Efficiency Maine prides itself in the rebates and loans that they make available to Mainers. Unfortunately, a shocking truth has emerged. The funding is unavailable to the vast majority of Mainers. During the first 3 years 85% of the loans and rebates went to the households in the top 15% income bracket.
The new rebate schemes are still just for the upper income levels. People have to spend a great deal more than the rebate amount to qualify for the funding. A $500 heat pump rebate is for systems that cost at least $2500. A $5000 wood pellet rebate requires people to spend $10,000 or more. Insulation rebates exist but the average homeowner spends over 3 times the rebate to qualify for them. There are loans as well, but most Mainers can’t afford them.
There is a national discussion occurring about the importance of worst case Combustion Appliance Zone (CAZ) testing after weatherization work has been performed. This is a battery of tests that can show if the house has the potential for creating toxic conditions primarily focused on the back drafting of carbon monoxide from combustion appliances when a home is put under the worst case conditions. These conditions are created by having all of the exterior ventilation fans running while the heating system is also in operation. If this worst case test fails then remediation steps are recommended to create better ventilation and prevent the back drafting of carbon monoxide.
Efficiency Maine is controlling the flow of business to contractors by using a mileage default setting when homeowners are searching for a contractor. How this works is a customer that wants services enters their zip code on the Efficiency Maine website “Find an Energy Advisor” tab and businesses that are within 25 miles of the that zip code pop up. If the homeowner wants to search outside the 25 mile zone they need to manually scroll to a greater distance. As web designers and users know people rarely make adjustments with internet search sites. This also occurs when people call Efficiency Maine and ask about contractors. Efficiency Maine asks for their zip code and then gives them names of contractors within the 25 mile range.
After speaking with many contractors and others about the issue of how jobs are counted on the efficiency Maine website I have altered my stance on the counting issue. It dawned on me that none of the other organizations related to my business that I am part of, including my HERS work, LEED work, home inspections, mold inspections, and air and water testing has a scoreboard for how many jobs a company has done. I actually don’t know of another organization outside of the efficiency realm that lists the number of jobs that is completed by its members.
Buying a home is often the most expensive purchase that people make. For such a momentous acquisition it is surprising how often there is little time and effort that goes into selecting the home inspector.
In Maine potential buyers will rely on their broker to advise them on whom to use. That can be a starting point, but it should not be the most important factor in making the inspector decision. Remember, the buying and selling agents make the same commission which can be a conflict of interest for the buying broker when helping the potential buyer make an inspector decision. Use the internet and referrals from neighbors and friends to gather a pool of potential inspectors.
I always tell clients not to have a fire going in their woodstoves or fireplaces prior to my blower door testing. I also request that they remove all ashes from these areas to prevent ash dust from being pulled into their home.
I have now learned to do one more safety check prior to running the blower door test. A client had followed my recommendations precisely and told me that he had not had a fire in the wood stove for over 24 hours. It seemed that I was good to go with the blower door testing.
After about a minute of running the blower door, smoke began to back draft out of the junction of the woodstove flue pipe and the chimney. I shut down the blower door fan and then opened the clean out of the chimney used for the stove to see what was going on. With a mirror I could see a large glowing mass that was below the flue pipe entrance but above the clean out door.
The value of Third Party Verification cannot be underestimated. This verification is the cornerstone of the “checks and balances” system. Every time I do a HERS or EnergyStar rating of a home my work is verified by another group. The Passive House and LEED certification ratings also require third party verification on all of the work done in the construction of the homes. It sets a level of excellence that reinforces the high standards that the most demanding energy efficiency programs require.
I strongly recommend that homeowners request third party verification on all of their projects. Using the third party verification system solves the debate over the independent verses One Stop Shopping audit style debate. With this model the One Stop Shops can do the audit and the efficiency upgrades work, then have a third party verify that the work is successful. It may sound cumbersome and costly but it is not.
The symbolism of the day that Kevin from Upright Frameworks, Peter from Energy Circle, and I chose to go to the Hartford’s in Peru, Maine to see what we could do was not lost on me. It was the day of the Super Bowl. While we were trying to decide the best way to make the home more energy efficient and a healthier place to live, millions of people were trying to decide how to make their football parties fantastic. I am not criticizing sports revelers one bit. The day just showed the broad scope of what is happening in America.
There are so many misconceptions about people that end up needing assistance. Often times they are demonized for needing help. I was so impressed by the attitude and demeanor of the Hartfords. While we were helping them Mr. Hartford was in and out driving people to doctor’s visits and other places that they could not get to.
More and more homeowners are having significant insulation and air sealing upgrades done to their homes. This is a very positive step forward for Maine’s economy and towards energy independence. Unfortunately, if these upgrades are done improperly they can be a threat to your health and well being. To avoid the health risk of mold growth problems, the inhalation of chemicals released in our homes, as well as the potential poisoning by carbon monoxide, homeowners should have a complete battery of air quality and combustion safety tests done when the work is completed. If the installers do not do these tests a professional should be hired to perform this service. Remember, tight is good as long as you are ventilating properly!
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