Updated: Sep 12
Many people believe that they’re getting the best insulation and energy efficiency technology because they’re building a new house, but that’s not necessarily the case. When you design a custom luxury home, it's still important to make sure third party contractors come in and independently verify everything to make sure that you’re getting the best possible value for your money in terms of energy efficiency AND personal comfort. To that end, we were invited to participate in Artisan Signature Home's podcast series, to discuss custom home comfort issues, and how to plan ahead to make your new home as comfortable and as efficient as possible. Here are five issues we identified and discussed on the podcast, listen in and let us know what you think!
Fireplaces: If you have your heart set on that wood-burning fireplace, know that it will require an ample supply of fresh air coming in – either through the chimney intake pipes or from the house itself. No one wants their fire burning up all the oxygen in the home or back-drafting! I’m happy to put a beautiful wood-burning fireplace in your home if that’s really what you want (which it is for a lot of homeowners!) – but to get the highest efficiency, you’ll want a natural gas insert or electric fireplace. Another option would be to put the wood-burning hearth on your patio outside.
Knee Walls: Knee walls are what separates the temperature in the living area of the home and the sweltering or freezing climate in the attic. Rather than using fiberglass or cellulose insulation without sheathing facing the attic, we prefer to install an insulated foam board sheathing along with spray foam or cellulose insulation. It may cost more in the initial set-up, but you save money in the long run by needing a smaller HVAC system and paying lower utility bills – not to mention, you’ll have a much more comfortable temperature in your rooms with knee walls!
Vaulted/Tray Ceilings: Vaulted ceilings are those angled ceilings that are right up against the roof decking, and typically they don’t have much space for insulation in them. While a typical flat ceiling may get R38 or R50 insulation on top, a vaulted ceiling usually has only a 2x6 or 2x8 space to fill with insulation, which can only hold R21 to R29. You can also use insulated sheathing on top of these vaulted ceilings, underneath the roof shingles, but we generally recommend having at least a 2x8 or 2x10 ceiling cavity to fill with dense-packed cellulose or spray-foam insulation. Also, instead of using normal recessed lights, we like to use flush-mounted LED lights, which look similar to normal recessed lights, without gobbling up space in the ceiling cavity that could otherwise be insulated.
Duct Work: If I had to pick the #1 reason homes have cold pockets or drafts, it would be the improper sizing, insulating and/or sealing of duct work. There’s no sense investing in a really fancy, expensive “box” – a 98% efficient gas furnace or a dual-fuel system with a heat-pump – but attaching it to a duct system that is incapable of moving the air needed throughout the house. It would be comparable to putting a Ferrari engine into a Ford Escort, without making sure the transmission can handle it. We make sure the architect’s blueprint leaves enough room for the HVAC system and ductwork from the start. The ductwork must be sized properly from the start too by doing a “Manual-D” calculation, which says how much airflow each room needs and what size duct is needed to supply that air to each room. Insulating supply-side ductwork is also important to delivering the temperature needed to each room. This is how we avoid duct work problems in new homes.
Basements: Most people are floored to learn that the thickest concrete only has an R1 insulation value – about the same as a single pane of glass! The ground is about 55 degrees year-round, which is a big reason why basements always seem so cold. A typical builder might put fiberglass insulation in the wall cavities just an inch or two off the concrete and going down a few feet, as required by the Kentucky building code. At minimum, we like to go down four feet, if not the entire foundation wall, insulating with a foam board product or directly applied spray foam. Clients who want to go with the gold standard can choose Insulated Concrete Forms and/or radiant-heated floors to ensure a comfy living space in the basement.
If you have questions about your own home, an existing property or maybe a new build, please don't hesitate to contact us with any questions, we are here to help! The Custom Home Builder Podcast series is produced and published by Artisan Signature Homes and often focuses on the custom and luxury home building process, as well as providing general information about the Norton Commons community to the general public. You can visit their website to read the full transcript from this episode.