Posts Tagged ‘tax credit’

Keeping Cool this Summer

May 25, 2010

More on keeping cool since full on summer is hitting a bit early in the Northeast.  Hot and humid.  It’s a good time to revisit the cooling tips (hint:  do NOT buy a Cool Surge air warmer…er, “cooler”, unless you harvested ice out of the pond over the winter and you’re storing it in an ice shed).

Solar hot water in New York

May 12, 2010

Here’s a solar hot water (solar thermal) that GreenHomes recently installed.  On a chilly and cloudy day in upstate New York, it’s sitting inconspicously on the roof, cranking out the hot water for the homeowners.  With a 30% federal tax credit, these make sense in overcast New York.  And Washington state.  And in sunny California and sunnier Colorado.  Solar hot water is a great way to take a big bite out of the 15% of our total energy bills that we pay to heat water.  (And heat water that we generally let run down the drain–but drainwater heat recovery is another issue.)

Window Season is Here

March 7, 2010

As Spring approaches, people start thinking about new windows.  [Actually, replacing windows is possible along winter long without much disruption.]

replacement windows video
Visit the GreenHomes library for videos on replacement windows and other energy-efficiency topics.

Replacing your windows can have a lot of benefits.  Newer windows can boost comfort, reduce maintenance hassle and expense, address lead paint issues, reduce fading of upholstery and carpets, eliminate the need for swapping storm windows and screens twice a year, and the list goes on.  And if you’re replacing you’re windows for any reason, choosing the right energy-efficient window AND installing them properly will help you save energy, too!   Choose the right window–and ENERGY STAR qualification is the minimum standard you should consider–generally windows that significantly exceed ENERGY STAR are readily available (including those that qualify for tax credits) and make a lot of sense.

Note that regarding energy-efficiency, replacing windows is often one of the first things that comes to mind.  The reality is that replacement windows by themselves are using one of the least cost-effective things you can do to save energy–and “payback” can be 20-30 years or more.  Insulation, air-sealing, duct-sealing and lighting usually provide a lot more bang for the buck.  Most window installers probably won’t give you the real story on that!

Replacement windows can make a lot of sense.  They have a host of benefits.  Just make sure you chose the right windows for the right windows.  And go ahead and save some energy while you’re at it.

DC and the Mid-Atlantic Snow Leads to Roof Ice Problems

February 8, 2010

I just wrote about this in the Northeast several weeks ago.  And now, this weekend’s Mid-Atlantic snowpocalypse hammered the region around DC for hundreds of miles with two to three feet of snow.   Northern Virginia, DC, Baltimore, and further up the Atlantic seaboard are covered in a blanket of snow.   Snow on rooftops often leads to problems with icicles and ice damming, as we’ve discussed here before, but primarily for homes with air leakage into the attic and poor insulation. (Some will tout inadequate ventilation as the cause—but roof ventilation is often insufficient, it can make energy leakage worse, and it’s possible to solve this issue with no roof ventilation!).  The snow, while creating havoc, also provides an opportunity for homeowners to look for problems as shown with this series of photos from Vermont. 

Everyone in the region, good luck shoveling out.  Be safe.  And if you’re having ice issues now, think about upgrading insulation and air-sealing after you dig out and things get back to normal.  You’ll be more comfortable and save energy in the long run.  And remember, federal tax credits (and many local programs) can help you pay for the needed upgrades.


Reminder: Energy-efficiency home improvement tax credits are still in place

January 20, 2010

Many people scrambled to get qualifying improvements installed before the end of 2009 to be able to claim tax credits.  It’s important to remember that ARRA extended these energy-efficiency home improvement tax credits through December 31, 2010.  And thus the $1,500 credit is still available for qualifying insulation, furnace and air-conditioner replacements, window and door replacement, and other measures.   We’ve got a good summary of measures that qualify and answers to some frequently asked questions on these federal tax credits for energy-efficiency improvements.


Spending a dollar to save a nickel

November 6, 2009

Now here’s something we hate to see.  We’re working with a customer who wants air-sealing and insulation and who just had a furnace replaced by a competitor.  Of course, the competitor talked them into a low-efficiency furnace to save a few hundred dollars.  I’ll concede that.  But that’s not the whole story.  With the inefficient furnace, the masonry chimney had to be lined to meet current code–at a cost which bumps the total up to more than the high-efficiency furnace woudl have been (which because it’s sealed combustion and vented through the sidewall, doesn’t need to touch the chimney).  Right off the bat, the high-efficiency furnace would have been the less expensive option!   And it would have qualified for the federal tax credit!  And it would have saved the homeowner everytime it kicked on!  The lower efficiency furnace was indeed cheaper.  But with the chimeny liner it actually cost the homeowner more on day one, it costs the homeowner more to operate every time it comes on, and the homeowner missed out on the federal tax credit (and state incentives).  Penny wise and pound foolish–steered in the wrong direction by an unenlightened contractor.  I could go into the further implications on how this affects what we can do with insulation and air-sealing, but that just makes the story worse for the homeowner.   Arrrrgggh!

The bottom line is this.  It’s important to look at the big picture and ALL the costs–all the installation costs and the long-term operating costs–before making an investment in home improvement.  And if your contractor tries to talk you into the low first-cost solution, make sure he can explain all the other associated costs.


Home Performance: The Homeowner View

November 5, 2009

I often talk about bits and pieces about home energy. But I wanted to take a different approach today and run through the sort of example we see every day with our customers. This one is from our Simi Valley location, were Air King has joined the GreenHomes family. To help give the big picture perspective, I think I’ll put together a few more of these in the coming months.

Ven-Outside_sittingWhen Matt and Clare Venegas bought their home in suburban Irvine four years ago, they knew it was a “fixer-upper”. Built in 1969 and still possessing a lot of its original features, the couple immediately began renovating the place.

So when they noticed it was still uncomfortable during the summer and winter months, they were baffled. “We thought we had done everything we could to make our home as comfortable as possible,” said Matt.

We see this a lot. What the couple didn’t know was that the renovations they did where purely cosmetic, and did absolutely nothing to address critical construction deficiencies that impact indoor comfort — including missing insulation, leaks, and drafts — and are inherent in most existing homes.

Some of the Problems
According to the Matt and Clare, the second floor was unbearable in the summer. With the strong afternoon sun heating it up like an oven, the air conditioning barely worked upstairs. And heat as they might, during the winter it stayed drafty and cold. “It was like we were living in the Midwest, not Southern California!” said Clare. But as a busy working couple, they didn’t have time to worry about the comfort level of their home. While annoying, they learned to accept the discomfort, to the point of sleeping downstairs on the hottest summer nights.

“We just assumed this was the way the house was and we had to live with it,” said Matt. “We dreaded going upstairs, and spent as little time as possible there during the summer months.” That was until Clare found out she was pregnant. Once baby Derek was in the picture, everything changed.

“With the baby coming and the nursery upstairs, we knew it was time to do something,” said Clare. “We could be miserable, but he couldn’t. We didn’t want to move, but we didn’t know what to do or who to call.”

The Energy Audit
Matt had heard about GreenHomes, a leading provider of home performance contracting, from working in the building services industry. He noted that we were well known on the East Coast for our comprehensive home energy audits “whole home” approach to comfort and energy improvements.

“As soon as I heard GreenHomes had opened an office in Southern California, I wanted a home energy audit ASAP,” said Matt. “The weather was just starting to heat up and Derek was six months old. The timing was perfect.”

As I’ve mentioned here before, we treat a home as a completely integrated system. We look for components that are not performing well and are negatively impacting comfort, energy efficiency, health, and safety with diagnostic testing. The process began with a home energy audit.


A blower door is used to help find and measure air leaks

A blower door is used to help find and measure air leaks

First our Advisor analyzed a year’s worth of utility bills to determine energy patterns. Then we depressurized the house with a blower door and used state-of-the-art tools to identify the problems in the Venegas home.

“Using an infrared camera the Advisor spotted the main problem right away. He said ‘you have no insulation; this house is like Swiss cheese,'” said Matt. “Then using a smoke stick, he also showed me holes in our ducting and leaks. He explained that meant the air we were cooling and heating was just shooting up into the attic and escaping out the walls. It was very informative, and I was excited to finally learn what the problem was and relieved to know it could be fixed.”

Once the energy audit was complete, our Advisor came back to the Venegases with a comprehensive report and a complete set of recommendations that GreenHomes guaranteed would not only improve the comfort of their home, but increase energy efficiency and lower utility costs as well.

“The report was detailed but very easy to understand,” said Clare. “It was nice because there wasn’t a lot of fluff in it, just photos and very concise information that was specific to the house. There was also information on how the improvements would reduce our carbon footprint and lower our utility bills. They even told us how much in federal tax credits we could claim.”

The One-stop GreenHomes Solution

Matt and Clare decided to move forward with the recommended improvements that included insulation, air sealing, lighting upgrades, and new ducting. “Our motivation was the baby and comfort, but when we found out we would save money and energy as well, it was a no brainer!” they said. 

GreenHomes America by Air KingAs a single-source provider, GreenHomes handled the entire scope of the project from start to finish. For Clare, who was at home with the baby, working with only one contact was key. “Sometimes dealing with contractors and their schedules can be a pain,” she said. “But the GreenHomes crew was always on time, efficient, and courteous. They were respectful of my time and there was minimal disruption to our daily routine. They even cleaned up every day before they left.”

With work underway on the Venegas home, the experienced GreenHomes crew soon made a potentially dangerous discovery. As they were preparing the attic for cellulose insulation, one of the workers asbestos.

“The crew lead stopped all work immediately to prevent asbestos being exposed. Within 15 minutes they had quotes from several reputable asbestos abatement companies,” said Clare. “Within hours, all the asbestos was gone and we were back on track! GreenHomes handled it all, seamlessly, and got us a great deal.”

That wasn’t the only safety issue GreenHomes uncovered in the Venegas house. During the assessment they also found a natural gas leak in the water heater and faulty electrical wiring. “We are so grateful that they discovered the asbestos and the other issues. We feel much safer now,” said Clare.

When the project was done, Matt was amazed to find out that they did not need a bigger HVAC system after all. The old system was perfectly fine; it was just being overworked because of all the holes and leaks in the attic and insufficient insulation. GreenHomes also replaced the original thermostat with a new energy-efficient programmable one that turns on and off automatically.

The Homeowner Benefits

GreenHomes was in and out in just a few days, even with the asbestos and duct replacement set-back. According to Clare and Matt, they noticed an immediate improvement in comfort. “We can now go upstairs and it’s comfortable!” exclaimed Matt. “I’d say it’s at least 6 to 7 degrees cooler up there, just from the attic improvements alone. We haven’t had to run the A/C that much and we’ve noticed a big difference. When we do run the A/C, we can feel it working stronger and faster.”

The couple has already seen their electricity bill drop 25 percent from July to August and anticipates savings in the winter as well. “I think we’ll see a huge difference come winter,” said Matt. “Now we won’t have to run our heater nearly as much so we expect the utility bills to be a lot lower.” 

The fact that they were able to take advantage of the Federal Tax Credit for energy saving home improvements was an added bonus. “The tax credits, the long-term utility bill savings, being green, and the health and safety improvements were all icing on the cake” said Matt. 

An unexpected benefit was improved indoor air quality. Clare suffers from allergies. Now that the ducts have been replaced and the holes sealed, less allergens and dirt enter the house and she’s noticed an improvement in her symptoms.

Also, removing the asbestos and having GreenHomes certify the home for guaranteed energy savings has added value to their home, which will help them when and if they ever want to sell. “This small investment in GreenHomes turned out to save us a lot of future headaches when it comes to selling the house,” said Matt. “Not knowing about the asbestos and all the safety issues would have put us in a really bad position. We will proudly hang our GreenHomes Certified certificate for all potential buyers to see.” 

Bottom Line

Beyond the tangible benefits, Matt and Clare have peace of mind that baby Derek is safe and comfortable, and the house is clean and healthy. They can also feel good about doing their part for the environment by saving energy and reducing their carbon footprint.

“We are very happy with the results of our GreenHomes improvements. Their whole-home approach really works and we will gladly recommend them to everyone we know. We look forward to enjoying the baby and the house in total comfort now that it is working at maximum comfort and efficiency,” said Matt.

Syracuse launches early fall “cash for clunkers” furnace program

September 10, 2009

I don’t have the full details yet, but the GreenHomes Syracuse location on Tuesday launched its “cash for clunkers” furnace upgrade program on WSYR TV’s Bridge Street show.  The cash for clunkers program will piggyback on New York incentives and the current federal tax credit.  It’s a very limited time program, and I’ll get the specifics up as soon as possible.  Meanwhile, for more information, contact the Syracuse office at 315-474-6549.


Ten Tips for Keeping Cool

June 29, 2009

Now that summer is officially here, let’s get to those cooling tips I promised earlier.  Some of the tips are simple things you can do yourself.  Some are more involved are likely are best handled by a contractor.

  1. Keep the heat out!  During the day, if it’s cooler inside than outside, keep windows shut.  And keep window shades down to block out direct sunlight.  Open the windows at night if it’s cooler outside than in.  Solar shades can help.  And the more ambitious project, new low-e windows with a low “solar heat gain coefficient” (SHGC) can block the heat from the sun.
  2. Ceiling fans (and other fans) help you stay comfortable—but only while you’re in the room.  The fan motors actually generate heat, so turn them off when you’re not there.
  3. Use a bath fan vented to the outside to remove the heat and moisture created by showering.  If you don’t have a bath fan, install one.
  4. Similarly, use a kitchen exhaust fan to remove heat and moisture created by cooking.  This has the added benefit of removing pollutants, especially if you cook with gas.
  5. Use efficient lighting and appliances.  Incandescent and halogen lights actually use most of their energy creating heat instead of light.  Not only does this means you’re overpaying for lighting, but in the summer you’re creating a lot of unwanted heat in the rooms you’re trying to keep cool.  Compact florescent light bulbs have improved greatly over the past several years.  The humming, slow starts, and ghoulish colors of years past are gone.  With lighting or appliances, look for ENERGY STAR models.
  6. 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 cool can escape outside through leaky ducts.
  7. Insulate and air-seal your attic.  In the summer, temperatures in the attic often climb to more than 140o.    Proper insulation can keep this heat from conducting down into your home, but first…  Remember that your insulation only works if air isn’t moving through it.  Seal around chimneys, flues, plumbing penetrations, and recessed lighting, for example.   See my previous post Insulate to Stay Cool (Tax credits may apply)
  8. If you have a central air-conditioner, keep it tuned up.   If it’s more than 10 years old, consider replacing with a high-efficiency unit, one that at least qualifies for ENERGY STAR.  If your buying a window air-conditioner or dehumidifier, look for the ENERGY STAR, too.  (Tax credits may apply)
  9. Planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides of a house can help keep your home cool in the summer.  In many parts of the country, maples, oaks, and birches are good trees to consider.  Because they drop their leaves in the fall, they let sunlight through to help warm your house in the winter.
  10. To really find the trouble spots in your home, and to be sure that they’re addressed properly, get a comprehensive home assessment like those recommended in the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program.  GreenHomes America can provide this, and GreenHomes trained and certified crews can even install your improvements.

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.  GreenHomes does this testing on every project it completes.


Insulate to Stay Cool

June 18, 2009

Let’s talk about staying cool this summer.   I’ll run through a variety of cooling tips later.  Today, though, I want to discuss insulation.   Not that exciting, perhaps, unless some of the itchy stuff get down your shirt!  But important.

Many people think insulation only helps you stay warm in the winter.  It also helps you stay cool in the summer.   Anybody who has ever been in an attic in the summer knows how hot it can get.  140 degrees or even higher.  That might be 70 degrees warmer than you want it!  Well, that heat conducts and radiates down into your home and bakes you.  And simply stated, insulation stops the flow of heat.  So by increasing your attic insulation levels you block that tremendous heat in your attic and you stay cooler in the summer.

Of course, the insulation works in the other direction in the winter, keeping heat in the house—so you save twice.   You stay cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter, and you save energy and spend less on utility bills year round.

As I’ve discussed before, insulation really only works if you air-seal first.  A good contractor will carefully air seal any leaks between the attic and the area below before installing insulation, leaks such as around recessed lights, attic access doors, and exhaust fans.  In fact, the U.S. DOE found that air infiltration can account for 30% or more of a home’s heating and cooling costs and contribute to problems with moisture.  Air sealing saves you money and keeps the cool air inside during the summer—and the warm air inside during the winter.  While the contractor is in the attic, he should make sure that any ductwork up there is sealed and well-insulated.  Increasing attic ventilation can also help, but that can increase winter heating bills if air-sealing isn’t done, too.

Even if you have air-conditioning, be sure to upgrade your attic insulation.  You’ll use the AC less, and if you’re getting a new air-conditioner, you’ll be able to downsize a smaller, less expensive system (with AC, bigger isn’t better!), and you’ll save twice, first on the cost of the smaller unit and then on the cost to run it.

I’ll get into some other cooling tips later.  Meanwhile, insulate and stay cool.  And check out the tax credits available to help make that happen. 


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