Q&A: A Glimpse Inside a Super Energy-Efficient Home

| 2/2/2015 7:00:00 AM

Just over a year ago, my family moved to a high-performance house in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine. It has triple-pane windows and door, lots of insulation, large south-facing windows and a metal roof. It’s heated largely by appliances and occupants, but has a heating system when needed. Our heating bills are 90 percent lower than a code-built home in the same climate.

It’s rare to have a home that uses so many energy-efficient design elements under the same roof. Many of our friends and family members were curious about our home and bombarded us with questions. Here are some of the top questions we’ve received.

Super Energy Efficient Home 

Question 1: Since Maine has a cold climate, how long is your heating season?

When viewing our electric bills, I was struck by how low our energy usage was from April through October. Although we certainly experience below-freezing temperatures during April and October, our home was staying in the upper 60s and low 70s with no supplemental heat. Our heating season began in November and ended in March, trimming a good two months off.

Question 2: I’ve heard of mold and air-quality problems in high-performance homes. Has this been a problem?

I’ve heard some concerning stories about high-efficiency homes without ventilation systems and the mold and air quality issues that ensue. Thankfully, our home has a Zehnder heat recovery ventilation system, which constantly supplies fresh air while removing stale air from the kitchen and bathroom. By incorporating a heat recovery ventilator, intake air is first filtered, removing dust and pollen, then preheated with heat from the exhaust air before it leaves our home. Although we can boost the system with a switch in the bathroom or kitchen, the default mode is sufficient the vast majority of the time and we’ve had no mold issues in our bathroom.

Question 3: What is the lighting like in your home?

Because our south-facing living room windows are 5 feet in height, daylight streams into the home. Naturally, our north-facing bedrooms get less light. Even on cloudy days, we rarely turn on the lights during the day, especially in south-facing rooms. When the angle of the sun is lower during the winter months, sunlight fills the living room and helps keep away the winter doldrums. During the hot summer months, the angle of the sun is higher in the sky and less sunlight enters the home. The only downside to all this south-facing glazing is cleaning all the little fingerprints that appear from my two young children. We also put LED lightbulbs in most of our fixtures to reduce energy use.

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