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A New feature to your Furnace and AC Yearly Service that will Prove to be Well Worth the One Time Additional Fee.
As the once stagnate residential heating and air conditioning industry begins a much needed evolutionary trend toward a significant metamorphose homeowners may first be confused and hesitate to play.
The trends in residential construction continue to swim towards “the green home” concept whether it is the adoption of stricter energy efficiency standards in the building code or local tax incentives to build energy efficient or otherwise “green homes”. What happens in new construction often influences what owners of existing homes spend money on when upgrading their current castle. This coupled with the millions of dollars that has been pumped into creating a market for increasing the energy efficiency or more importantly the “performance” of the home has created the need for the HVAC industry to change the way they do business. This will be your proverbial separating of the men from the boys. Let me stop here for some quick definitions.
Energy Efficiency upgrades- Single or multiple retrofit measures that increase the energy efficiency of your home. This can be anything from changing to a more efficient light bulb to installing a new ultra high efficiency heating and cooling system.
Home Performance- A holistic approach to increasing the comfort, health and energy efficiency of a home. The home performance approach looks at the house as a system and diagnoses it needs based on all components affecting the other. This approach is more likely to get to the root comfort issues while at the same time increasing the efficiency of the home and make sure it is operating as healthy as possible. This is done instead of a single solution based on what type of product the evaluator sells, that may or may not address the actual problem. This process is usually started by a comprehensive home energy audit or assessment. ( Click link to read about the basic energy audit process.) .
Why should HVAC contractors care about what they don’t sell? Consider this real world example. A homeowner had a home built about ten years ago. Since the very first year they lived in the home one particular room has been almost unbearably uncomfortable in the extremes of both seasons, very cold in the winter very hot in the summer. Through the years they had repeatedly called various heating and air companies to evaluate the problem and were given many solutions. These included increasing the air flow to the room, balancing the duct system, zoning the home and lastly replacing their 92 percent furnace and 13 SEER AC with a new 96% efficient 2 stage furnace and 2 stage 18 SEER AC. None of these high dollar solutions really solved the problem. Just when they were resolved to a life of eternal discomfort in the master bedroom, they read about a service known as a “home energy audit” in one of their home magazines’. After goggling home energy audits and finding a local “home performance contractor” with a good BBB review they schedule an audit. After interviewing the home owner and hearing their complaint, the technician did a comprehensive energy audit on the home. The master bedroom had a small bumped out roof above it creating an attic space separate from the actual attic space and a bay window that bumped out creating a floor space above ambient air. Neither space was sealed off from the house properly or had a stitch of insulation in them. The attic space above the room had mold growing also caused by the lack of insulation and air leakage control. Essentially the master bedroom was a screen porch! In the end this and many other comfort issues were solved during their whole house retrofit. Although the homeowners were extremely happy that they could be comfortable in their own bedroom and the house in general was much more comfortable and healthy, (there was also an exhaust strategy ventilation system installed in the home as the energy audit revealed the home didn’t have the proper rate of ventilation) they were very disappointed in the HVAC industry for never realizing the real cause of their discomfort. Imagine if the first HVAC tech called in the first year of them living in the home had been able to properly diagnose the cause of the complaint!
This is not an isolated incident. And home performance professionals are not as rare as they once were. The HVAC industry was headed for a rude awaking. It’s easy to see why established HVAC companies would be hesitant to adopt a home performance model at first glance. It’s a substantial upfront investment for the additional diagnostic tools and proper training and certification. The solution to many comfort issues are no longer whatever your selling that day. Lets face it, as an industry they are not hurting for new business.
Recently many HVAC contractors have begun to realize a few things though. Real permanent solutions are better for business than sales solutions. No other industry responds to more comforts complaints. Taking a holistic approach allows the equipment their selling to do its job easier and better. A full home comfort health and energy assessment often lead to more sales than off the cuff sales tactics, and creates a revenue stream that didn’t formally exists for this industry. This is a service that can be sold with every maintenance contract or yearly service. So many have recently stood up and took notice in fact, that home performance is the theme of this coming years ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America) annual trade conference. By more than one sources prediction in the next 5-10 years the HVAC model we know today will be completely transformed to home performance because it makes so much sense for the industry.
So when you get your yearly service call and your in house tech ask if you’ve had an energy assessment or audit yet, don’t be scared, don’t look at them like they have two heads. Do some comparisons and credential checking, but it may be a good time to see what’s really going on in your home.
HERS ratings, IECC 2009-20012 compliance verification and LEED for Homes documentation and verification now part of CES expanded services
Cincinnati Energy Solutions is proud to announce HERS ratings as part of a new expanded services package we are adding. In addition to the traditional uses of the HERS index, it is being adopted more and more as a compliance path to new IECC building code requirements. CES is able to help with the performance and verification requirements in the new IECC 2009 portion of the building code using the HERS index where accepted.
Ever watch a television show that motivates you to act? Usually just small things here or there or something to pass the time. Ever start your own company as a result? Andy Holzhauser did, and he was only 30.
After watching a PBS documentary about the Cambridge, Mass. Energy Alliance in April 2008, Holzhauser started his own company in 2009, the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance. The show featured a study on a family-owned Laundromat going through an energy assessment, investing in more efficient materials, how much they saved and the importance of driving demand through a grassroots community fashion. This perked his interest to develop a similarly structured program with local adaptations. He met with 75 individuals over an eight month period to determine two important factors: Make sure something like this did not already exist, not wanting to reinvent the wheel, and to see whether or not the individuals would help him with this goal of energy efficient conversions. “A big credit goes to the city and region because leadership is accessible to meet on new business ideas and to develop those new ideas,” says Holzhauser, the executive director of the GCEA. In 2010, it was one of just 25 organizations nationwide to be awarded a $17 million “Better Buildings” grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The conversion process begins when the GCEA sets the homeowner up with a certified contractor to do an energy assessment for $50. The assessment identifies potential areas for improvements. “We look at every system in the house and how they operate together,” says Jeremy Begley, owner and president of the contracting company, Cincinnati Energy Solutions. “It’s based on building science not just shooting in the dark, but actually looking at different scientific tests.” His contracting company was actually the first approved contractor of the GCEA. “We’re the first company with a home performance contracting model, which is assessment based contracting to figure out what’s going to work best for the customer,” says Begley. While other companies may focus on one aspect such as windows or furnace installation, Cincinnati Energy Solutions specializes in all aspects.
The assessment is not only to identify energy usage problems, but also serve as an opportunity to educate the homeowner on how to reduce overall energy usage and save money on energy bills. “It gives homeowners a very visual sense for what is happening in their home,” says Holzhauser. “Without that very visual sense, homeowners don’t have access to the information they need to make an investment.”
The three most-common household energy wasters are attic insulation, air infiltration, and duct ceiling issues. Fixing any of these issues can immediately make homes more comfortable. Fixes can be as simple as blowing more insulation into an attic, filling cracks in walls and ceilings with “goo” to stop drafts, or fixing poorly connected ducts.
A complete energy conversion in a home can range anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000. “As you go up the totem pole in terms of level of investment generally that leads to longer-term paybacks, but again gives folks a comprehensive view as to the investment they can make,” says Holzhauser. The more investment now, the more money it saves later. A complete conversion can take about seven years for the investment to pay off for the homeowner, although an impact can be seen immediately with a lower energy bill. A $4,000 project can see a positive payback in two to three years, a simple attic insulation costing $1,000 can have a payback in less than a year.
“People are staying in their homes longer given the recession and the uncertainty of the market,” says Holzhauser. “That’s actually a good thing for us.” Homeowner longevity allows the GCEA to help homeowners save money and help increase their current savings and future property values.
Ohio’s building codes standards for new homes have loosened up as opposed to have gotten stricter in terms of energy efficiency in the past 5 years, according to Holzhauser. Houses built today at code minimums offer homeowners huge opportunities to make their homes more energy efficient, no matter how old or new the house may be.
The GCEA works to connect with the local community for awareness and education. This past year, they held a contest for participants to write an essay about energy reduction and why it is important in their lives. The “Green Your Home” contest winner won a green home makeover, which consisted of a $9,000 energy upgrade. They also held neighborhood energy canvasses in which they trained volunteers to visit 700-800 homes on a Saturday, deliver information about the program and try to get homeowners to sign up for an assessment.
“We organize phone blitzes, going through our original 700 contacts and help move them from the ‘interested phase’ all the way through ‘completion phase,’” says Lilah Glick, marketing and community outreach director for the GCEA. Their most recent strategy was sending out 20,000 postcards last month letting homeowners know about the programs and services available. She had been working with climate and energy change at a legislative level helping to pass bills, but she wanted to do more. “I saw a need to get boots on the ground and give assistance at the local level,” says Glick. “It’s the lowest cost, easiest solution to help homeowners reduce their energy use, reduce pollution and reduce negative health effects.”
“Some people are motivated to do an energy audit by saving money,” says Holzhauser. “Some people may not even care so much about saving money, but they really do believe and see it as a way to improve the environment, as a way to reduce carbon emissions, as a way to preserve our environment for future generations.”
Cincinnati Energy Solutions has the ability to offer a full BPI Home Energy Assessment/ Home Energy Audit for $195.00 In Hamilton, Boone and Kenton Counties, and $250.00 in all other counties. The energy audit / energy assessment offered is typically a $400- $500 value .
The energy audit/ energy assessment offered is a very specific process that will provide a detailed holistic synopsis of how your home is using and wasting energy. This is not a representative from your local utility walking through your home with a clipboard telling you to turn down the heat and maybe add some insulation and caulk your windows. It also is not one of the local HVAC companies or local insulation companies that got hooked up with the local DOE incentives and now call themselves a “Home Performance Contractor” only to try to sell you whatever product they specialize in. Now that homeowners are beginning to recognize a home energy audit as a legitimate first step to making energy improvements in a home, there are suddenly multiple ” Home Energy Experts. ” When you look just beneath the surface you discover a company that really wants to sell you a specific type of product instead of providing you a road map to what you actually need. They may provide the results in the form of an actual energy audit/ energy assessment to satisfy then intent of the organizations governing the DOE awarded incentives.
Since its inception in 2009 CES has been dedicated to actually diagnosing you home using a involved scientific process and providing you multiple options, itemized in terms of savings and comfort increase. The energy audit/ energy assessment includes at the least the following steps:
1) Homeowner interview. During this process the CES home energy professional is able to determine the homeowners specific concerns about the home in terms of durability, comfort and indoor air quality. Here the CES Home Energy Professional will also get an idea of what the homeowner knows about the insulation levels in the home.At this time 1 years worth of usage data will be collected to be used in the computer modeling.
2) Combustion safety testing. Here the the CES home energy professional will perform natural gas leak detection, safety testing on any combustion appliance that uses the atmosphere to vent the CO byproduct that is a result of combustion, and efficiency testing. 80% of homes entered have at least 1 natural gas leak.
3) Computer modeling of home/ heat load calculation. This is the most labor intensive and also one of the most important pieces of the energy audit/ assessment. It requires the CES home energy professional to measure each room of the home recording each light blub, each appliance, the size and orientation of each window, the placement of each supply and return duct, the insulation levels in the walls, and ceilings and floors that are adjacent to unconditioned space (outside, attics and crawlspaces and/or garages) and whether or not the duct work is in the home or in an unconditioned area.
4) Blower Door/ IR scan/duct leakage testing. These last but certainly not least items are often performed in conjunction with on another. During the blower door testing the CES Home Energy Professional will block the front door and insert a fan that will depressurize your home or essentially suck all of the air out of your home and let it naturally filter back in simulating a consistent 20 mph breeze outside your home. Doing this and using a pressure measuring device called a manometer, the energy professional is able to determine the amount of air leakage in your home. Then with the blower door running he/she will be able to use the IR camera as a tool to identify where the air leakage is coming from. Also while the blower door is running, using a duct blaster or more often duct pans, the energy professional can determine if you have duct leakage. ( only relevant if your duct work is an an unconditioned zone.)
5) And finally CES will provide you with a home energy assessment/audit report and proposal. The assessment report will show you specifically home your home is using and losing energy. We will also provide a separate proposal with multiple remedies to your homes energy woes, and any financial incentives that may be available in your area. All this will be thoroughly explained in a 1 hour follow up visit.
The City of Forest Park and The Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance have teamed up with Cincinnati Energy Solutions to offer home energy assessments ( audits) to homeowners for $50.00.($400-$500 value) Based on the results of the home energy assessment (audit), the homeowner can receive 50% up to $6000.00 of the price of recommend energy upgrades including air sealing, insulation upgrades, duct sealing, furnace, AC, or hot water heater replacement and more. You can contact Cincinnati Energy Solutions directly to get signed up for this limited time program. This program mirrors a program already available to all homeowners in Hamilton County that offers the home energy assessment (audit) to home owners for $50 and 35% up to $4200.00 off the price of recommended upgrades.
Then came the snow. Then came proof that you or your neighbors are heating the great outdoors. Heat rises. This is something we’ve all been told from the time we were little. To a large extent this is true. I say that to say this. Want proof that all homes are not insulated equally? The proof is in the roof, or at least in the snow that is or isn’t on the roof. A home that has a perfect blanket of snow on it, then one right next to it that has snow in only certain spots or none at all. See where i’m going with this, remember “heat rises”. Its your homes insulation’s job along with the proper air seal, to keep the warm air you pay to generate and pump into your home, in your home where you want it at. Not floating out the roof and melting the snow. See for yourself.
STEP 1- OCCUPANT INTERVIEW: This is a chance for the technician to get the building occupant/s involved from the beginning. Here the technician will explain the audit process, identify any occupant concerns or comfort issues, and begin the establishment of a trust relationship. Future sales are made or lost during the first few minutes of this interaction.
The technician will find out how many total occupants there are as well as establish appliance utilization for ventilation. Building ventilation rates are based on industry standards for the number of occupants, the size of the building and an allowable lower limit.
The technician should inquire about the structural integrity of the building. excessive moisture from internal and external sources has the ability to weaken the structural integrity of building materials and to cause unpleasant odors and health concerns for the occupants.
The technician will also inquire about how the occupant uses the building and its systems. How many hours a day are each space occupied? What are the thermostat settings, is the thermostat itself programmable and if so is it program to setback when the occupants aren’t using the building or sleeping? Is there supplemental heating and cooling used, if so why? Is there an adequate return air system allowed to operate in the home? Are there smokers present in the building, if so do they smoke indoors?
The last major thing the technician should do during the occupant interview is collect a billing and usage history from the occupant in the form of utility bills. This will help giving accurate assessment of payback from recommended upgrades. At least a years history is recommended if available.
This is a good picture of what should take place in the occupant interview step of the energy audit process. It will vary on a case by case bases and each auditor/technician will have their own process, but the basic information gathered should be the same.
Building (Home)Performance Contracting is more that just energy efficiency! It links building science with performance testing to create homes that are comfortable, durable, healthy, safe and cost-effective to operate. The basic idea is that all parts in a building are connected as a “whole house system”, where comfort and performance change based on indoor and outdoor conditions and on occupant activities. As homes became tighter and the equipment more complicated, it often takes skilled detective work and special diagnostic equipment to really determine what is happening in a house or whether your work has solved the problem.