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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!
Audits Prevent Ponzi Schemes
Governor LePage made news last week when he called energy audits a "ponzi scheme." He went on to say that “conservation is very, very good if you do it properly.” On the latter point, I agree with this statement by our Governor. Conservation is indeed very, very good and has shown to be a powerful stimulus for the economy. But he's dead wrong in his critique of energy audits.
Based on research presented in Home Energy magazine the average energy efficiency improvement of adding an energy-efficient single glazed exterior storm window to an existing single pane wood framed window is over 400%. Using an energy efficient fiberglass framed storm window increased the efficiency by 600% or more. The installation of a storm window with a wood frame is 300%. The most effective storm windows are considered energy efficient and have the smallest frames. Energy efficiency of windows is measured in U-value of the glass with the lower the score the better. Energy efficient U-values are in the 0.2 end of the spectrum while inefficient glass is in the 1.0 range. In R-value terms the 0.2 U-value is an R-value of 5.0 and the inefficient rating of U-value 1.0 also has an R-value of 1.0.
In Maine there has been a great deal of discussion about the cost of residential heating and what to do about it. The majority of the focus seems to be on replacing oil with natural gas. This will help but it is not the first step to take. We all know heating fuel prices can vary greatly. Right now natural gas prices are low but that could change at any time. There are no guarantees on the savings based on the volatility of fuel prices.
The first step in making home efficiency gains is to weatherize. The weatherization of homes immediately creates jobs, brings guaranteed savings to the home owners, and injects money back into the local communities. If a home becomes 30% more efficient it will dramatically reduce the annual operating costs for the owners. The improved efficiency will not change due to conflicts overseas, depleting supplies of fuel, or political shifts in ideology.
Using the right tools can make a huge difference in the amount of time it takes to do an audit as well as keeping your on-site presentation to the client professional and your equipment organized and well protected. The following are tools that I have found to be very useful.
Use a gun case to protect your blower door frame
Maine does not have state licensure for home inspectors. This amazes me. Licensure is needed for hair salons, electricians, plumbers, physical therapists but not home inspectors. Because of this home buyers have little or no recourse if the home they purchase needs costly repairs that were not identified in the report. Home inspectors that do substandard inspections are not held accountable by the state and have no worries about losing their license or being listed on an Attorney General website for providing deficient inspections. With this in mind I highly recommend that you ask the following questions of potential inspectors:
There are two methods of handling efficiency improvements in your home. One is the "One Stop Shopping" of "Stand Alone" method. With this method one company does the initial audit, writes the recommendation report, does the work and then does the quality test out.
The other method is the “Independent Audit” approach. With this method an independent audit firm does the initial audit, writes the recommendation report, helps the homeowner choose contractors, oversees the project, and then does the final quality control test out.
Pending in the Senate is a bill called the Home Star Retrofit Act of 2010, or simply Home Star for short. Sometimes referred to as Cash for Caulkers in street slang, the bill would provide a series of financial incentives for homeowners to increase the energy efficiency of their homes through substantive, effective improvements to their homes that save homeowners money, reduce our country’s carbon emissions, help to mitigate climate change, and put tens of thousands of Americans back to work.
Winter's coming. It's already heating season. So how do you save money on heating costs? You've got to own your heat. Simple as that. You've paid for all that warm air already, so it doesn't make much sense to waste it now.
A simple enough premise - it's the application that gets complicated. We (and most building science experts) strongly recommend air sealing and insulation as high priority measures to make your home use less energy, make you more comfortable, and make the planet happy.
On cold winter days, a ray of sun streaming into your house can be most welcome - a free source of heat. But what about in the summer, when those rays of sun and other, less-evident solar heat, seep into our already too-hot houses and become a costly nuisance? Well, what happens is that you lose money. But using landscaping (namely by planting trees) to shade your home can be a great way to lower energy costs.