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.