Building Components and Energy Consumption

A Look Into How Your Home Uses Energy

Building Envelope

All the components that separate the inside space from the outside environment work together to form a building envelope. These components include floors, walls, roofs, windows, doors, and skylights. The main function of the building envelope is to prevent heat transfer from occurring. The building envelope is crucial for retaining warmth inside a building during winter and preventing heat to penetrate into home during summer when the air conditioner may be on. Simply put, the main objective of the building envelope is to allow as little heat transfer as possible.

The mode of heat transfer that occurs when heat penetrates a home or when heat escapes the interior space is best known as conduction. Conduction is the flow of thermal energy through a material from higher to lower temperature regions. An example of this is when the sun directly strikes an exterior wall. The wall is heated and the heat eventually reaches the interior space causing your living room or kitchen or any other room to warm up. The other important mode to be aware of is convection. Convection is the transfer of thermal energy through the circulation of fluid currents from one area to another. The best example to describe convection is warm air circulating around the building envelope of your home during summer.

The best way to reduce heat transfer from occurring in a home is through having a well-insulated building envelope. Insulation is placed in between walls, roofs, and any surface that may be in direct contact with the external environment. Insulation is rated with an R-value, which indicates the resistance of the material to heat transfer. Of course, a higher R-value material has a higher thermal resistance and therefore is more effective at slowing heat transfer from occurring.

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

Most of the energy consumption in homes comes from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. Heating homes mainly rely on the consumption of natural gas or heating oil, which has been relatively cheap in the past decade but prices are expected to peak in the near future due to the exponential energy needs. The most common heating systems are boilers. Boilers burn natural gas or oil to heat water to extremely high temperatures (or even steam). This hot water or steam is then circulated through pipes around the building to dissipate heat into different rooms.

Ventilation systems’ main duty is to provide fresh air and remove stale air and other pollutants that may be found indoors. It is a bit ironic that we pollute the atmosphere with millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide every year by powering these systems with non-renewable energy sources. In other words, we pollute our external environment just to power systems that remove pollutants from our internal environments in homes. Air conditioners are most commonly powered by electricity and essentially circulate cool air through a piping system around the building. This cool air is thrown into different rooms around the home very similar to heating systems.

Water Heating

The second biggest energy expense in residential buildings comes from heating up water. Sometimes, the same boiler that is used to heat up spaces is also used to heat water. However, this water is stored in a separate tank that has its own burner, controlled by a thermostat that dissipates water into the home at the desired temperature. The most common hot water needs in residential buildings include hand washing, laundry, showers, dishwashing, and often cooking. The other most common types of water heaters are listed below. • Storage Tanks • Tankless Heaters • Heat Pumps • Tankless Coil & Indirect • Solar Water Heaters These types of water heaters will be explored in upcoming blogs.

Fluorescent Lighting

About 20 percent of all electricity consumption in an average home comes from lighting. Currently, the most common type of lights is fluorescent lamps. A fluorescent lamp is composed of a surface of powdered phosphor coating surrounded by a glass tube. The environment inside the glass tube contains argon gas and some mercury. The ends of the tubes are connected to electrodes where a current is passed from end to end. When this current passes through the inner tube, mercury becomes vapor and atoms emit ultraviolet rays. Once these invisible ultraviolet rays strike the phosphor coating, the phosphor atoms then emit visible light. The process of converting one type of light into another type of light is known as fluorescence. (We recommend LED's click here to learn more)

It's important to understand the way your home consumes energy. While we love when people go solar, there are many ways to save energy before you even have solar panels. We believe in reducing your energy usage before you produce your own energy.

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