Radiant Barrier A radiant barrier is simple: It's just a structural panel with a reflective material (usually aluminum) laminated to one side that installs foil side down on a roof deck to reduce heat gain in warm climates. Manufacturers say the panels can block up to 97% of heat transfer through roof sheathing, which lowers attic temperatures and consequently reduces cooling costs by 5% to 10%. Studies say the material ranges from 15 cents to 75 cents per square foot, but you have to install roof sheathing anyway, so why not get one with the foil attached?
Foam Board Insulation Insulation on the interior is a no-brainer, but a house also will see additional benefits from rigid foam board insulation installed on the exterior wall or roof deck. In addition to boosting thermal resistance, the product adds to a house’s structural strength and reduces conduction through elements such as joists and studs. Boards range in R-values from 3.8 to 8 per inch of thickness.
Better Windows, Better Placement Energy Star-qualified windows were more than adequate a short time ago, but with the development of better glazing technology, they are no longer good enough. If the budget permits, get the best climate-specific window you can. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 offers homeowners a tax credit for using replacement windows with a 0.30 U-factor and a 0.30 solar heat gain coefficient. And remember, where you put the windows (and their shading) is just as important as the products themselves.
ICF Foundation It’s pointless to improve the energy efficiency of your houses only to neglect the basement walls. Houses leak here too. Building with insulating concrete forms (ICFs) is a smart way to go. ICFs are lightweight rigid expanded polystyrene or extruded polystyrene foam forms that hold concrete in place during the curing process but are left in place to serve as thermal insulation for the walls. In addition to possessing insulation values ranging from R-17 to R-26, ICF foundation walls are fast and easy to construct.
Metal Roof Asphalt dominates the residential roofing category, but more green building advocates are recommending metal roofs as an energy-efficient improvement. Available in aluminum, stainless steel, copper, or zinc, metal is a durable, lightweight material that’s extremely fire-resistant. No wonder it's the material of choice for so many agriculture buildings. Considered a "cool" roof, a metal roof reflects heat, lowers energy use, and helps reduce the heat island effect. The product is pricey—especially copper, zinc, and stainless steel—but it has a low lifecycle cost, and some states offer lower home insurance premiums for homes with metal roofs.
Cellular PVC Trim Wood, the old standby, is a good choice for exterior trim. But unless you’re using durable species such as mahogany, teak, or cedar, millwork will eventually succumb to Mother Nature. Available as trim, sheets, and corner boards, cellular PVC lumber can be cut and nailed like wood, but it’s resistant to moisture and insects, which means a homeowner will not have to replace it—at least not anytime soon. It can be painted, but manufacturers say there’s no need.
Solid Core Doors A hollow-core door may look acceptable, but homeowners will soon notice how flimsy they feel and how little soundproofing and privacy hollow-core doors truly offer. But, then again, what do you expect for a $30 slab? Solid-core doors are much better. Not only do they sound and feel more substantial to a homeowner, they also exhibit excellent sound transmission properties. They last longer too. Considering that the average new home in 2007 measured 2,407 square feet and had 8.6 interior passage doors, solid core doors will seem pricey at $100. The good news is that the homes that are being built--and sold in the downturn--are smaller and likely have fewer doors. Using solid-core doors only for bedrooms and main bathrooms will also lower costs.
Better Light Fixtures There are a handful of areas where it can be painfully obvious that the builder took the cheap way out. Inferior lighting is one of them. Here are a few tips: Don’t try to get too fancy. Don’t get brass. Do go for something simple and elegant, whether it’s traditional or contemporary. If money is an issue, focus on a living space that everyone sees, such as the dining room/kitchen or great room. Keep in mind that low-cost and cheap aren’t the same things. You can often find a nice simple light for just a few dollars more than your original choice and get a priceless "wow" factor in the process.
Dimmers Say you haven’t bought into the energy efficiency hype of compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, and your pockets aren’t deep enough for light-emitting diodes (LEDs). For you, incandescent is the one true light. Fair enough, but at least install a few dimmers so your buyers can save some bucks by lowering the intensity of the light output as needed. Dimmers allow homeowners to save energy, extend the life of light bulbs, and gain more lighting flexibility in their home. Again, think strategically and install dimmers just in the kitchen, living room, and maybe the dining room if margins are tight.