Posts Tagged ‘home energy audits’

Home energy audit….Ponzi scheme?

December 13, 2011

“Conservation is just another word for a Ponzi scheme in many respects. What I mean by that, is it is not that conservation is bad, conservation is very, very good if you do it properly.”  This is a quote from Maine Governor Paul LePage from the Bangor daily News last week.  

The Governor, in the article, is critical of the home energy audits process required by Efficiency Maine since, as he suggests, “If they are recommending $15,000 in improvements and a person can’t make that much of an investment, it is all a waste,” he said. “That’s where the policy is not working and we are going to work on that.”

I think it is throwing out the baby with the bath water to say that a homeowner can’t afford to fix everything in a home all at once then the audit was a waste.   In Maine as everywhere else, a good audit maps out short and long term solutions to save homeowners money, increase their comfort at home, and reduce our dependence on heating oil with increased efficiency.  The audit should be your roadmap to a safer, more comfortable, and more energy-efficient home.   

Of course, the right audit needs to be accurate and actionable.  The audit needs to look at the whole house to determine the specific energy upgrades that make the most sense for your particular house.  And it needs to be specific enough so that you can get the work done, but it is the work that improves your house, not the assessment.  We can agree with the governor on that point.

Certified, established contractors, performing energy audits and even more important, performing the work needed to fix the problems, are what we need in every state.  We ask doctors to be certified, drivers to be licensed; it is for the public good and our safety.   Homes are often the most significant investment people have, and issues left unchecked affect the occupant’s health and safety, heating systems and indoor air quality issues, all part of an energy audit…and we haven’t talked about air sealing and insulation yet!  

Shortcuts don’t work well, and can create their own problems.  Wrapping the “state in pink” suggesting insulation for everyone is in the right spirit, but the wrong approach in most homes, unless we find and seal air-leaks first, for example.   Air sealing without insulation is not only a waste of insulation, all that good “pink” will only act as a filter as all the heating dollars pass through it.  The slogan for fixing homes should not be get r’ done, but do it right the first time.  The right audit points the way.

Homes are complex and often times so are the solutions.  Ponzi scheme?  I think not.  Investing in energy efficiency is no simple task and any good investor begins with informing themselves of the risks and benefits or else looses their shirt rather quickly.  The right audit makes sense.



Tips to Save Energy This Winter

October 14, 2009

The leaves are changing and despite the mild summer in the Northeast, my body wasn’t quite prepared for the cold temperatures that are starting, and furnaces are turning on.  (OK, the southern half of the country doesn’t know what I’m talking about—but winter is on the way for you, too.) 

A home energy audit can help you find the right solutions and prioritize--but get the right audit!

A home energy audit can help you find the right solutions and prioritize--but get the right audit!

In the spirit of recycling, I’m pull out an old post on some of the high impact things you can do to stay warm and comfortable this winter and reduce you heating bills, too!  These are general recommendations.  To find out what’s most appropriate for you and your home, you should start with a good home energy audit to help find hidden issues, prioritize your improvements, and make sure your home is operating safely and efficiently.  (See a short video on what’s included in a good audit.)  [Note, below you won’t see bogus claims for overpriced “miracle” cures with or without Amish mantles or for $20 ceramic heaters price at $200 to pay for full-page newspaper ads.  Stay away from these things!]

  1. The attic is a great place to start.  Air leaks from rooms below into the attic can be one of the biggest drains on energy and your bank account.  Sealing attic air leaks can have a huge impact.
  2. Use caulk or foam to seal around the plumbing stack vent, where it goes through floors. This is a pipe (PVC, or cast iron in older homes) that runs from the basement sewer pipe up through every floor, and out through the roof.   Holes for electric wiring, and around chimneys, are also problem areas worth addressing.
  3. Insulate and air-seal your attic hatch. Often, builders overlook the hatch when they insulate the attic.
  4. Many homes today have recessed ceiling lights, also called can lights. These fixtures look great, but are a notorious source of heat leaks into the attic, and between floors.  You can install new air-tight fixtures, use air-tight baffles, or build air-tight boxes around them in the attic.  With existing fixtures, check with an electrician first to make sure the fixtures you have are “IC” rated so it’s safe to put insulation against them.

    Leaky ducts rob your home of air you've paid to heat (and cool).

    Leaky ducts rob your home of air you've paid to heat (and cool).

  5. Only after you’ve done air-sealing, put an extra layer of insulation on the attic floor, on top of the insulation you currently have there.  Sixteen to 24-inches is not excessive in cold climates—and it will keep you cooler in the summer too!
  6. Vents to the outside of your home are pipelines for cold air leaking in, and warm air leaking out.  Install one-way baffles on your kitchen fan vent, dryer vent, and bathroom fan vents.
  7. Keep your boiler and furnace tuned up.   If they’re reaching the end of their lifespan, consider replacing with a high-efficiency unit, one that at least qualifies for Energy Star®.   
  8. Install and use a programmable thermostat—this ensures that you don’t forget to turn the heat down at night or while you’re away at work.
  9. Do you have a forced air heating or cooling system? If so, make sure to seal and insulate the ductwork in attics and crawl spaces. As much as 30% of the air you heat (or cool in the summer) can escape outside through leaky ducts.
  10. Replacing appliances? Look for Energy Star qualified models of dishwashers, refrigerators, light fixtures, and compact fluorescent bulbs.

BONUS:  The ARRA (Stimulus) federal tax credits can help you pay for these home energy improvements.

Your water heater doesn't have to look this bad to be spilling dangerous carbon monoxide into your home.  Get it checked.

Your water heater doesn't have to look this bad to be spilling dangerous carbon monoxide into your home. Get it checked.

With some advice from your local home center, over four or five free weekends and with a willingness to crawl through dirty, itchy insulation, a handy homeowner can tackle many of these projects. The energy savings, and effect on comfort, are cumulative, so do as many as you can. If you don’t relish the idea of strapping on a tool belt, consider a contractor that specializes in home energy solutions. GreenHomes can complete the entire scope of work in a few days. Our whole-home solutions guarantee a minimum 25% reduction in energy consumption, with most customers seeing much higher reductions, often up to 40, 50 and 60 percent.

And whether you do the work yourself or you have it done by a contractor, after you tighten the house you should have any combustion equipment like furnaces and water heaters tested to make sure they’re running safely and efficiently.


Consumer Reports

September 18, 2009

The October 2009 Consumer Reports dives into home energy savings—and it’s good to see that they point folks in the right direction at the top, emphasizing things like air-sealing, insulation, duct sealing, and BPI certification for auditors and contractors.

They also clear up a few myths.  I’m glad they included a quote from Chandler von Schrader, of the US EPA:

“Homeowners have been hearing forever that replacing their windows can save 40 percent.  These claims aren’t justified and they create a false expectation.”

Right on!  GreenHomes does install replacement windows.  But we feel it’s important to be very upfront about the energy savings expectations from windows.  New windows can improve the look of your home, make you more comfortable, protect your furnishing from UV, and even save energy.  But windows themselves are usually far down on the list if all you want to do is save energy, and that’s why for energy-savings, we emphasize the important things as pointed to by Consumer Reports.


Recessed Lighting & Air-Sealing

August 6, 2009

Here’s a classic example of air-leakage around a recessed light fixture.    The dirty insulation in this photo is from air leaking out of the house and being filtered by the fibergalss insulation before it exits the house.  Dirty insulation around recessed can light(Fiberglass makes an effective filter in this case!)   In fact, insulation that’s dirty on the bottom is one of the clues we look for during a home energy audit.   Leaks like this represents a lot of heat loss in the winter, and depending on wind or duct leakage it can also mean higher cooling bills in the summer.  Fortunately, there are ways to effectively air-sealing around these fixtures.   Add to my to-do list:  we’ll put together a short video showing the problem and the fix.

You definitely want to address this before you add insulation!  Even taking advantage of the insulation tax credit only makes sense if you make sure you air-seal first.  

[Be sure to check out the video on recessed lighting which includes a discussion of airsealing.]


Gas leaks and Carbon Monoxide Problems in CA

July 23, 2009

This is a bit disconcerting, folks.  In 14 of the last 18 homes we’ve visited on home assessments in California, we’ve found either significant gas leaks, carbon monoxide or combustion issues or all of the above.   In New York, it’s more like 20-25% of the time.  Either way, this is serious stuff.  Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas produced by incomplete combustion of fuels like gas, oil, and wood—and it can kill you.  At lower doses, CO can worsen heart conditions, and cause fatigue, headache, weakness, confusion, disorientation, nausea, and dizziness.  

Have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances and chimneys to make sure they are operating and venting correctly.  And install a CO alarm.  We are required to install a UL listed alarm, and I have several in my own home.  As an additional level of protection, I also have a CO Experts monitor which provides readings at a much lower level.

NOTE:  ANYONE WHOSE CO ALARM IS GOING OFF SHOULD IMMEDIATELY GET OUT OF THE HOUSE, CALL 911, and seek help from a professional to locate and fix the source of the problem.

Don’t wait for an alarm to go off, though.  Check out the National Safety Council’s general recommendations.   As mentioned, all homeowners should get at least an annual check-up on their heating and hot-water system to make sure they are operating properly.  And anytime you make changes to your home, from building an addition, to adding air-conditioning, to changing your windows, you should have an expert make sure that all equipment is operating and venting properly.

Regarding the gas leaks, the big risk there is fire or explosion.  While you’re getting your appliances serviced, ask to have your gas lines checked, too.

Safety is more important than energy-efficiency–and that’s why we begin and end every project with safety testing.

Be safe!

WSJ Concludes a Professional Home Energy Assessment is Worth It

January 20, 2009

I somehow missed this piece last fall.  The Wall Street Journal did a comparison of home energy audits and concluded that the more comprehensive assessment like those conducted by GreenHomes provide the most value.  That’s no surprise to me, and we hear it from our customers all the time.  But it’s nice to get the independent affirmation!



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