A New Perspective on Building Envelopes for New Homes

Building Envelopes for New Homes

So much is at stake in the process of designing and building a new home. Decisions during the design process will affect the fate of the home itself; that of the homeowners; and, on a certain level, that of the larger systems around us, such as the housing market, and global ecology.

Maybe this sounds a bit overblown, so let’s back up. Beyond the visible factors like design and location, the quality of a home is ultimately tied to its longevity, degree of insulation and air tightness, and energy efficiency. Homes that boast high performance in these areas are hands-down better for homeowners, because they will save money and stress through less repairs, lower energy costs, greater health, and long term comfort. They are hands-down better for the planet because the homes will need less energy to heat and cool, and they won’t require new materials for a very long time.

Building Envelope For New Homes: Why It’s Key

None of this is new information. What is new is the emerging understanding of the importance of excellent building envelopes for new homes. Strong envelopes are vital to ensuring a high-quality, long-lived structure. The building envelope is the physical barrier between the internal and external environment, including walls, floors, windows, and roofing: And it has everything to do with the efficiency, quality and comfort of a home.

Architect, energy-efficiency expert, and author Sam Rashkin discusses the importance of the envelope in this article.  

Rashkin talks about the importance of the air and moisture barrier to the quality of the structure. He defines a high quality enclosure as one that addresses and excels at four key points, which illustrate not only what a high quality enclosure is, but also why you’d want one. According to Rashkin, a high performance envelope is one that offers these benefits:

  1. Energy efficiency

Air tightness and insulation are essential for an energy efficient house. Every month a clear measure of energy efficiency is provided when the utility bill arrives. Lower energy requirements are good for the planet and good for the homeowner. Although ecological conscience might lead homeowners to consider sustainable design, let’s face it — nothing speaks like the bottom line. Low monthly costs are a prime driver behind consumers’ desires for efficient design that is innovative and environmentally sustainable. The tighter your air enclosure, the greater the energy efficiency.

  1. Weather protection

Rashkin points out that as energy efficiency rises, so does the need for strong weatherproofing. That’s because heat transfer across the surfaces decreases, leading to very cold exterior surfaces and lower drying capacity. Greater moisture protection is required.

  1. Health protection

Strong enclosures must guard against health contagions, particulates, and mold. More Americans than ever before suffer from respiratory diseases and sensitivities, so this factor is becoming more and more critical.

  1. Disaster resistance

If you address the aforementioned issues, your structure will have a long life. The longer lived the structure, the more important it becomes to disaster-proof it. Depending on the common disasters of the area, this might mean increased wind or fire resistance, high waterproof barriers, or extra structural bracing.

When builders are deciding what level of performance to include in their enclosures, Raskhin advises, “As much as you can.” He asserts that homes built with superior envelopes have the potential to be “100-year homes” as opposed to homes that merely meet code requirements, which he refers to as “5-year homes.” Homes built to code and not beyond will be functionally obsolete after a few years, he claims, because new and more rigorous codes are constantly being developed. A home is nothing to leave at the mercy of planned obsolescence. Superior air and moisture sealing will ensure that your home keeps its value, monetary and otherwise, for decades to come.