4 Tips For Energy-Efficient Temperature Control in a Tiny Home


Temperature regulation is key in the tiny home. Rendering via LIfeEdited.

Thermal regulation: It's the short way to describe systems in houses that help occupants stay cool in summer and warm in winter.

While with new construction of passive, low-carbon-footprint homes there are lots of ways to do thermal regulation in an eco-friendly fashion, in TreeHugger founder Graham Hill's 420-square-foot apartment in New York there are some challenges to a green heating/cooling remodel -- mainly the fact that it is a 100 +-year-old building.

From insulation to the best AC to buy to a heat recovery generator, the four tips below will lead to more efficient temperature control for Graham's apartment -- which he is renovating as part of the LifeEdited project -- as well as yours.

What would you (or do you) do to stay comfortable and eco-conscious in a small apartment? Let us know in the comments.

1. Consider Your Building's Efficiency



Comfy temps start with insulation. Rendering courtesy Right Environments.

Heating efficiently is a challenge in the LifeEdited apartment, as it is connected to a central boiler.

Most New Yorkers know about boilers. These overactive devices spew so much heat that at times windows must be open -- in mid-January! While chucking the boiler and outfitting the apartment with its own system was a possibility, eventually it was determined to be less efficient than working with the existing system.

And then there are those brutal summer temperatures and a relatively small space. Air conditioning -- especially for entertaining -- is a must.

With these constraints, the emphasis is on making the most of the heat the apartment will get from the boiler and the air that will be chilled. Working with energy consultant David White at Right Environments, the LifeEdited team's focus is on insulation and airflow to optimize both heating and cooling.

In fact, the efficiency measures outlined below are expected to allow the LifeEdited design team to reduce the number of radiators in the apartment from the four existing before renovation to just one.

2. Insulation

Photo of mineral wool ilovebutter via flickr and Creative Commons license.

Insulation is key to controlling heat loss. Dealing with old joists and lots of air gaps won't allow for using something like a spray cellulose, which in new construction would ensure the most comprehensive insulation while being eco-friendly.

Given this situation, White recommended cellulose or mineral wool batts, like the Roxul ComfortBatt ($40 for each 16-batt box). ComfortBatts (made from volcanic rock and recycled slag) can be laid down without disturbing adjoining apartments. They also provides important acoustic insulation and fire protection.

3. Heat Recovery Ventilator

Heat recovery and fresh air circulation in action. Photo Velobusdriver via flickr and Creative Commons License.

After insulation, and windows, one of the most important items in the quest for efficiency is an HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator) -- also called a heat exchanger -- which exchanges inside air with fresh air from the outside.

An HRV also manages to minimize heat loss in rooms by extracting (recycling) up to 90 percent of available heat -- heat exchangers are a staple of passive homes.

With high-quality windows and increased insulation that will make the apartment more or less airtight, fresh air circulation is as desirable as warm air optimization.

That makes the Zehnder ComfoUnit 200 ($2195), and the Lifebreath 95 MAX ($953) both great options.

4. Air Conditioning

Photo Loop oh via flickr and Creative Commons license.

The HRV will take the edge off of brutal NYC summer temps, but an August dinner party of 12 or more makes an air conditioning unit a necessary evil. An 8,000 BTU unit will be sufficient to cool the whole home, mostly to reduce the sauna effect rather than make the space into an icebox.

Because the apartment will likely be fitted with casement or tilt-turn windows, the Energy-Star-rated Fridgedaire Casement A/C ($399) is a good option.

For someone not tied into a building's HVAC system the Fujitsu AOU9RLS HALCYON Mini Split Outdoor Heat Pump 26 SEER ($843 fully assembled) would be a great choice, as it handles both heat and cooling with variable temperature regulation to allow for optimal efficiency.

And that's it. Graham's LifeEdited apartment will have to share the energy costs of neighbors' less-efficient apartments (mainly due to less insulation and lack of HRV-style ventilation), but it's also possible that his apartment's energy and cost savings might have a positive affect, and serve as encouragement for other occupants in the building to retrofit.

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Tags: Energy Efficiency | LifeEdited