Posted by: lcowie | November 16, 2010

How to Incorporate Energy Auditing into Your Career

There are generally two kinds of business models for energy auditing – the energy auditor and the add-on to existing business. Each model has its pros and cons.

The energy auditor model requires third-party verification, generally for home buyers, utility companies, and programs like Energy Star or LEED. The typical fee is $250-400 per audit. The standard audit includes the blower door test and inspection. Additional services, like duct blaster testing and infrared camera imaging, cost extra.

With the add-on to existing business model, the energy audit is used as a sales tool. It is discounted to $100-200, as the retrofit work is likely to produce a healthy profit. This model is best for businesses that sell energy efficiency products, like insulation companies, HVAC contractors, or general contractors. Once again, it is important to be aware of conflict of interest. You must give full disclosure of your existing business to the homeowner and recommend that he or she seek multiple bids. Ultimately, this kind of integrity wins referrals and repeat business.

Now that energy auditing is becoming more popular and mainstream, it’s up to you to determine which business model is best for you. Leave a comment if you have more pros and cons for these business models.

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Posted by: lcowie | November 16, 2010

Why Get an Energy Audit?

Why do homeowners get energy audits? What do they complain about? Homeowners usually complain about three main things – comfort, energy use, and air quality. You will discover which of these complaints your homeowner has when you interview him or her prior to the audit.

Homeowners want to be comfortable in their homes more than anything. They will pay whatever they have to to feel comfortable. Generally the complaints about comfort regard drafts in the winter or inefficient air conditioning units. There’s nothing worse than your worse feeling like the same temperature that it is outside. Homeowners will hire a professional to fix the problem so they can feel comfortable in their homes again. Please note that a BPI Building Analyst Professional will get to the root of the homeowner’s problem; the certified energy auditor will not just replace an easily accessible filter if the problem goes deeper than that. BPI Building Analysts are trained to find the source of the problem and diagnose from there, so that the problem does not occur again.

When it comes to energy use, some homeowners try to conserve energy by keeping the lights off or not running their air conditioning units until mid-June. Other homeowners use what they need to feel comfortable, which could be consistently high energy consumption. When the homeowner discovers a spike in the energy bill, he or she will wonder what happened. The energy auditor must come in and determine what caused the spike. The problem can be corrected simply by hiring a professional who will find the problem. Not only can the homeowner work through that spike in the bill, but he or she could possibly end up paying even less than before, with the help of the energy audit.

Lastly, air quality is an important issue for all occupants in a home, but the issue becomes even more pertinent when one or more occupants have a respiratory infection or allergies. If the home has an overwhelming amount of dust, mildew, mold, or asbestos, it is unhealthy for anyone to breathe in the air. A BPI Building Analyst is trained to look for these indoor air problems and determine which appliance or leak has caused them. On the other hand, an energy auditor cannot go through with all his or her tests if these indoor air problems are insidious. The tests could make the indoor air problems worse. Having diagnosed the problem, the energy auditor can recommend a specialized professional to treat the problem.

Comfort, energy usage, and air quality are the main reasons why homeowners seek energy audits. They notice a problem in their home and want it to be fixed. Leave a comment if you’ve heard any other kinds of homeowner complaints.

Posted by: lcowie | November 16, 2010

Energy Auditing – RESNET vs BPI

There are two dominant certifications in the United States for home energy auditing. They are BPI Building Analyst Professional and RESNET HERS Rater. Many people confuse these standards, but the difference is simple.

BPI stands for Building Performance Institute. The Building Analyst Professional certification is used for existing homes. An energy auditor does an evaluation of energy consumption to determine ways in which energy can be conserved.

The RESNET HERS Rater distinction is for Energy Star New Homes. Before the builders have put their finishing touches on the home, the RESNET HERS Rater may evaluate the home for insulation gaps. In general, it is much easier to evaluate for insulation gaps at this stage in the game. It is much harder to do when the home is completely built and lived in.

There was a time when the BPI Building Analyst Professional certification was more popular, but more and more people are becoming interested in RESNET now. I’d say the certifications are equally popular now.

Posted by: lcowie | November 16, 2010

Seal the Easy Stuff First

When conducting a home energy audit, or working on the retrofit improvements, you should remember the saying, “Seal the easy stuff first.” Sometimes sealing the easy stuff first will make all the difference in other areas of the home.

The attic should be your first priority for sealing air leaks. The BPI standards recognize that the attic is likely to give way to the Stack Effect more than any part of the home. If you seal up the attic, there is less of a chance of air movement via the Stack Effect because there will be less of a pressure difference within the home.

The next priority is the basement, which also contributes to the Stack Effect. To really make sure that the air pressure remains balanced inside the home, and that unhealthy, unconditioned air isn’t making its way inside, you should seal up air leaks in the basement. Between the attic and the basement, you are likely to fix most of the air leak problems in the home. Easy enough!

An attached garage connected to conditioned space provides an opportunity for air leak. Generally garages are considered unconditioned space, meaning they are outside the home’s thermal boundary. If there is a gap in the insulation of the wall connecting the garage to the home, the heat (and fumes) from the garage are likely to spread into the home. Not only is this a problem regarding unconditioned air, but if the homeowner keeps gasoline, paint, or pesticides in his or her garage, these fumes can leak into the house, lowering indoor air quality for everyone.

The last areas you’ll want to secure are the pipe/wire penetrations, recessed lighting, and weather stripping. Seal the easy stuff first because that may be all the home needs. If you go straight for the interior, you may miss obvious problems with the homes thermal boundary. You want to give the homeowner the most bang for their buck.

Posted by: lcowie | November 16, 2010

Finding Gaps in a Home’s Insulation

Homeowners aren’t aware of the areas in their homes that lack insulation. This is where the BPI Building Analyst or BPI accredited contractor comes into play. You can use an infrared thermal camera, or your own training and knowhow, to spot gaps in the insulation. Infrared cameras are great, but they’re expensive, so you may want to focus your attention to common problem areas, like recessed lights.

Generally, when you spot recessed lights, you can usually be guaranteed that there is no insulation, especially if the home is somewhat older and you are conducting its first energy audit. The way recessed lighting fits into the wall, it provides a huge opportunity for space – space that is often unfilled.

Even when covered with insulation, however, recessed lights pump conditioned air out of the house. This is why you see so many articles criticizing recessed lights.

Eliminate the air leakage by locating fixtures inside the insulated envelope or using insulated can, air-tight (ICAT) recessed fixtures. Existing recess lighting can have 3” minimum clearance on all sides, but the best choice is ICAT if at all possible.

If you have recessed lighting, what do you usually recommend to homeowners for insulation?

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