Top 10 Technologies for Remodelers

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Want to rise above the competition? Bring your business and your clients' best interests into the 21st century with products and practices that will improve the durability, efficiency, affordability and environmental performance of your projects. The Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing's list of Top 10 Remodeling Technologies for 2007 offers something to improve almost every area of...

December 01, 2007

          1.   Air sealing (using spray foam insulation)   
          2.  
Smart ventilation/ventilation control Systems   
          3.  
HVAC sizing — right-sized HVAC 
          4.  
High-efficiency toilets 
          5.   Compact fluorescent lighting 
          6.   High performance windows/storm windows 
          7.   Wireless lighting, thermostats, and other controls 
          8.   Solar hot water 
          9.   Recycled/renewable flooring options 
         10.  Tubular skylights
         Graphic courtesy of PATH Partners

Want to rise above the competition?

Bring your business and your clients' best interests into the 21st century with products and practices that will improve the durability, efficiency, affordability and environmental performance of your projects.

The Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing's list of Top 10 Remodeling Technologies for 2007 offers something to improve almost every area of the home: the building envelope, lighting, HVAC, plumbing, floors and beyond.

Although some of them are relatively new, most have been around for a while, but for various reasons haven't been widely adopted.

All of the Top 10 technologies are resource-efficient, and most can dramatically improve a home's energy efficiency. This is important because, according to "Foundations for Future Growth in the Remodeling Industry," a 2007 publication from Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, "homeowners are now putting energy efficiency near the top of their remodeling concerns." The report also states that "products with higher energy-efficiency ratings have shown the fastest rise in popularity. Indeed, residential architects and remodeling contractors have noted a growing interest in sustainable design features."

Air Sealing

Seal it tight, ventilate it right

Air infiltration may contribute to as much as 30 percent of a home's heating and cooling costs. Infiltration wastes energy and money and contributes to moisture, noise and dust problems. Openings may also serve as an entryway for unwanted pests. By properly sealing the home and controlling ventilation, the HVAC can be downsized, resulting in a smaller, quieter and less costly system.

If you're moving walls, building an addition or stripping walls to the studs, consider spray-foam insulation, which makes it easy to insulate and air-seal in the same step. It's sprayed into wall cavities and expands to fill all the nooks and crannies. Excess foam is scraped off the studs.

Ventilation Control Systems

Smart ventilation, comfortable clients

Properly sealing for comfort and energy efficiency is a great way to keep conditioned air inside. But the downside of reduced airflow can be poor indoor air quality, which may lead to moisture problems and affect your customers' health. Even conventional systems that are designed with a fresh air intake often don't ventilate when they're not operating.

Economical ventilation controls are ideal for use with exhaust or supply fans, air handlers, heat recovery ventilators, intermittent whole-house exhaust systems or anywhere specific ventilation rates are desired. Mixing the indoor air with fresh outdoor air can reduce moisture and contaminants and revitalize the indoor air's oxygen content.

Compact Fluorescent Lighting

Change a light now

Entire countries are mandating the end of conventional incandescent bulbs. Surely, any new lighting scheme you install could include Energy Star-qualified CFLs. Just think: if every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star qualified bulb, the U.S. would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, with savings exceeding $600 million in annual energy costs, and greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars. Multiply those benefits by the numbers of bulbs that can be changed in each of your projects. You can make a difference.

Tubular skylights are generally easier and less costly to install than conventional skylights.
Photo courtesy of PATH Partners

Tubular Skylights

Let the sun shine in

Tubular skylights, or solar tubes, use the sun for lighting interiors without the drawbacks of conventional skylights, which often don't distribute light evenly, are a significant source of energy loss and can cause ultraviolet damage to carpets and furniture.

Tubular skylights are ideal for remodeling projects. Compared to typical skylights, tubular skylights are generally easier and less costly to install. They're lightweight and don't usually require modifications to the structure because they fit between rafters and other structural elements. Their simple design, complete with self-flashing kits, leads to excellent durability.

High-Performance Windows

Lighting and insulation all in one

Today, you can select windows not only for their aesthetics, but also for their performance. For energy efficiency, comfort and quality, specify Energy Star anytime you are replacing or adding windows. Energy Star-qualified windows will cut heating and cooling loads and even reduce draftiness and moisture condensation.

If new windows are too expensive, not really necessary or are difficult to match with the existing windows, consider tight-fitting interior storm windows. They increase the energy performance of a home for significantly less money than replacing windows. They are also particularly suited to historic homes because they improve efficiency without altering the home's exterior appearance. In addition to energy benefits, interior storms can improve sound resistance, decrease window condensation, and reduce furniture and floor fading from UV light.

Right-Sized HVAC

Where size matters

Forget those rules of thumb from the old days when fuel oil was 50 cents a gallon and electricity was two cents a kilowatt-hour.

Use the Air Conditioning Contractors of America guidelines for sizing HVAC equipment. ACCA's "Manual J Residential Load Calculation" allows contractors to estimate heating and air conditioning loads much more accurately. The benefits:

  • Smaller, quieter systems can often be specified, reducing the initial cost.
  • A right-sized system will operate for long periods of time, rather than frequently cycling on and off. This results in the optimum equipment operating efficiency with fewer annoying drafts.
  • Less short-cycling of equipment results in longer equipment life and better control over indoor environmental conditions.

Solar Water Heating

Solar power for the shower

Solar water heaters have been commercially available since the 1800s, and they're still an environmentally sound way to reduce energy bills. While everyone talks about solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that produce electricity, solar water heaters are much more cost effective. An active, flat-plate system costs about $2,500 to $3,500 installed and heats about 80 to 100 gallons of water a day. A passive system costs about $1,000 to $2,000, but has less capacity. Until Dec. 31, 2007, homeowners can also get a federal tax credit equal to 30 percent of the installed cost.

High-efficiency toilets like this Toto Aquia use an average of 20 percent less water per flush than the industry standard.
Photo courtesy of Toto

High Efficiency Toilets

Always go with low-flow

The typical toilet uses more water than any other item in a home. High-efficiency toilets (HETs), on the other hand, use an average 20 percent less water per flush than the industry standard. An HET can save up to 8,760 gallons of water each year for a family of four. They are very reliable and don't require multiple flushes like the first wave of low-flow toilets sold years ago.

Several types of HETs are available, including gravity-fed, single-flush toilets, dual-flush toilets, pressure-assist toilets, and power-assist toilets. Dual-flush, power-assist models are also available, and are even more efficient.

Wireless Controls

22nd century technology today

Hard-wired connections for lighting, thermostats and other controls have many limitations that wireless technology has now overcome. Wireless systems require less installation time; make coordinating with tradespeople easier; and add flexibility in how you control lighting, temperature and ventilation. These attributes make wireless controls ideal for equipment retrofits and additions.

To control multiple pieces of equipment or temperature from multiple locations, just wall mount additional wireless controls, plugs and switches. The physical installation of the receivers and sensor units is simple. The details are in properly programming and setting the system up for operation.

Recycled and Renewable Flooring Options

Feel-good woods and grasses

There are affordable, durable and rich-looking flooring options that come from two non-conventional sources. The first is old wood that's recycled into "new" wood flooring; the second is flooring made from sustainably grown grasses and trees that mature to market size in roughly half the time it takes hardwoods.

Recycled wood flooring is made from salvaged boards or trees that have been remilled into a product suitable for residential use. Because this wood often comes from America's old-growth forests, it is often harder, denser and more attractive than new growth wood. And recycling wood uses fewer resources than making new wood flooring.

Bamboo, cork and eucalyptus flooring products are a sustainable alternative to traditional hardwoods. They are available in traditional flooring thicknesses and lengths for installation as tongue-and-groove planks either fastened to the subfloor or floating above padding. Properly installed and maintained floors made of sustainable species will last as long as hardwood flooring. Many types can be sanded and sealed, like the ¾-inch hardwood installations.

For detailed descriptions of these technologies and practices, visit www.toolbase.org, then click on Technology Inventory.


Author Information
Glen Salas writes about better building practices on behalf of the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH). PATH is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Learn more at www.pathnet.org.

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