate your home’s heating, cooling and energy usage.

The Sense Monitor is an excellent example of this. The monitor is a small device that plugs into your electrical panel and reads the unique electronic signature of all the things in your home that are plugged in. By reading these signatures millions of times per second, the Sense Monitor can actually differentiate between them to tell which is which. Using Wi-Fi, it then sends all of this data to an app for you to review. This makes it easy to see where your energy is going and what you may need to adjust to save money.

Smart home technology also can assist with your home’s heating and cooling. Smart thermostats, like the ones offered by Nest and ecobee, can take human error out of managing the temperature and humidity of your home. You set the temperatures you’d like to see and the thermostat will make small adjustments as needed to keep all your rooms in line. Smart fans and smart lighting technology are great ways to conserve energy as well.

As you plan your log home it would be beneficial for you to take some time and research which smart home technologies you can incorporate. A little financial investment now could add up to big savings in the long run.

Published on: June 29th, 2017


Does the way my home is positioned on my land affect its energy efficiency?

The short answer is “absolutely!” Everyone is looking for ways to save money, and properly siting your home to take advantage of passive solar gain is one of the easiest and smartest ways to accomplish that goal. Here are four options.

1. Take one long side of your home and point it true south so your home can soak in the sun all day, increasing your passive solar heat gain and natural light. If you ever think you’re going to put solar connectors on your roof point them true south as well to get the maximum benefit, but make sure to tell your manufacturer or builder if so they can make sure your home is solar ready.

2. Design an adequate roof overhang. A 2-foot overhang blocks the summer sun, keeping the home cool, while letting in the winter sun to warm it up.

3. Position the kitchen and living room (the places you’re most likely to be in during the daylight hours) true south so that they are getting all the daytime sun (this also saves money on your lighting bills). Place bedrooms on the east side of the house so you get the morning sun in the bedroom to wake up to.

4. On the east and west sides of your home, we recommend using deciduous trees, dwarf or mini dwarf (like fruit trees) in your landscaping to create shade during sunrise and sunset. In the summer, when their leaves are in they will block the sun, keeping your home cooler. Then in the winter, the leaves are gone which will let more sunlight in, keeping your home warmer. Fruit trees are easy to prune to the appropriate height (and you get the added benefit of home-grown produce!)

Published on: May 11, 2017


What are some easy elements I can plan in my home to increase efficiency?

Good question – and one we get asked a lot. There are two basic ways to give a log home’s energy performance a boost: through design and through materials.

If you’re planning a new log home, make sure to take advantage of the efficiencies you can gain through smart design choices. For instance, align/stacking your bathrooms. If you line them up perfectly on top of each other you cut down on the amount of piping from the hot water heater. It is wasted energy if the hot water has to travel long distances to get to you. If that’s not possible, or you’ll need a bath at the other end of the house, talk to your plumber about setting up a smaller on-demand water heater so they aren’t using energy when they’re not needed.

Another design option is to add a three-season room (so named because they’re used by people in the Spring, Summer and Fall) and place it on the north side of the home. Why? It will be the coolest room in your house during the summer months. Then in winter, you will use less fuel because it acts as a buffer against the elements for a large section of your home exterior.

When it comes to materials, you can’t go wrong with investing in high-quality windows and doors.

Glass is a very poor insulator but good conductor. So, when designing your home and putting windows in it you need to be cognizant of where you place the glass. Choosing the right placement based on your area will help you maximize the natural heating and cooling available in your house.

How do you know if you’re getting energy efficient windows and doors? The shortest answer is to look for the EnergyStar seal. It used to be easy for a company to get but they’ve tightened up the requirements in the past few years, and now you truly have to be efficient to get it. In the U.S., the top three best-ranked windows and doors will have the EnergyStar rating. You can also look at their U-value, but remember U-values are like golf: the lower the number, the better the score.

Published on: April 20th, 2017


Should I consider a geothermal system for my home?

Geothermal (harnessing the natural warmth of subterranean soil) is one of the most intriguing renewable energy options available, but few people understand how it works or how fruitful the benefits can actually be. To help you decide if it’s right for you, let’s look at the basics.

Geothermal systems transfer energy from the ground to energize a ground-source heat pump inside the home. How? By using a ground source heat pump as the converting appliance, the energy from the ground is collected by circulating water or an antifreeze solution through loops of tubing, which are laid out in trenches at a certain depth, then covered with soil.

Once in the ground, the fluid in the loops is naturally heated to a consistent temperature, usually around 50 degrees. No matter how cold or hot the air is, below ground that temperature remains the same. The warmed fluids are pumped into the home where the energy is extracted by the heat pump, then circulated back into the ground loop to be heated again.

By way of comparison, traditional HVAC systems burn fuel to create heat or use a large amount of electricity to energize a heating element to create heat, whereas heat pump-based systems transfer energy from one place to another.

Geothermal systems use small amount of electricity to pump the fluids through the underground loops and then extract the transferred energy to heat or cool the home, adding up to significant savings on electric bills.

So if you live or are building in an area where electric utilities are high, you want to reduce your dependence on fossil fuels or you’re hoping to achieve a green certification like Passive House or LEED with your log home, geothermal systems can help you reach your goals. The upfront costs are higher than other systems but the long-term benefits, and savings, are great.

Published on: February 2nd, 2017


What can I as the home owner do as far as design aspects to ensure energy savings farther down the road?

Watch this presentation from Katahdin Cedar Log Home's President and CEO, David Gordon. Click here to view Energy Saving Solutions for Your Log Home.

Published on: January 5th, 2017


Is air sealing your home as important as insulating your home?

Sealing your home against air infiltration is as important as insulating your home. If your home is not properly sealed, you will spend more money on cooling and heating your home than is necessary. Incomplete or improper sealing will also contribute to uncomfortable drafts and give insects and dust an opportunity to enter your home.

The impact of little or no sealing can dramatically increase the cost of heating and cooling in a windy location because the insulation in your home will have little to no effect because the wind can remove the conditioned air before the insulation has an opportunity to stop it.

The best way to minimize air infiltration in a log home is to make sure that you buy very dry logs. A moisture content of 15% or less is the most desirable because dry logs have minimal movement so there is less chance for a seal failure. (U.S. Department of Energy)

Also, pay close attention to all of the transition areas in the home. These are areas, such as corners, and intersections where walls meet the roof, walls meet foundations and where windows and doors meet walls must be properly sealed. Also, fireplaces and chimneys need special attention.

It is generally inexpensive and easy to seal your home properly when it is being built. All that is required is a knowledgeable general contractor who pays attention to details and a good set of construction plans.

We strongly recommend that the homeowner hire a certified energy auditor to review the construction plans and monitor the home while under construction, because he can test the home for tightness after it is completed.

Most states offer some type of financial reward if the home meets a certain energy standard and your energy auditor can help you with submitting the proper documents.

In short, your new log home needs to be air sealed very well, and it is easy to do with the help of an energy auditor.

Published on: December 8th, 2016


Should I consider solar panels for my log home?

If your planned log home location is in a highly remote area where bringing electricity in could be expensive or if you just want to be energy independent, solar panels may be the solution.

For one thing, huge, unsightly solar panels are a thing of the past thanks to new innovations such as solar thin film technology, which are sold in rolls and reduces cost in materials and installation.

Solar windows are another newer option for homes. Companies such as Solar Window Technologies are creating glazing that has been treated with an electricity-generating coating that is transparent but is able to convert sunshine into energy. And they claim that the return on investment for these windows can be as little as one year.

Then there are companies like Tesla — yep, the car company — who have taken the science behind the first commercially successful electric car and transferred it to create the Powerwall, an affordable, long lasting battery for residential use. These lithium-ion batteries collect the energy produced by the solar collecting panels and distribute it when there is no sunshine.

In addition to the long-term savings you can enjoy by generating your own electricity, there are more immediate financial advantages: The federal government offers a 30% tax credit for harnessing solar power, and almost every state has some other type of incentive, with the largest being Hawaii at a 35% tax credit.  Depending on where the home is located, you could see a return on your initial investment in half the time if you take advantage of these incentives.

These are just a few examples of how harnessing solar energy for log homes has become more practical, and less obtrusive, than ever before.

Published on: November 23rd, 2016


Should I consider radiant heat for my log home?

Radiant in-floor heating can be a fantastic option for a log home for several reasons.

First is efficiency. In a conventional forced-air system, heat is generated by a furnace and piped through a series of ducts, typically placed near the ceiling of a room. Since heat rises, the warmed air may have difficulty reaching the residents. This type of system also creates hot spots near the duct vent and cool spots farther away from the source, resulting in uneven temperatures even in small spaces. The same goes for differences between upper and lower floors.

Radiant in-floor heat, on the other hand, involves a system of coiled tubes that lie just below a home’s finished floor material, heating a room from the ground up. Whether the radiant system is electric or hydronic (water) based, this continuous system also allows for more even temps throughout the space.

And in terms of construction efficiency, it’s much easier to install radiant heat in a full log home’s floor than creating areas to run bulky ductwork.

Second is creating a better indoor environment. A forced-air system doesn’t just blow air – it propels all the dust, pollen, pet dander and other airborne contaminants right along with it. For people with allergies, this can present a very real and chronic problem. Not to mention that it deposits the dust around your home, and if you have round interior logs, that dust can settle and collect on top of them.

Without a blower to scatter these contaminants around the house, a radiant in-floor system can provide a cleaner, healthier indoor environment. And there are no noisy fans kicking on and off to disturb the peace.

And last, is the long term savings. It’s true that a radiant in-floor system likely will be more money (sometimes as much as double) in terms of up front costs than a forced-air system, but there’s quite a bit of long-term cost-saving to be had. A perfect example is that radiant heat’s “from the ground up efficiency” allows you to set temperatures at lower levels, saving on fuel and operational costs without sacrificing comfort. Even by conservative estimates, radiant heat can save 20 to 30 percent more energy than traditional furnaces, and some have seen annual savings in the 50-percent range. A slightly bigger investment at the onset could reap loads of comfort and financial benefits down the line.

Published on: August 18th, 2016


 

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