In 2018, buildings utilized approximately 40% of all energy produced in the United States.
That’s a lot. Way back in 1991 the Department of Energy (DOE) began developing building codes that addressed energy usage. The Feds left it up to local governments to adopt the codes or not. In our area these codes were adopted in or about 2005. County and municipalities all are on board with the Energy Codes.
So, let’s look at what are some of the aspects of a home that are addressed.
Essentially the codes address the loss or gain of heat through various components of your home. Given that our great nation spans just about every possible climatic zone, the codes do address the extent to which one must mitigate the loss or gain. In Yavapai County alone there are 5 or 6 different climatic zones addressing areas from Camp Verde to Crown King!
Starting at the bottom of our house, the foundations and stem walls lose heat into both the ground and the air. The code now requires stem walls and foundation walls that contain living spaces to be insulated, above the ground as well as in the ground. Slabs tend to transfer their heat loss around the perimeter, so the code addresses insulation around the perimeter.
The walls of our home are next. In hot climate’s summer heat gain is as big an issue as heat loss is in the colder climates in winter. The code requires the walls to contain certain levels of insulation depending on the construction methods used. These can vary from the common frame or masonry wall construction to newer methods of construction. They all must meet certain criteria to be permitted.
The windows are treated much the same. You may have heard the term ‘Low E’; this refers to the ability of certain light wave lengths to pass through the glazing. Or you may have heard the term ‘Thermal Break’. This refers to the frame of the door or window and its ability to transfer heat. A thermal break is just that, a gap or insulating material separates the inside frame from the exterior frame.
Then there is the roof. Just as we humans lose a great deal of heat through our heads, so go our homes as well. Heat rises. The mitigation of heat loss through the roof (interesting phrase), is taken care of almost exclusively with insulation. Just like a good hat.
The codes also address the efficiency of the Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning systems. An example is the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating or SEER having to do with our AC units. The minimum rating is 13. You may have also heard of % efficiency of the furnace. Most these days hover in the 90% area.
While the codes try to address the more tangible aspects of construction, there is one aspect they do not address, and that is our lifestyle. How we pay attention to our energy consumption is more important than the inches of insulation in our walls. That much is left for us to choose. Choose wisely!