Jimbo (a buddy of mine) just built a house. We're on the Canadian East Coast, so we know all about cold winters.
Jimbo is definitely not a "greenie". He hates hippies and environmentalists, their whole attitude/approach/appearance just enrages him. He's the kind of guy who refuses to buy a can of tunafish that has a "dolphin friendly" sticker on it, just on principle. No offence zzzeek, but from reading your post, you and Jimbo would absolutely hate each other, on sight.
Jimbo is also a pretty frugal guy.
The Canadian gov't has some recommended guidelines for home insulation/energy efficiency called "R2000". Jimbo likes to say his house is "R6000".
Jimbo built his exterior walls 2 inches thicker then usual, to make room for extra insulation.
Jimbo carefully scouted the land before he bought it, and placed the house to get maximum sun during the day. He designed the layout of the house (windows etc.) to capture the most sun possible.
Jimbo's house has a lot of large, high quality, energy efficient windows.
Jimbo's power bills are pretty damn low. He gets a lot of passive solar heat, for free.
He says the additional cost was negligable, compared to the overall expense of building the house. Presto, the frugal country boy is doing the right thing, even if he doesn't wear tie-dye shirts.
None of you guys are ever going to build a house exactly like this, because you're not going to buy 5 acres of land on a beautiful side hill, looking down into a valley. You probably don't own enough woodland to selectively cut all the trees yourself (clearcutting == raping the land and destroying your investment), and take them to a sawmill to get your lumber. Jimbo built 99% of the house himself, I think he only paid for 8-10 man-days of outside labour (dig foundation, plumber, electrical, drywall taping/patching/sanding).
However, if the contractors/developers who built subdivisions made some easy changes (more/better insulation, more windows, better quality windows, orient the streets and houses so that everyone gets a lot of sunlight, design the houses with big windows facing the sun) it would actually make a vast difference in energy consumption. It'll never happen, because developers/contractors do everything as cheap as they can possibly get away with. These guys don't do half assed work if they can get away with quarter-assed work.
Jimbo talks about housing contractors the way I talk about fly-by-night white-box computer vendors, he's scandalized by the low-quality workmanship/components that people are willing to accept.
To summarize my long and rambling post:
IMHO if energy efficiency became an important goal for all new residential construction, it would save a surprising amount of energy, for surprisingly little effort. However, a lot of these things (placement, house design) have to be done before the foundation is dug.
I am the very model of a K5 personality.
I intersperse obscenity with tedious banality.
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