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A Cleantech Blogger’s Home Energy Audit – The Results Are In

Reprinted from CleantechBlog.com

A few weeks ago I blogged a very bad experience trying to get an energy audit done on my home.  The vendor, Standard Renewable Energy, part of Gridpoint, just didn’t do the job.  After our blog article, the company came back to do the audit right for me, complete with a IR camera looking for hotspots, blower door test, and duct test.

I just got my report, and wanted to share the experience.  Consider it kind of like our cleantech blogger CSR report.  I’ve posted the full energy audit report on our Cleantech.org Yahoo! Group for your reading pleasure. 

For those of you who want to blog your own home energy audit, I’d love for you to join the Cleantech.org Yahoo! Group and send in a message with your experience or report in attachment.

If you’re looking to sort through what kinds of products are available, our sister site www.greenhome.com/ has a ton of them including:

as well as hundreds of articles on the how to side of things, for everything from energy efficiency to general greening.

My personal scorecard:

The results were mixed, not bad over all, but a lot of room for improvement.

I apparently have a pretty low energy rate house, at 23 kBTUs/Sq Ft, apparently a little over half the average.  Not bad for a 55 year old ranch house. This despite very little insulation in the attic, none in walls, and not particularly efficient appliances.  But for better or worse, with our total summer energy bill in the $125/month range ($8.9/kwh) plus gas bill for hot water at less than $20/month, not much makes economic sense to do.  I think we may just be very boring in our energy use! 

We didn’t do so hot on the blower and duct tests (that’s where they pull a light vacuum and measure how leaky your house envelope and duct work is.  The combination is a measure of how much your system is air conditioning things other than your home).  We are about double the recommended levels of leakage, and that’s after redoing the windows.

And we haven’t insulated the attic (current R value is estimated at 13, something like R 38 is desirable).  The nearly $1800 attic insulation quote I had gotten previously was looking like a 5-7 year payback, and unfortunately paying to seal the ducts and replace the air return looks like it would be marginal as well.  Sealing the ducts probably would pay off, however, we have an old house whose air return is way undersized and very poorly sealed, probably a vestige of the original heat only return pre air conditioning, meaning I’d need to tear up my hallway and put a new one in the ceiling to do it right.  The other big move would be to do some sort of an attic fan to do active attic ventilation, and keep my cooling load down.

One bathroom is basically an energy black hole, sucking my energy straight out to somewhere, but except for attic insulation they didn’t have a lot of good suggestions for this one. Since it’s my bathroom not hers, my wife just didn’t seem as concerned as I was.

The big contributor to be honest is likely not even in the house – we bought a very well shaded moderately sized house with 4 huge oak trees and 1 magnolia shading it, and keep the AC in high 70s in favor of a lot of ceiling fans.

And apparently, despite having big pretty windows and lots of light, we don’t have a high window area/square foot ratio, and all but one are pretty shaded. We did replace them with energy efficient double paned windows this summer, which besides an Energy Star washer/dryer was our only major energy efficiency move so far. Even more than the energy, replacing the windows made a huge difference in comfort, while still keeping the AC temperature fairly high.

On the negative side, I added 26 recessed can lights to the ceiling (I can’t help it, I like light!), about doubling the lighting capacity of the house to 5kW with very few CFLs.  But each room has multiple lighting systems (eg, ceiling fixture plus recessed or recessed plus lamps) on different switches, and we are pretty good about keeping on only what we need, so it really didn’t drive up the usage.

We’ve got a couple of small, cheap items that definitely make economic sense.   Only 1 of the 4 outside doors is weatherstripped (and one has a huge south facing single paned window that failed the IR test badly), and caulking along the base boards/sealing the various light switches (they make basically soft gaskets you can put on yourself that do the trick) and attic stairs would help seal the living area a bit (maybe just offsetting all those lighting cans!).

The south facing roof is mostly shaded by trees, and that plus our low electricity and hot water usage and low electric rates means solar is pretty much out.

We’ve done nothing about “vampires” or phantom loads, but we also don’t have a huge number of electronics, so it’s not too bad.

The one thing I was really excited about which the auditor just didn’t seem to think was worthwhile was an attic radiant barrier.  They recommended simply attic better ventilation as a first step.

In any case I’ll blog the results in a couple of months and give the blow by blow on whatever we end up doing.

 

My conclusions:

It’s hard to really find a lot things that were economic and environmental no brainers.  Most of the big items looked to be “on the bubble.”  Lots of little things from CFLs to those little light socket gaskets and weatherstripping need to get done.   And I do need to bite the bullet on some big items like the insulation.

Part of me really wants to see how far down I could get my energy usage. Is 300 kWh/month possible without self generating?  I’m going to have to do some calculations.

One of the problems with a house like ours is that when you start with moderately low usage, and plan on doing all the small cheap items, your bill gets so low you can’t payback any of the big ones.  So maybe energy efficiency retrofits is only really the province of the true energy hog or those who just believe.

 

 

Neal Dikeman is a partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, chief blogger of CleantechBlog.com, and is responsible for starting companies in carbon, superconductors, solar and fuel cells, as well as launching Cleantech.org.  He is a Texas Aggie, and his grandfather and great grandfather were both refrigeration and air conditioning engineers.

A Cleantech Blogger’s Home Energy Audit – The Results Are In

A few weeks ago I blogged a very bad experience trying to get an energy audit done on my home.  The vendor, Standard Renewable Energy, part of Gridpoint, just didn’t do the job.  After our blog article, the company came back to do the audit right for me, complete with a IR camera looking for hotspots, blower door test, and duct test.

I just got my report, and wanted to share the experience.  Consider it kind of like our cleantech blogger CSR report.  I’ve posted the full energy audit report on our Cleantech.org Yahoo! Group for your reading pleasure.

For those of you who want to blog your own home energy audit, I’d love for you to join the Cleantech.org Yahoo! Group and send in a message with your experience or report in attachment.

If you’re looking to sort through what kinds of products are available, our sister site www.greenhome.com/ has a ton of them including:

as well as hundreds of articles on the how to side of things, for everything from energy efficiency to general greening.

My personal scorecard:

The results were mixed, not bad over all, but a lot of room for improvement.

I apparently have a pretty low energy rate house, at 23 kBTUs/Sq Ft, apparently a little over half the average.  Not bad for a 55 year old ranch house. This despite very little insulation in the attic, none in walls, and not particularly efficient appliances.  But for better or worse, with our total summer energy bill in the $125/month range ($8.9/kwh) plus gas bill for hot water at less than $20/month, not much makes economic sense to do.  I think we may just be very boring in our energy use!

We didn’t do so hot on the blower and duct tests (that’s where they pull a light vacuum and measure how leaky your house envelope and duct work is.  The combination is a measure of how much your system is air conditioning things other than your home).  We are about double the recommended levels of leakage, and that’s after redoing the windows.

And we haven’t insulated the attic (current R value is estimated at 13, something like R 38 is desirable).  The nearly $1800 attic insulation quote I had gotten previously was looking like a 5-7 year payback, and unfortunately paying to seal the ducts and replace the air return looks like it would be marginal as well.  Sealing the ducts probably would pay off, however, we have an old house whose air return is way undersized and very poorly sealed, probably a vestige of the original heat only return pre air conditioning, meaning I’d need to tear up my hallway and put a new one in the ceiling to do it right.  The other big move would be to do some sort of an attic fan to do active attic ventilation, and keep my cooling load down.

One bathroom is basically an energy black hole, sucking my energy straight out to somewhere, but except for attic insulation they didn’t have a lot of good suggestions for this one. Since it’s my bathroom not hers, my wife just didn’t seem as concerned as I was.

The big contributor to be honest is likely not even in the house – we bought a very well shaded moderately sized house with 4 huge oak trees and 1 magnolia shading it, and keep the AC in high 70s in favor of a lot of ceiling fans.

And apparently, despite having big pretty windows and lots of light, we don’t have a high window area/square foot ratio, and all but one are pretty shaded. We did replace them with energy efficient double paned windows this summer, which besides an Energy Star washer/dryer was our only major energy efficiency move so far. Even more than the energy, replacing the windows made a huge difference in comfort, while still keeping the AC temperature fairly high.

On the negative side, I added 26 recessed can lights to the ceiling (I can’t help it, I like light!), about doubling the lighting capacity of the house to 5kW with very few CFLs.  But each room has multiple lighting systems (eg, ceiling fixture plus recessed or recessed plus lamps) on different switches, and we are pretty good about keeping on only what we need, so it really didn’t drive up the usage.

We’ve got a couple of small, cheap items that definitely make economic sense.   Only 1 of the 4 outside doors is weatherstripped (and one has a huge south facing single paned window that failed the IR test badly), and caulking along the base boards/sealing the various light switches (they make basically soft gaskets you can put on yourself that do the trick) and attic stairs would help seal the living area a bit (maybe just offsetting all those lighting cans!).

The south facing roof is mostly shaded by trees, and that plus our low electricity and hot water usage and low electric rates means solar is pretty much out.

We’ve done nothing about “vampires” or phantom loads, but we also don’t have a huge number of electronics, so it’s not too bad.

The one thing I was really excited about which the auditor just didn’t seem to think was worthwhile was an attic radiant barrier.  They recommended simply attic better ventilation as a first step.

In any case I’ll blog the results in a couple of months and give the blow by blow on whatever we end up doing.

My conclusions:

It’s hard to really find a lot things that were economic and environmental no brainers.  Most of the big items looked to be “on the bubble.”  Lots of little things from CFLs to those little light socket gaskets and weatherstripping need to get done.   And I do need to bite the bullet on some big items like the insulation.

Part of me really wants to see how far down I could get my energy usage. Is 300 kWh/month possible without self generating?  I’m going to have to do some calculations.

One of the problems with a house like ours is that when you start with moderately low usage, and plan on doing all the small cheap items, your bill gets so low you can’t payback any of the big ones.  So maybe energy efficiency retrofits is only really the province of the true energy hog or those who just believe.

Neal Dikeman is a partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, chief blogger of CleantechBlog.com, and is responsible for starting companies in carbon, superconductors, solar and fuel cells, as well as launching Cleantech.org.  He is a Texas Aggie, and his grandfather and great grandfather were both refrigeration and air conditioning engineers.

Why My GridPoint Energy Audit Sucked

Bad day for energy efficiency the other day.  I have a new house (actually a new to me 55 year old house), and was all excited to have an energy auditor come out and energy audit me.  After all, I write Cleantech Blog, and did an article not too long ago urging all homeowners to get an energy audit – see What You Should Do if You Really Believe in Cleantech.  So after an admittedly limited job of looking around I went with Standard Renewable Energy.

Most of the big box home improvement retailers have a energy audit practice, as do tons of little companies, but I figured Sre3.com, owned by Gridpoint which is backed by investors like Altira who I know and like, would be a good “pure-play” choice for a cleantech blogger.

But perhaps I’m a naive chump who just expected too much.

I ordered a their $149 Essential Energy Audit (full details below) figuring if I liked the audit I could order a more expensive one complete with more toys and high powered analyses later. I’d get my audit done, get my plan, and then geek out for a bit thinking about all the marginally economic things I could do (windows have been done, insulation is coming).

“Which Home Energy Audit is Right for You?

An energy audit from SRE is an extensive home energy efficiency evaluation. It’s performed by an energy efficiency expert and shows you how your home uses energy and how it wastes it. The audit results in a customized plan that empowers you to make energy-saving choices that fit your budget and your lifestyle. And our energy efficiency experts can help make it easy for you to implement the recommendations you choose.


Essential Energy Audit ($149) – A great starting place to identify issues affecting your home’s energy efficiency.  The Essential Energy Audit is a 41-point detailed visual inspection of every part of your home including: doors, windows, walls, attic space, insulation, air conditioning equipment, appliances, and lighting.


Complete Energy Audit ($499) – Builds on the Essential Energy Audit by incorporating diagnostic tests that can pinpoint specific energy efficiency issues and identify your best money-saving improvements:

  • Duct blaster test to diagnose duct leakage
  • Blower door test to identify leaks in your home’s envelope such as around doors and windows
  • Thermographic infrared scanning to evaluate the flow of heat through your home and pinpoint problem spots due to leaks and missing insulation

Comprehensive Energy Audit ($849) – Combines the Essential and Complete Energy Audits with an analysis using energy modeling software that calculates your home’s HERS (Home Energy Rating System) Index. We’ll use the software to provide a cost-benefit analysis of each of our energy-saving recommendations so you can see which have the greatest payback.

The Energy Efficiency Experts

As environmentalists with a passion for finding ways you can use less energy in your home, we’re committed to mastering home energy efficiency:

  • We incorporate industry-leading building science knowledge to ensure a complete picture of how your home uses energy
  • Our extensive technological and practical experience helps us make the best energy efficiency recommendations
  • We use a total approach to evaluate your home’s individual performance and address all areas of your home’s energy use
  • We provide custom solutions tailored for you and your home”

Frankly what I was looking for was the “41-point detailed visual inspection” plus the “customized plan”. I will quote again in bold italics just for the record:

“The Essential Energy Audit is a 41-point detailed visual inspection of every part of your home including: doors, windows, walls, attic space, insulation, air conditioning equipment, appliances, and lighting.”

and


“The audit results in a customized plan that empowers you to make energy-saving choices that fit your budget and your lifestyle.”

So here’s what happened.

I ordered the audit.  It got scheduled quickly (though they were a little backed up so they came out a couple of days later).  My wife and I both worked from home that day so we could be audited, watch what he did and take notes.  As an environmental scientist she was almost as interested as I was.

On the appointed day our energy consultant showed up.  We spend a few minutes chitchatting about why we want an energy audit, how we use the home, what we like in comfort, that sort of thing.  At this time I do tell him that I’m a blogger in the sector and am excited to blog about my energy audit.  He’s a very nice, and knowledgeable guy.  He’s never heard of Cleantech Blog though.  We show him our utility bills.  He takes copious notes.

Then he says it won’t take him too long, he needs to go through the house, inside and out, and in the attic, and go through his checklist.  Then we will sit down and review it.  We say great.  We follow him some trying to watch, but he tells us not to worry, he will take us through it all when he’s done.

. . .

30 minutes or so pass.  He comes back, we gather in the dining room and sit down. Our auditor asks a few more questions.  Gives us some good information.  We discuss the advantages / disadvantages of insulation vs radiant attic barriers.  He tell us our duct work isn’t sealed well, but is still tight enough that it’s not worth worrying about yet.

Karen my wife, starts to take more notes.  Karen likes home constructor projects. He says don’t worry about notes he will send us his write-up afterward to make it easy for us.

We ask him what we should do.  He tells us a solar attic fan.  SRE3 sells them for an “excellent price”.  $950.  And radiant barrier or more insulation, price maybe a couple of thousand each.  SRE sells that too.  I say, but my utility bill in the heat of the summer in July was only $126, without insulation, and before the new double paned windows got put in.  We ask him how much each of those items is likely to save, he mentions 10-20% each at most, without lifting his pencil.  I’m thinking thousands out, and $10-$20 a month back?  He agrees. Then discusses how important a solar attic fan is.  I ask what about one of those cheap metal silver fans instead of a $950 solar attic fan.  He says they never work.  But the SRE3.com solar attic fan is warrantied and the price includes installation.

A few other things happen.

I say I’m not sure I’m interested in the solar attic fan (to save $20 bucks in June, July and August?), but we will need insulation and I’d like to know what a radiant barrier costs.

We end the conversation (on Friday) where he promises to send me a quote on Monday.  I did note that my detailed inspection and customized plan, became a write-up of his notes and now a “quote” on insulation/radiant barriers.

I say nothing except I’m looking forward to getting the write-up.

I then ask, as he’s about to leave, what about weather stripping around the doors.  He says, “Oh, I didn’t check that” – note to self to check, isn’t weather stripping like the standard everyone should do it home energy efficiency item?  He now takes us around to the doors and discusses the weatherstripping.  He gives us some good tips, but we notice he is no longer taking copious notes. Note to self, aren’t you also supposed to have your hot water heater wrapped in insulation?  Ours isn’t.

Energy consultant leaves.  Time allocation:  1/3rd chit chatting on what we want, 1/3rd walking around the house looking for expensive things they sell that we might buy, 1/3rd trying to get us to buy a $950 solar attic fan for an uninsulated house with a $126 July bill, interspersed with a few tidbits of useful info.  Ok, that’s flippant, but it’s close.

Energy consultant comes back.  Says he called the office and they asked him to get the $149 check.  I pay it.

Day 25+, still waiting for my customized plan, checklist on the detailed 41 point visual inspection, write-up of the energy audit notes, or sales quote, or whatever he actually intended to send me.  At least we know the Gridpoint sales management process is working.  They don’t bother sending quotes to cheap homeowners people who aren’t going to buy a $950 solar attic fan – even those who thought they bought an energy audit.  Maybe I’ll send this blog to their PR department and see how well that process is run.  I already found out their A/R department is well run.

PS I still believe in energy audits, obviously just not a Standard Renewable Energy, a Gridpoint company, energy audit.

Neal Dikeman is a Partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, chief blogger for Cleantechblog.com, the chair of Cleantech.org and a founder of cleantech ventures Carbonflow and Zenergy Power.  He is a Texas Aggie.

An Audit That One Can Actually Like

by Richard T. Stuebi

The concept of an “audit” is something that is inherently, well, unsettling. The word itself implies that you might have done something wrong, and someone is coming to catch you and punish you. For sure, no-one wants to face the prospect of an IRS audit.

Of course, that’s not the sole or even main reason that I’ve never undertaken an energy audit for my house. It’s not an excuse, but an explanation to say that I’ve simply been too preoccupied with other matters to go through the effort of finding a qualified firm to perform an energy audit. And, frankly, I had no idea whether an audit would cost $100 (easily acceptable) or $1000 (too much!).

So, it was with a bit of relief actually that a firm called GreenStreet Solutions sent me a mailer offering an energy audit for $199. No longer burdened with finding a firm to do the work, and knowing that the price was one I could afford, I gave them a call to schedule a visit.

I was very pleased. A two-man team from GreenStreet came to my 1978-era house for a 3-hour tour (sing along: “a 3-hour tour”), and found some pretty interesting results. I wasn’t surprised to discover that certain of the walls and ceilings were underinsulated. However, I was shocked to see that the biggest source of thermal leakage was out of my basement, through the front stoop.

Armed with a host of data collected from the building envelope, thermal images from scanning, and my prior year’s gas and electric bills, the GreenStreet team went off to prepare an assessment . A couple weeks later, the lead analyst returned for an evening debrief with me and my wife, handing us a bound report summarizing the findings and suggesting measures to implement.

The results: at 50 Pascals of pressure, 5135 cubic feet of air per minute were leaking through the building shell of my home, relative to a target of 2299 for a reference home of comparable size. To combat this, GreenStreet proposed three packages of solutions — Bronze, Silver and Gold — to reduce the leaks. To my wife and me, the Silver package looked the best — the most bang for the buck — entailing $9738 of outlays to save an estimated $2288 annual heating costs (surprisingly, savings on air conditioning expenses are not calculated), for a projected average payback of 4.3 years.

In addition, GreenStreet provided a bag full of goodies to further help reduce energy. For instance, we were given a Kill-A-Watt meter to measure appliance consumption rates and phantom loads. Though I haven’t yet gone around the house to develop a list, it sounds like a pretty fun project some rainy afternoon.

Also, GreenStreet gave us a bunch of thermal insulating gaskets for outlets and light switches. I installed these the other day, and in removing the covers, it’s really amazing to see how much thermal leakage is likely to occur through these huge uninsulated gaps. Parents: installing these gaskets would be an excellent project to give to your teenager to undertake.

As for implementing the audit results, we were prepared to authorize a go-ahead — until the GreenStreet salesperson noted that a bill was winding its way through Congress to reimburse up to $8000 (with no ceiling on income levels) for weatherization efforts, and since the bill wouldn’t be retroactive, we would be better off waiting for the bill to pass (expected this summer). We thanked him for his divulging this important opportunity, and asked him to have GreenStreet call us when the bill passed.

He further noted that a bill was moving through the Ohio legislature to reimburse the $199 we paid for the energy audit too, and informed us that we would be notified if this were to pass as well.

I was really impressed with the audit by GreenStreet — very professional, and not pushy. The GreenStreet agent noted that their parent company was Vectren (NYSE: VVC) — a gas and electric utility based in Southern Indiana — which leads me to wonder if all energy audits should be performed by companies that have a corporate parent that is a utility possessing sufficient financial wherewithal and expertise on energy-related issues.

However, unless the utility has revenue/profit decoupling mechanisms in place, it’s clear in my mind that an audit can’t effectively be done by the local utility, who may be subject to conflicts of interest by threatening to cannibalizing their core business from reducing energy consumption.

In all respects, my wife and I actually enjoyed this audit, and recommend a similar type of audit for anyone who wants to make their personal contribution to the cleantech challenge.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.