Building a new Energy Efficient House

Reader Contribution by Jerry Ward

I am very close to breaking ground on my new house in S.E. Michigan.  I have been doing research for the 10 years that we have owned our 10 acres and knew that I wanted an energy efficient house.  To be truthful I came to this conclusion as much to save money on my annual energy bills as anything else.  Such an investment would continue to pay dividends for the life of the structure.  Plus as I look to alternative energy sources in the future, such as solar heating, I do not need as much of it if the house envelopment is efficient.

Therefore we chose, for the basement, to go with precast concrete panels that have insulation built into them from a company called Superior Walls.  They start out at R12.5 with the option to raise that number considerably by adding insulation to the cavities in the wall.  I considered this the best balance between cost with the future option to upgrade the insulation.

The house will be built out of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS).  WE are fortunate to live near Insulspan, one of the leading manufactures of SIPS in the country.  SIPS have several advantages in that aside from the straight R-factor they have virtually non-existent air infiltration (no drafty rooms).  The panels are 8′ wide so there is only a stud every 8′ at the seam to hold the panels together.  This means much fewer thermal paths, every stud in a conventional wall is a thermal conductor compared to the insulation.

since the panels are structural (load-bearing) this opens up some options for additional space in the house.  We are doing a story and a half Cape Cod style house and the insulated space goes all the way tot he roof panel.  This means there is conditions storage that is normally wasted space for this style of house that was built with conventional framing.

I will continue to post pictures and updated here, but if you want to follow closer check out my blog at