Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Home Star Retrofit Act of 2010

June 28th, 2010

Now that the U.S. House of Representatives has passed HR5019, the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010 that pays people to improve their homes, it’s closer to realization. The legislation must still pass the Senate and be signed by the President to become law, but it looks like it should pass.

The Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010 is the “cash for caulkers” program presented by President Obama.

Also known as the Home Star program, it is geared toward increasing the market for home energy improvements, providing rebates to homeowners who install energy-saving products, such as energy-efficient replacement windows and doors and more efficient HVAC systems.

I’m torn whether I want this program to become a law. On the one hand, as a homeowner, I would love the rebate for money I spend on improving my home’s energy efficiency. Not only do I get the rebate, but I will most likely lower my electric and fuel bills as well. That’s a home run!

But, what this is going to do, is create a million “home energy experts” that want to get in on the craze, and the easier sales pitch as a percent of the spend gets rebated. Many companies that weren’t viable before as home energy saving companies, will now be propped up by creating a marketplace where sales are easier, and it will take a savvy homeowner to recognize the difference.

So I’m torn. Most likely the Home Star program will pass and I’ll hire a company to do some energy upgrades because with the rebate and the presumed cost savings to electric and fuel bills makes a lot of sense. As a homeowner, and hopefully educated consumer, it will simply be up to me to identify the experts that will provide the best services to improve my home’s energy efficiency and lower my electric and fuel bills, and to watch out for the snake-oil sales pitch.

I’m going to have to get a set of questions to ask to be able to identify the experts from the johnny-come-latelies.

For a Fact Sheet on the HomeStar program visit the White House blog.

Home Energy Audits Uncover Lost and Wasted Energy

June 17th, 2010
home energy specialist

A home energy expert checking a furnace's efficiency.

A home energy audit can help to find where energy is being lost and wasted in a home. From the audit, various inefficiencies will be identified and then the homeowner can decide on how to improve these various efficiencies.

For example, a home energy audit may identify that a house leaks air three-times greater than the optimal air exchange rate, that the batt insulation in the attic is eight inches too thin, that an on-demand water heater can improve efficiency over the current tank water heater, that the heating system in a home looses 20% of it’s efficiency through duct leakage, and other typical energy losses in the home.

Then the questions are… What do I fix first? Which energy improvement will return my investment the quickest? Which improvement will save the most energy?

It turns out in most cases that the simplest fix is the best for return on investment, and the precursor to other energy-saving improvements as well.

air leakage in a home

You wouldn't open a window in the winter, but many houses have the equivalent in air leakage.

Reducing air leakage from the house envelope is typically the most significant energy improvement to reduce energy use, as well as improve comfort. In many houses, it is found that the equivalent of an open window exists in air leakage through openings, joints, and cracks in walls, floors, and ceilings, and around windows and doors.

Sealing these air leaks is a relatively low-cost start to better home energy efficiency and don’t require too much specialized equipment other than an infiltrometer (blower door) and smoke pencil.

Sealing air leaks means that less cold air in the winter would replace heated air in the home (heated air that you paid to heat!), reducing drafts and cold areas. In the summer, more hot and humid air would be kept out of the house (and if you paid to cool the air this could be a significant savings). Also, the entry of air quality concerns such as dust, radon, and pollen can also be reduced.

For standards and guidelines on the design and maintenance of indoor environments visit ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

Another potential benefit associated with reducing air leakage, is the ability to downsize heating and cooling equipment when it is replaced. Thus air sealing is sort of the gateway to home energy savings. But only a comprehensive home energy audit can tell you this, and a truly sophisticated audit will identify whether air sealing, attic insulation, a new furnace, replacement windows, or whatever else are the best options to save money and energy at home.

One such company that does comprehensive home energy audits is Dr. Energy Saver.

Which Home Energy Improvements Save You the Most Money

June 14th, 2010
Blower door test

Infiltrometer or blower door tests identify air leakages in a home.

Which home energy improvements save you the most money on your electric and fuel bills?  This is a great question.

  • Is it Windows?
  • Is it Insulation?
  • Is it an On-Demand Water Heater?
  • Or should you install Solar Panels?

How do you know which is the right upgrade that will save you the most money on your home electric and fuel bills? Historically that’s been a best guess, such as: “It feels drafty in my house, I need to replace my windows.” Or the recommendation of a contractor that sold one of the products.

  • The window company is going to say windows.
  • The solar panel company is going to say solar.
  • The HVAC contractor is gong to say a water heater or furnace.

You see the pattern. And I’m not saying that they’re wrong to say this… they’ve drunk the Kool aid and believe their product is best.

But How Am I to Really Know?

Thermal imaging

A thermal imaging camera identifies warm and cool spots.

That’s easy. A sophisticated home energy audit that includes a blower door test, a duct test, insulation measurement, and thermal imaging will give you real data as to what system in your home is least efficient, and what the return on the investment will be.

Really, it’s scientific. And the data should pretty clearly demonstrate inefficiencies. Then, based on fuel and electric costs, a fairly accurate cost savings can be calculated.

Who Does Comprehensive Home Energy Audits?
Look online. That’s probably the best way to see exactly what each contractor does, and look for an infiltrometer or blower door test at the very least.  Additional signs of a comprehensive home energy audit include duct testing, insulation measurement, and thermal imaging.

Conservation: The Least Sexy and Most Important Home Energy Tip

June 11th, 2010
Home energy usage pie chart

Home energy is broken into seven major components and a catchall other.

Until you’ve conserved your home energy’s use through proper insulation, lighting, appliances, water heating, HVAC, air leakage sealing, and water usage, don’t even consider renewable energy.

Conserve what you’re using, and thus use less.  What if every home could conserve 20% less energy?

Here’s a good place to start learning about your home’s energy usage. The pie chart shows how we use energy in our homes, with heating accounting for the largest part of a typical home utility bill.

The U.S. Department of Energy gives some ideas for a home energy audit to determine the efficiency of your home’s energy usage. Company’s exist that perform home energy audits, and there are also government-backed utility companies performing simplistic energy audits as well. You’ll have to decide which is right for you, but the more data you have, the better decisions you can make.

My one piece of advice is to beware what services the company doing the audit offers. For instance, a home energy audit from a window replacement company will most likely identify windows as the cause of energy loss. And an HVAC company will more likely identify a replacement furnace as the solution. Look for a company with a comprehensive audit and that either offers no services or all services equally.