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Building a high performance home may be harder than you think

Here at SEED, we’re passionate about high performance homes. In fact, we live, breathe, design and build them. We love nothing more than getting feedback from clients who are amazed at how their new home exceeds all the expectations and notions they had of what a high performance home could be.

So what does it take to construct a high performance home and why is it different to a standard build? Well, really it comes down to two things: quality and detailing.

Last month we looked at the process of designing a contemporary high performance home. This month we jump right into the detail of construction and look at the key things you need to focus on to make sure you get the quality build you’re after.

Research

High performance homes are designed to be very energy efficient. Whilst the principles of designing a high energy performing home are simple, the construction of one is not. As well as the details of insulating the building envelope, you need to make sure the technologies you’re installing are put in at the right stage and properly integrated into the build.

If you’re planning on project managing the build yourself you don’t just need to know what standards you’re building to, but how to achieve them. This may take some time to learn, but it’s a worthwhile investment to make sure the home you build performs as it’s designed to.

Employ the right building contractors

It’s worth finding a building contractor who specializes in high performance homebuilding. High performance homes are still a niche market, and to make the construction phase run smoothly it helps to have people who know what they’re doing.

It’s also a good idea to get your building contractor involved at the design stage. This way they’ll really understand the importance of different elements of the build to the overall project. An alternative approach is to choose a specialist design and build company. For example, many SEED clients come to us because of our experience in designing and building high performance homes.

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Effective insulation is key to constructing a high performance home

Focus on the building envelope

Fancy renewable technologies are all well and good but your primary focus in constructing a high performance home should be on the building envelope. If there are two words you should keep reiterating it is these: insulation and ventilation.

Insulation

When building a new home you’ll need to decide on the level and type of insulation you want to incorporate. This will depend on various factors including the local climate, the level of sound-proofing required and how energy efficient you want your home to be.

At SEED we go beyond standard building codes wherever possible. This is because we believe in building for the future, not just for standards today. For example, on our Oasis model we use a combination of rigid foam and blown cellulose insulation to achieve a R-24 value for the walls, significantly higher than the building code requirement of R-13.

Ventilation

Now that you’ve made your home air tight, it’s time to think about air quality. Good ventilation is essential to keep your home healthy and to prevent condensation and mold. There are various options for ventilation, so it’s worth taking specialist advice to work out what’s right for your home.

Most new build properties benefit from some form of mechanical ventilation to maintain circulation of fresh air. If you’re aiming for a super energy efficient home, a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) system is pretty much essential.

Carry out regular checks

Building a high performance home is all in the detail. There’s no room for sloppy workmanship: every joint has to be tight, each piece of insulation neatly joined to the next to prevent thermal bridging.

All of this takes time, so make sure you plan accordingly. If you push your builders to finish the job quickly, they may rush work and mistakes.

It’s important to get your builder on board from the outset and ideally appoint builders who specialize in constructing high performance homes. Then check their work at regular stages to make sure any issues are picked up. This avoids the potential for hidden oversights which may come back to haunt you when you’re living in your new home.

If you’re not comfortable with the technical detail and knowledge required, it may be worth employing an independent project manager to oversee the build to make sure your home ends up as high performance in reality as it does on paper.

Integrate technology

Once you’ve got your building envelope constructed then it’s time to think about services and technology. As you’ve focused on building a home that retains heat, your actual heat demand should be relatively small. This widens your choice of heating options from high performance gas furnaces to renewable heat technologies such as air-source or geothermal heat pumps.

You may also consider integrating solar technologies into your home, either as part of the roof design or on top of a flat roof. Now is a great time to invest in solar but if you’re not quite ready to commit, you can always rough in wiring and plumbing during the build phase to make it easier to add at a later date.

One of the beauties of building a new home is that you can easily integrate smart technologies into the build. It’s much easier to include features such as security systems in the construction phase. For example, we integrated smart locks, lights and a system of linked camera into the Oasis model.

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Standards such as LEED can provide independent assurance of your high performance home

Follow a standard

One way to ensure high-quality construction is to sign up to a standard, such as LEED or the Living Building Challenge. A good certification scheme will have an independent assessor look at your project during the design, construction and post-construction stage to ensure that your home meets the required criteria.

That’s one reason why all the homes we build at SEED are LEED-certified – so clients have an independent assurance as to the quality of our build. For example, our Oasis model aims to meet LEED Platinum – the highest level of certification.

Get in touch if you’d like to talk more about the Oasis or our work on high performance homes.