*Editors Note: this post ran on a personal blog in October 2011. The Home Energy Tune Up program is in a ramp down period for the remainder of 2012 but will return in full-force in 2013 through funding from Pacific Gas & Electric Company, the California Public Utilities Commission and California Rate Payers. To track the status of this program you can check in here on our blog and at the City of Fresno website. Now, on to the home-shaming.
I carry an albatross of inefficiency.
My home was built in 1977 and for 33 years sat untouched by the hands of my husband's grandmother. To her credit, she did install shutters on the eastern facing windows, but I'm fairly certain that was more aesthetic than for cooling purposes.
|Looking pretty and leaking $|
Now, as one who is compensated for evangelizing energy efficiency you would expect that my own home's efficiency was a top priority. Especially given that our monthly electric and gas bill exceeded our mortgage costs six months out of the year. It wasn't until this spring that we even started thinking about "buttoning up the house".
California, despite the boondoggle of a PACE program, has introduced some rather enticing mechanisms to incentivize homeowners to make efficiency upgrades to their home. After sitting through no less than 17 presentations on Energy Upgrade California/Residential Retrofit/Weatherization I decided that our home was ready for a makeover!
My husband immediately wanted solar. However, I knew we would be paying an arm and a leg for an over-sized solar array if we didn't get the house tuned up first. And, like we say to every city manager and public works director up and down the Valley--solar isn't worth a penny until you address your inefficiency first.
Now, here is where I profess I have a work-crush on Steven Chu. Yup, that's right Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. Mostly because he isn't afraid to speak out about gas prices, touts efficiency as a saving grace, and because he can tie-in energy storage with the latest Harry Potter release. I also really respect his personal efforts to make his home a pinnacle of energy savings. Secretary Chu has insulated, sealed and gone tankless; resulting in big time savings. So, I figured if the Secretary of Energy of the United States can take the time to insulate his pipes, the least I can do is pay someone to do it for me!
And so it began. I made my own list of "to-do's":
- insulate the attic and lee walls
- duct inspection and sealing
- AC tune-up
Insulate hot water heaterReplace hot water heater with tankless hot water heater
- solar shade on transom windows
In a chicken/egg scenario I can't say whether I made my list because I wanted to be more efficient or because the City of Fresno was launching a "Home Energy Tune-Up" program, free to homeowners (disclaimer: my Organization
is was a sub-sub-contractor to the City on this project. We assist in outreach to local governments.). Likely, a little of both.
Regardless of professional involvement, the steps of the program are so incredibly simple!
- Schedule a free home energy survey by calling (855) 621-3733 or filling out an online form
- Be home during a 3-4 hour walk-thru survey to determine where energy is wasted
- Receive a detailed report from your inspector with no-cost and low-cost ideas to improvement
There is even assistance for accessing rebates and incentives, as well as financing option for advanced upgrades.
Our survey was completed on a Friday morning by Nathaniel Zayas of AmeriSpec, and took a little longer than four hours, but mostly because I asked him a zillion questions at every step, and because he was being assisted by this guy:
To my great surprise, our house wasn't in as bad shape as I thought it was. The average home inspected has a 20% duct leakage. After the blower test, it turned out that ours were leaking less than 10%. Our AC, as it turns out, is functioning better than expected given that it is original to the home. We're pretty diligent about having it checked, but who's to say what Grandma did all those years so that was indeed a nice surprise. The unit is way too big, but in all honesty that's something that I'm willing to pay extra because come July and that 20 day streak above 100 degrees I'll be glad for the chill.
|Dutch, our St. Bernard and Assistant Inspector|
The real offenders are the furnace, the hot water heater, and the windows.
Because we're not opting into the Energy Upgrade California program (although EUCA is awesome and if you're considering major efficiency improvements I strongly recommend you look into it) we'll be paying for each improvement upfront, in full. With those financial realities I set up something SJVCEO recommended to local governments as gospel--a revolving energy loan fund. Here's how it works:
- you have an upfront amount of money that you decide you're willing to spend on upgrades. In our case that was $1,000.
- Next, you determine your project, and what your rebate is and what you can expect for a payback on the investment. For us, we wanted to do insulation first. One, the whole house and lee walls could be insulted within our budget. Two, we had Z-E-R-O insulation in our home and it gets cold...and hot. PG&E was offering a $300 rebate on the work, so in the end our cost was $900. Pre-insulation our combined electric and gas bill on an average month was $400. The insulation saves approximately 10% each month, so the payback would be about 18 months. We liked that.
- Once you know your project, do it. In our case we went with Masterguard Insulation and Windows and they were fantastic. Quick, clean, and considerate. I'm not sure Dutch got to help out, but he seems pretty happy with the end product. In the months of post-insulation bills the project is actually saving an average of 18% per month! That means the project paid itself off in five and a half months!
- Finally, take your rebate and the money you've saved on utility bills and reinvest in your next project! Ours is probably going to be a tankless hot water heater. I expect it will be another $1,000 project with the product and installation
- Repeat as necessary until you've got your home buttoned up and running smooth!
Have I loosened that albatross? Not quite; I still have a ways to go before I can feel like our home is pinnacle of efficiency, but at least I no longer feel like there's a dirty secret I'm hiding! The truth is, energy upgrading your home is no different than any other DIY/home improvement project: it just takes time and commitment to making a better quality of living for you and your family...our your Saint Bernard.
photo credits: all photos property of Courtney Kalashian