The Cold Climate Housing Program (CCH) is an information and education program within the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering that promotes the idea of the "house as a system." This means that the building structure (known as the envelope), the mechanical systems in the house, and the occupants are interactive and work simultaneously. A change in one part of the system will always affect the others. By recognizing and respecting this system approach, we can enhance the performance of our houses.
CCH has written 10 key components that are the backbone for the systems approach in
Minnesota homes. Adhering to these components will assure that a house is efficient, healthy, and durable. A newly constructed cold climate house should have:
- Thermal insulation over the entire building envelope, including the foundation. This is usually a combination of materials. It should be installed to minimize gaps and cracks.
- A continuous air barrier on the warm side of the building envelope. This barrier is essential to hold in the warmed (or cooled) air and prevent moist air from entering the structural cavities where it can condense on building materials such as the outside sheathing.
- A vapor retarder on the warm side of the building. This is to keep the insulation and structural cavities dry.
- A continuous weather barrier on the exterior of the building. This is needed to prevent water and wind from blowing into the wall cavity where it can cause mold and mildew problems, and reduce the effectiveness of the thermal insulation.
- Energy-efficient, condensation resistant windows. These windows should include a newer technology called "warm edge technology." It helps keep the edges of the window warm to reduce condensation.
- Effective ground moisture/soil gas control. Many of the moisture problems in today's homes result from moisture coming through the basement walls and floor. There are several ways this can be controlled with good waterproofing and a drainage system.
- Low-toxicity materials, finishes, and furnishings. Choosing materials and furnishings carefully can help avoid indoor air quality problems and make the home healthier.
- Safe, efficient heating and cooling systems. Direct-vent and sealed combustion equipment will greatly lower the risk of pollutants such as carbon monoxide from getting into the house when the furnace and hot water heater are in use.
- Mechanical ventilation. A carefully planned and installed ventilation system is critical to assure good indoor air quality. There are many options available to remove stale air and bring in fresher outdoor air.
- Efficient and safe appliances and lighting. Appliances and lighting are important parts of the system. They should be carefully chosen to complement the rest of the system.
These components are readily available in the market today. While some of the newer equipment, products, and installation techniques have been expensive, they are rapidly becoming affordable. By choosing them, buyers will have a healthier and more durable house, and the energy savings will quickly cover any additional costs.
Cold Climate Housing Program
Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering
322C Kaufert Lab
2004 Folwell Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108