Introduction: Different Ways to Design Your House to Be Energy Efficient

Picture of Different Ways to Design Your House to Be Energy Efficient

This isn't exactly an Instructable on how to put up insulation but when I decided to build my house and do as much of it as I could Solo these are some of the steps I made to keep my heating a cooling costs down.

When I designed this house I had the advantage of living next door for a few years before I started doodling floor plans. I tried the make the house very Energy Efficient starting with designing the house as close to a square as I could which gives you the maximum interior space to exterior wall ratio, and I made them six inches thick instead of four to be able to get a higher R-Value. I had an energy audit of my drawings before I Applied for my permits and they seemed confidant I only needed a 3.5 ton unit for the main floor and a 1.5 for the guest suite since I didn't expect it to get much use and whether hot or cold two hours after you show up on my doorstep unannounced and I run up to kick them on it's pretty cozy up there.
The Attic also in principle has R-60 but its not spread out very well. I couldn't find anyone to help me so I had two huge bundles of the stuff and the blower machine, snuck the hundred foot blower line up there through the eave and then tied it high on the rafters. After a few tries I came up with a system of staring in the far corner blowing in ten bags, the going back up in the attic moving the hose about ten feet and another ten bags and so on until I went through the hundred some bails I bought on sale of course.

This left me with a bunch of mounds and I then went up there with a broom and a mask and spread it all out as even as I could being sure to leave the walkways I have to get around up there uncovered. I insulated under them with fiberglass batts as I went since I didn't want any voids knocking down my R-Value.

Step 1: Blowable Innsulation Is Hard to Do Solo

Picture of Blowable Innsulation Is Hard to Do Solo

It was about 24 inches thick but its settled since then and if I can find a helper someday soon while its cool up there, I'll try to get it an even two feet by blowing in another 42 sacks of the stuff or whatever it is they come shrink racked on the pallet. It's made from shredded paper and treated with Borate so it's not flammable. I have a few places I am going to use up some of my surplus batts of insulation like the far side of the computer room ceiling facing west. The chimney passes through there and I boxed it top to bottom to keep the flames contained if the chimney ever caught fire and I even have a simple sprinkler system that will kick in as long as the well has power and flood it and the water will be directed all the way to the bottom floor without causing a flood on the top two. I didn't blow any around there even though the chimney is sealed very well and the shredded paper is supposed to be flame retardant I still didn't want to take a chance of any paper finding its way in there so I meant to do it with fiberglass and either it was too hot to do it then or I just forgot but the back 5 foot has no insulation at all so I will rectify that tomorrow using some of my surplus batts of fiberglass R-19 and R-30...

Step 2: Collecting the Winter Sunlight But Still Shaded in Summer

Picture of Collecting the Winter Sunlight But Still Shaded in Summer

The house is also positioned so the west side get full exposure to the sun this time of year, in fact on my birthday it shines in the back window through the house out the front door and you get two columns of light that march to the top of the driveway as the sun sets.

Pyramids have always fascinated me.

Step 3: Whole House Fan and Woodburner

Picture of Whole House Fan and Woodburner

In the summer with its higher arc I over sized my roof eaves so they are 30 inches west side, 18 on the north and south and the front porch has 7 feet of overhang to keep the sun at bay.

I used R-30 between the floor joists of the main floor then sheet rocked the garage workshop and safe room but the crawl space insulation is still exposed. I want a vapor barrier to put over it and I am thinking I will use house wrap to do this since it will not break down and crumble like 6 mil plastic does as the years pass. If I am going to do something I try and make it so it will outlast me cause I'm sure one day I won't have the freedom and ability to climb up a ladder or crawl about down there to fix things but the best laid plans...

I've been doing a study for the last two weeks of the house temp and with highs in the low 80's and lows of 50 or 60 we have had I was able to maintain the houses temperature between 74 and 78 degrees by simply running my whole house fan with the two windows on the top floor opened at night or lighting a fire in the woodburner. If it was supposed to be an especially warm day I'd leave the fan on all day. 78 degrees is roasting in the summer for inside the house but feels so good this time of year and my furnace has not kicked on once during this time nor has my AC unit. The whole house fan is installed in the stairway ceiling so you can't see it since my wife long ago absolutely forbade me from putting such device as this attic fan in because she can't have the windows open cause of allergies or it being to hot or two cold...

Step 4: Direct the Air From the Fan in an Efficient Manner

Picture of Direct the Air From the Fan in an Efficient Manner

I also used some luan glued and bent to form a gentle sweeping arc so there is no turbulence as the air enters the attic and I have it set to blow across the insulated ceiling and then at the end it's forced up above the plywood radiant heat barrier I put in five feet above the attic floor complete with steps

Step 5: Block Radiant Heat From Reaching Ceilings Below Attic Space

Picture of Block Radiant Heat From Reaching Ceilings Below Attic Space

In the summer there is generally a 40 degree temperature difference between air measured 2 feet above the floor and two feet above the radiant barrier which is actually a shear wall on its side since the third level used to sway a bit when Eglin was testing some of the bigger bombs. The next time they announced we'd be getting some heavy test bombing I put a glass of water in the middle of the top floor / guest suite and when the bombing began I ran up there and the sway was completely gone, and the cup of water sitting on the floor didn't make a quiver. It also makes for quite a bit of attic storage space. We've moved so many times some of the stuff up there hadn't been unpacked since before we were married fourteen years ago. I'm sorting everything out reboxing them and labeling them this time, plus I have been placing things I believe to be the step kids in their own spot in case a bus runs over me or their mom so they can readily find their child hood treasures and no I hope its a long time till I die knock on wood but it also occurred to me that with the holidays approaching they are likely to visit and I can let them know where it's at and they might even take then probably not knowing it had been saved for so long. Scotty is off at Tallahassee working on his PhD so he's not in a position to put more stuff in storage but it will make things simpler for them if that bus get's me.

But and this was supposed to be a short post and I am so easily called away for two weeks I have kept the house within a 6 degree range of a comfortable temp using just an attic fan with a half horsepower motor, by getting a good fire going on any night it was expected to be in the 50's then cramming it full of junk mail old newspapers and anything else burnable but destined for the trash. I also flipped the vent redirect thing on the drier exhaust so it sends the warm humid air into the laundry room and then is sent down the hall, and I'm doing the laundry and drying at night to warm the place up.

It's going down to 28 here tonight and I have the furnace turned off manually. I have an electric radiant room heater in the bedroom turned off but if the wife decides at 4 AM she is cold I can fix that by just flipping a switch and shutting the bedroom door since the master bedroom and bath is insulated on all sides in case we have a bad hurricane and lose power for a month a window unit will keep this room cool and I can run it from my 5000 watt generator. If we have a storm then cold weather the computer room can be heated from the wood burner and is actually an emergency extra bedroom where some days if I've been up all night helping wife I have been known to seek sanctuary back there and take a nap during the day when her caregivers are here.

This will be a good test of the insulation hopefully but I won't really know until I wake up tomorrow morning.

Last Monday night the Thermostat read 80 degrees and the thermometer read 78 and we had an expected low, which we reached of 28..

Step 6: Sink or Swim Time

Picture of Sink or Swim Time

I turned off the furnace completely then lit a full load of oak in the woodburner around 4 pm then around 6 pm I crammed it the rest of the way with old newspapers laid in about a 6 inch thick stack like a very large book. You need to get the firebox very hot by burning a few good pieces of wood, spreading the coals out horizontally and lay the stack of paper on top of it. There is enough heat stored up to essentially cook the paper like charcoal and it will burn for about 14 hours but at a much lower temp than if the paper was shredded and put in loosely. This keeps the airflow up the chimney from getting fast enough to suck ashes up and onto the roof but the next morning if you stir the pile up there are always quite a few hot spots ready to turn into flame if exposed to puff of wind. Since I'm in Florida and the house is built to catch the winter sun I don't need to worry about restoking the fire so I just generally stir up the ashes and by around 4 pm the next day they have pretty much been extinguished so I shovel them out in a steel bucket and scatter the ashes around the fruit trees I have planted in the back yard. The soil in the Panhandle has a pretty low Ph and usually you need to lime around your peach trees otherwise they are very tart. I use the ashes instead since I have to dump them somewhere and each year the fruit is sweeter plus it tends to keep a weed free zone around the trunk so I'm never tempted to get the weed whacker out and possibly bruise the tree.

I haven't lived here long enough yet to compare power bills from last winter but I am betting that it drops by a hundred dollars power being about ten cents a kilowatt compared to the summer power bills.

I am tempted to ask the neighbors to get me a print out of their last years power usage in kilowatts since we built that one and I know how it was insulated. My wife complains the power bill is so high each month and that I promised her an energy efficient house but power has more than doubled here since we sold the house next door. It's about 2800 square feet heated and cooled versus about 5000 square feet heated and cooled in this house plus the pool and I'd be willing to bet our kilowatt usage is just slightly more than theirs is.

The next morning the house was 70 degrees.

Outside it was 28 and the cars had frosted windshields.

Victory is Mine!


Bmarchant116 (author)2014-07-31

Where in florida do you live!? it looks like you live on a mountain side! and your house in general from the few outside pictures looks amazing.

ellislake (author)2009-09-20

the simplest and cheapest insualtion is plastic bags. im gona get round to do my instrcutable on cheapest insualtion ever. all you need to do is collect plastic bags rather than throwing them away and scrunch them up a little and put them between the joists then put a flat piece of plywood over them as a floor. that way theres no issue with weight and the bagsd are free and not going to waste on a dumping ground this owrks by trapping air inside the bags and insulates the loft. its simple i have done it in my loft but only about 10% completed so far.i think i will ahve to do the instructable soon as i got some free time coming up soon what does everyone think

Senseless (author)ellislake2009-09-20

What about fires? I admit it's a great idea if they had fireproof bags. Most inulation is simple a space of dead air like you came up with your idea ++++

ellislake (author)Senseless2009-09-20

well if theres a fire in the house and its likely to get the loft on fire aswell chances are the house will have to be rebuilt so im not bothred about the fire problem tbh. thats why i thought uto use plastic bags thanks for reply

I'm willing to bet no insurance company would pay out for fire damages on a house that had its attic packed with plastic bags.

Also, have you not seen a plastic after a couple years in storage? It just falls apart. Fiberglass insulation is cheap. No reason to go cheaper.

Helder4u (author)1dot21gigaflops2010-04-23

Fiberglas is not very different from asbestos! I dislike the stuff and dont wish anybody to handle it.

But exchanging plastic for paper bags may do the trick.. 

Senseless (author)Helder4u2012-07-29

If you used paper like a blown in type insulation treat it or make sure it's treated with Borate to make it fireproof.

Plstic bags would be such a no no.

An attic fire started by lightning would kill you from the toxic fumes before you even realized there was a fire raging above you.

Radiant barriors make a huge difference to but it's often hard to install around trusses and it unfortunately isn't the type of insulation you think of when the weather is right for being in an attic...

I'm adding 3, 1500cfm power fans on thermostats with a central switch just inside the doorway to the attic as soon as we get a cool spell but I am keeping about 4800 sf at 78 degrees with a 3.5 ton heatpump, and I insulated the masterbedroom between the main part of the house and keep it 65 degrees to help my wife breath since she has been very ill for a long time now.

If I run the whole house fan all night in the summer with the AC off, the house will stay below 79 until at least 4pm, so I am hoping dumping the heat with the exhaust fans without drawing in the outside air and my power bill will be even lower even though I am running motors cause the AC will recirculate the cool house air and not run as often not having to fight heat radiating from the ceilings.

sleeepy2 (author)Helder4u2010-04-23

Fiberglass is very different from asbestos. The fibers are much, much larger and do not get trapped down in the lung's alveoli the way asbestos fibers do. I wouldn't want to unnecessarily breath excessive fiberglass, but it's nowhere near as bad as asbestos.

Helder4u (author)sleeepy22010-04-23

To my knowledge there is no proof and tests showing that fiberglass is healthy.
I know that asbestos was even chewed by the workers to make plugs for screwing into concrete. (I have inherited this knowledge with old-timers)
- don't think anybody has chewed fiberglass yet  :).
I concur that as it is more itchy and aggressive on your skin we tend to keep a greater distance from fiberglass as was the opposed to asbestos in the beginning.
I heard of some initial testing that was obscured (for obvious reasons) by governmental agencies too - but that's grave hearsay and not straight  from me.

I have worked with fiberglass  to and from intermittently, and am well aware of the differences You wrote about.
All things discussed, still I see no proof of fiberglass 'kindness' to our bodies compared to asbestos..

Thunderborn (author)ellislake2009-11-26

Senseless is right. A fire would be a major problem with plastic bags because plastic "gasses out" when heated, even before catching on fire. Chances are you would be dead before any smoke detectors in your house would go off. Breathing in a lung full of plastic fumes is 60 percent worse than breathing in a lungful of campfire smoke. Look at the Great White catastrophe in Rhode Island. So many people died because of the synthetic fumes (can't remember exact products that created it) they breathed in. One lungful was all it took to kill them within 12 seconds. That is why so many people died so fast. Not because of the fire or the smoke. BECAUSE OF SYNTHETIC FUMES.

ironorr84 (author)ellislake2012-04-16

That's like the dumbest thing I've ever heard...

Ever throw a plastic bag into a fire? Ever see and smell how much black, toxic smoke comes from just one of those bags?

So...imagine if you can, an attic with hundreds or thousands of those bags, and a fire starts. Yeah, you won't even be able to count to 10 before you die, just from the toxic fumes. Even if you do somehow miraculously survive a lung full of those fumes, the black smoke would be so thick and plentiful that you wouldn't even see past your nose. The fire would roast you alive cuz you couldn't find your way out.

Also, your insurance would drop you instantly and would call the fire marshal/chief on you and you would be evicted from your home...

Plastic bags are a stupid...stupid, stupid, stupid way of insulating an attic...

gokandemir (author)2010-04-24

I Think so... Well DONE!!!

rbland (author)2010-04-23

Awesome Article! Lots of hard work. Good on you!

alinhan (author)2007-12-23

"house as close to a square as I could which gives you the maximum interior space to exterior wall ratio"? No it isn't. A cylindrical shape is the best in these regards, but it isn't practical, of course.

princemyheart (author)alinhan2010-04-23

It is practical. It all depends on what materials are used to build. I think one form of round house is called a 'yurt??.... must Google it!
But I agree, a round shape is far superior to a square.

Senseless (author)alinhan2007-12-23

Yes a circle has the maximum interior area to exterior wall ratio and a sphere has even a higher ratio but round houses are hard to fit furniture in...

henripro (author)Senseless2007-12-23

OK so what about a geodome?

Senseless (author)henripro2009-09-20

A friend has one and it's rated at for a very high windload and super insulated. The guy built it from a kit and it's either on the Gulf or the Bay I can't remember but it would take something like that for me to move any closer to the coast...

shooby (author)Senseless2009-01-21

Maybe you should take a look at Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Deployment fits in if it's built in.

Senseless (author)shooby2009-09-20

Ever read the book by Heilen I think called "He Built a Crooked House"? It's up there next to Flatland....

EmilinIowa (author)2010-04-22

Being energy and cost aware is a necessary part of life.  Our Community college had a set of plans for a house which I used.  It has 10" thick N, W, and E walls, the S wall is 6".  There is 2" foam on the outside of the basement to insulate it and the concrete is cool but not cold in winter.  Fiber Bonding Cement covers the plastic foam.  We built in the 1980 time frame. We used only wood heat, a homemade furnace in the basement for nearly 20 years.  We added a LP gas furnace and AC about 10 years ago.  We still use the woody as it helps keep our annual LP gas bill below $500.  Our electric averages $100 per month.

JKibs95 (author)2009-04-29

Very cool. My great-uncle has a house that is built into the side of a hill, the wall that faces out is almost all windows.

Senseless (author)JKibs952009-09-20

This house is the same thing, it's just the hills in Florida are just dips compared to up north.

travisbaucom (author)2009-02-06

I know when I put radiant barrier foil in my attic, it really helped a lot. About 15 to 25% or so. This is where I got it from,

aeray (author)2008-03-02

Dude, kudos for attempting to solve some of the problems with your house. However, your efforts are way off-base.

Senseless (author)aeray2008-03-02

Can you elaborate a bit? I didn't realize I was having problems..

aeray (author)Senseless2008-03-02

Reply personally to, and I would be happy to answer and and explain, even by phone. The instigating comment was not a burn, but the American homeowner, and builder, has been sold a bill of goods by a variety of industries, and a lot of sh#t is being built these days, and sold under the "Green" label when it is anything but... I know I sound like a conspiracist kook, but lets talk, and you decide.

tradergordo (author)aeray2008-08-13

Seriously man, if you have useful comments, post for everyone to benefit from. There shouldn't be secrets here. My guess is that since you didn't post anything useful, you have nothing valuable to contribute...

Senseless - that's a beautiful looking house there, great job. I would avoid burning a lot of newspaper and junk mail personally because of the fly ash they create, but being in Florida you probably don't burn very frequently anyway (compared to us northerners). I wrote about my woodstove adventures here:

aeray (author)tradergordo2008-08-13

It is a good looking house, and I do have contributions to make. Since I posted that comment, back in March, I have been busy building other homes and haven't had time to elaborate. I am currently working with clients in Montana on the design for their energy efficient, low waste, environmentally friendly home which I may build for them next summer. I also just had a real estate deal fall through, so I am looking for another lot in Idaho to build a similar spec home to be sold for less than 150k. Whichever house is built first will be fully documented on Instructables, probably as a multi-part series.

tradergordo (author)aeray2008-08-13

Sounds good. Looking forward to it (but I won't hold my breath, heheh).

Senseless (author)aeray2008-03-03

Ah! That still doesn't explain what's wrong with my house. I love to build and I may have gotten carried away a bit with my shear walls LOL but the house is effecient I used to own the one next door so I can make a good comparison between the two power bills. This is a public forum to share ideas so please share. I wasn't offended by your comment I just didn't understand what you meant by "Problems". I've already slept through a few tropical storms here withut hearing a creak in my timbers I know it is a strong house because I built 99% of it myself and I've had a year now to watch my power bills. I agree "Green" is overrated and over sold with a lot of hype. Just like "Affordable" housing. Seriously write a book here so everyone can learn.

prometheus9000 (author)2008-06-19

I don't think you have any "Problem". I believe you have accomplished you goals of building an efficient home that looks great. Good Job!

chucka (author)2007-12-23

Nice notes. I didn't think about the 6 mil poly thing but I bet you're right. My father is building his house all on his own also (well, i guess with help from my mother, brother and I when we can) and has some of the same goals such as: - Usability for an elderly couple (he'll be 60 this year, my mother will be 58). They went with tile flooring, low-rim shower stalls, and lever-style door handles and faucets (arthritis). - A house that lasts. He decided on 9" log walls on the first floor with a 10/12 pitch steel roof and R38 insulation for the two bedrooms and loft upstairs. He purchased the logs from a company in Arizona or New Mexico I believe. They actually cut logs into planks, dry them, glue them back together and shape them. This has two advantages; he doesn't have any butt-end gaps in his walls and he has logs that are guaranteed to be completely dried when they went up so no worries about them rotting inside the wall. A solid roof without extra gables avoids places for water and heating/cooling leaks. He also went with a vented ridge cap that allows vapors to naturally be removed from the house through the use of a draft created from the soffit upward, no need for fans. - Centralized water facilities with powerless heat supply. Being in Minnesota, if the power were to go out in the winter, having all the piping as far away from exterior walls as possible and installing small, propane radiant heaters in these areas helps guarantee against frozen, broken pipes. This centralized system also allows for immediate hot water anywhere in the house without the need for localized hot water tanks. - In-floor radiant heating for both floors. Developed to eventually be supplied with heated water from a exterior corn burner he is currently heating his house with his propane water heater (another backup heat source) which also heats the water for all domestic purposes (it has two independent coil systems in it). The radiant heat also allows for the concrete slab which the house was built upon to retain heat in the worst of situations. He went with an energy efficient central air system for cooling in the summer. - 4 foot overhangs. The overhangs help keep ice and snow off the sidewalk when it's melting and sliding off the roof. They also help block some of the summer sun. Minnesota has winter noon sun much lower on the southern horizon than summer noon sun so the heat still transfers inward nicely in the winter. It's neat to hear how efficient housing is build in other parts of the world. Everywhere is a little different, thanks again for the instructable!

Senseless (author)chucka2007-12-23

Hey thanks for the reply!

Radiant heat in the floor is great, a friend of mine up north built an underground on three sides house and went with the heated floors and his power bills were nill.

I used a low power radiant heat system in the master bath just to warm the tile enough that they didn't feel cooled and the house is also built handicap accessible with a sunken shower so a wheel chair can get all the way in and their is no need for a shower door. I used 36" doors everywhere and grab bars etc.

Fate is kid of funny sometimes because I designed the house from the start to make things easier on my wife and I end up rolling a truck and taking a little off the top pun intended, after I had the house dried in and then spent three years finishing it since things take me longer now. I was never sent by a doctor to physical therapy which is really a long story but I regained all my motor skills by building the house and life is definitely easier for me now in this house.

GorillazMiko (author)2007-12-22

very nice instructable!

About This Instructable




Bio: I've been attempting to build a house mostly by myself for the last five years... I finally more or less ... More »
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