Information and solutions for a safe, healthy,
comfortable, durable and energy efficient home

Building a New Home

For many folks building a new home is a once-in-a-lifetime project. It’s also the very best opportunity to create a comfortable, durable, energy efficient structure using current home performance science. Do it correctly now even if it costs a little extra! You will avoid costly future problems such as; high energy bills, drafts, wet basements/crawl spaces, frosty windows, ice dams, mold and rooms that are too hot or cold.

What’s the Problem?

  1. Modern homes are quite complex compared to the sod huts and log cabins of old. Home performance science has made great strides in improving construction methods. However, the resulting best practices are still unknown or not practiced by many architects, builders and trade specialists.
  2. Building and energy codes lag behind current knowledge. These codes are only minimum standards for construction. "Building to Code" is like barely passing a test at school!  If a "D" is an ok grade on your report card then a home built to "code" is good enough.

Here are some critical details architects and builders often overlook:

  • Water Management for Footings, Foundation and Slab: Capillary breaks, drain tile, well-draining gravel under the slab, vapor barrier between gravel and the slab, foundation wall waterproofing system, tamped backfill, graded soil
  • Water Management for Walls and Roof: rain screens, window and door flashing, roof flashing at valleys, gutters/downspouts
  • Air Sealing: foam, caulk or gaskets to seal wire, vent, pipe penetrations, window and door rough openings, house wrap
  • Adequate Roof Ventilation
  • Insulation: under the basement floor, applied to the exterior side of the sheathing rather than between the studs
  • Interior Moisture Management: kitchen, bath and laundry exhaust systems, dedicated fresh air supply
  • High Efficiency Devicesappliances, LED bulbs, heating and cooling equipment with all duct work sealed, tested and inside the conditioned space with adequate return vents and properly sized supplies. High effiicient water heaters, insulated pipes and no plumbing inside cantilevered floors, 

Hold your design and construction team to high standards and be prepared to invest a little extra time and money. The result will be a comfortable, durable, energy efficient home - without expensive problems to fix down the road!

Solving the Problem

Hire the right collaborative team to create your state-of-the-art home:

  1. Architect/Designer: Should know building science and clearly communicate it throughout plans and documents. Also important is a good understanding of what designs work best in our Minnesota climate.
  2. Builder: Seek a firm with a thorough grasp of current home performance best practices. Look for certifications through programs such as DOE Zero Energy Ready Home, ENERGY STAR, LEED for Homes, GreenStar, or Green Path. A contractor certified by the Building Performance Institute (BPI), and also holding a Minnesota home building license, could be a great choice. Finally, always check references!
  3. Certified Energy Professional: Find one trained in new construction who can:
  • Evaluate the plans for predicted energy efficiency using energy modeling software, and then recommend improvements.
  • Ensure that design plans and product specs maximize energy performance rather than creating health, safety or durability problems.
  • Visit the job site at critical milestones to ensure that energy, air quality and moisture solutions are correctly installed. Fixing any issues at this point is much cheaper than after walls are closed up!
  • Test the completed home for predicted energy performance to see if original goals are met. Any improvements can then be done before you move in.
  • Help you find energy-related rebates and tax credits for qualifying products. Also may be able to help you find financial institutions offering energy-related mortgages with favorable terms.

Next steps

  1. Read the Most Important Step
  2. Hire a certified energy professional
  3. Incorporate recommendations into construction plans and specifications
  4. Hire a home performance contractor
  5. Review additional resources to build your confidence:

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