Energy Efficient Building Design

July 07, 2019
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As our technology gets more advanced and efficient, so does the way buildings are designed. Nowhere is this more evident than in energy efficiency. With better materials available that offer more versatile designs that are simply more durable than traditional forms of building design, particularly wood-framed construction, energy efficiency has improved.

Let’s take a look at a number of new energy efficient building materials that are modernizing how buildings are designed for the future. 

Insulated Concrete Forms vs. Wood-Frame Construction

Insulated concrete forms, known as ICF, are hollow foam blocks which are stacked into the shape of the exterior walls of a building, reinforced with steel rebar, and then subsequently filled with concrete. When you look at insulated concrete forms vs. wood-frame construction, it’s easy to see why ICF designs create higher energy efficiency than a building constructed with a wood-frame. Concrete, in general, is evolving at a rapid rate and new innovations like geopolymer cement and heat and chemical resistant concrete are excellent options when considering the long term durability of a structure. Typically, wood-framed construction has been the go to for building designers and contractors for its quick setup, lightness, and ease of obtaining materials. However, the benefits of concrete house construction are hard to ignore, and structures built with traditional insulated home panels have a number of drawbacks, including:

  • added expense

  • low resistance to fire

  • termite and vermin problems

  • moisture accumulation

  • difficult to soundproof

  • and a low thermal mass

ICF Houses, on the other hand, answer all of the detriments normally experienced with buildings made with wood-framed construction. 

  • First, buildings built with ICFs are quicker to build, as the structure, insulation, vapor retardation, and air barriers are accomplished with one material. This greatly accelerates project delivery, saving energy and manpower needed to build a structure. 

  • Second, ICFs feature a favorable R-value when compared with wood-framed structures, typically requiring 30% less energy to cool and 40% less energy to warm. This is due to a higher thermal mass than wood-framed structures, where ICFs absorb and store heat energy to stabilize temperature shifts by slowing the rate of heat transfer. 

  • Third, ICFs are vermin proof, as there is no organic material to eat—something that plagues wood-framed homes. 

  • Fourth, ICFs provide a solid continuous monolithic concrete wall that prohibits the growth of mildew, mold, and rot. And while it is unrelated to energy efficiency, ICFs are significantly better at soundproofing than wood-framed structures. 

  • Fifth, ICFs are better at resisting the damage from natural disasters than wood-framed buildings, such as earthquakes, flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, and so forth. It has been shown that ICF homes that are hurricane proof can withstand winds up to 250 mph with shear wall strength of up to 10,000 pounds per linear foot. This can save energy from repairing damages and time spent rebuilding structures. 

As you can see, insulated concrete forms are simply a more energy efficient choice when it comes to energy efficient building design.

Now, let’s take a look at some exterior siding options that can boost your structure’s energy efficiency. 

Low Maintenance Siding Options

Energy efficiency isn’t only limited to the structure, but also includes siding options—many of which are low maintenance. 

Steel siding not only protects the structure from the elements, it also creates a unique look and style that is virtually maintenance-free. Steel reflects heat energy away during sunny days, while also serving as insulation and a heat-barrier for colder days. Combined with foam insulation (or other types), buildings can be constructed with a cohesive structure that regulates temperatures more evenly. Best of all, steel siding can be manufactured in a number of designs, whether it shows a metallic veneer or is shaped to resemble a variety of wood-like siding options.

Similarly, fiber cement siding is another ecological choice for low maintenance siding that’s incredibly energy efficient. As a blend of cellulose fibers, sand and cement, fiber cement siding resembles natural materials like wood and stone, but is more durable, affordable, and available in a variety of siding forms. Fiber cement siding is more eco-friendly than vinyl and more resistant to pests, which can drain the energy efficiency of your building. When fiber cement siding is combined with an insulator, the R-value can be as high as 4—quite high for an exterior building material. This can subsequently reduce the drain on energy systems and help regulate temperatures. 

Traditionally, buildings that lack a viable siding option (i.e. exposed brick) or are simply covered in vinyl siding can be inefficient at retaining energy and blocking unwanted elements from influencing your structure’s temperature. Vinyl siding, in particular, poses a number of key drawbacks that the two aforementioned options don’t have, particularly its susceptibility to damage from high winds and vermin, as well as putting occupants at risk due to fire hazards. In fact, fires become deadlier with vinyl siding, as its plastic composition can add to how quickly a building ignites. With steel/fiber cement siding, fire risks are minimized. 

Choose Energy Efficient Materials For Your Building 

As you can see, ICFs are simply a more energy efficient material to use in your next project. Low maintenance siding options, like steel siding and fiber cement siding also hold a number of key energy efficient benefits that traditional materials do not. Combined with energy-efficient window options, these materials can reduce energy costs and improve the livability of a home. When planning your next project, consider these materials for buildings that will last longer and save money to heat and cool. 

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