“Energy Efficiency Reports” from Home Inspectors

If you are a home seller who has accepted a bid from a potential buyer for the purchase of your home,  there is likely to be included in your agreement a contingency for a “home inspection” to be conducted by a person of the bidder/buyer’s choice.

A home inspection is conducted in accordance with a “standard of practice” published by a state licensing board or home inspection association that defines what is and what is not included as a part of the inspector’s observations and reports.

Presently, in an attempt to “upsell” and increase profits from their home inspections (or as a marketing incentive used to promote inspectors who need the business) some home inspectors are offering an add-on service for potential buyer’s that they call “Energy Efficiency Reports”.

Unlike the home inspection that is performed in accordance with a set standard of practice, energy efficiency reports are generally subjective, performed by inspectors with little or no training or certification and are calculated from basic calculators known to be broad and limited in scope.  These reports are mere guesses as to how efficient the home might utilize energy in the future if the buyer decided to purchase it.

Inspectors usually provide this service through the use of simple generic calculators (already available to the public, for free)  to publish “instant” energy efficiency reports based upon a few general observations.  Unlike legitimate energy audits performed by trained and certified energy professionals, these efficiency reports provide unreliable results that are based upon inconsistent and extremely limited observations.

Home sellers who are opening their homes to home inspectors for the purpose of complying with their contractual agreement to allow inspections of the property for the buyer’s use in the real estate transaction are almost always unaware that the inspector can also be using his time in their home to provide potential buyers with an “energy efficiency report” that can potentially interfere with the sale and/or sales price of their home.

Whether they are real or not, reported conditions that would reflect poorly upon the home’s projected ability to perform in an energy efficient manner are not necessarily “defects” but can easily be perceived as such by hesitant home buyers.  Likewise, home buyers relying upon this type of report are equally at risk if using the information it contains to determine affordability or projected energy costs.

Homes that are properly priced and presented for sale could be misrepresented as being worth less to prospective buyers due to such reports – reports provided without the input, knowledge or permission of the owner of the home.

Home sellers and the real estate salespeople who represent them should take extra measures to ensure that the inspector that they allow into their home is not performing any additional inspections or providing any additional information that is not included in the scope of the contractually agreed home inspection.

When the home inspector has stepped across the contractual boundaries … and the information that he reports outside of the scope of the contractually agreed home inspection has damaged the home seller’s attempt to sell his home … the seller should seek competent legal advice to see how these damages can be recovered from the inspector and from any real estate professional that referred or otherwise promoted the unauthorized inspection and report.

The unprofessional and objective views of an untrained person producing “energy efficiency reports” do not necessarily contain accurate information and should not be used to negotiate a real estate transaction.  Home sellers should take the extra step to inform their real estate agents that their permission for a home inspection does NOT include permission for “energy efficiency reports”.

Radiant Barriers – Good for Energy Savings/Bad for Fire Safety

They can cool the attic … but at what risk to the structure and the occupants?  Could radiant barriers represent a potential for harm?

Read the McDowell Owens Engineering Inc. white paper as to how “The physical and electrical properties of these materials are such that they introduce new and very serious dangers of ignition and fire.”

The summary of the McDowell Owens Engineering study is, as follows:

“1. Standard installation methods for roof sheathing with integrated radiant barrier are such that the end result is an overall environment where all of the radiant barrier material and virtually everything metal on and around the roof are electrically connected.

“2. In most cases, something in that environment is connected to earth ground. If anything in the roof environment becomes electrically energized (by lightning or any other common source) there is a high probability the current will pass through the barrier material at some point on the way to earth ground.

“3. The physical and electrical properties of reflective radiant barrier materials which we tested are such that the material in a structure provides two new and unique hazards relative to fire causation.

(a) When energized by an electrical current the material readily generates temperatures sufficient to ignite MANY materials.

(b) The barrier material itself readily serves as the first ignited material.”

If you are considering radiant barriers as an energy efficiency upgrade … if you reside in a home with radiant barriers that are installed … if you are considering a recommendation by an energy auditor or other entity to install them … read this report, first.

Energy Efficiency and Your Water Heater (Part Two)

Conventional gas water heaters present an additional challenge to the home owner improving the energy efficiency of their water heater.  In addition to the energy loss through demand, standby and distribution (as previously discussed), the conventional gas water heater will waste a greater percentage of energy than electrical water heaters due to the design of the burner and ventilation system.

The wasted energy specific to gas and oil water heaters are:  excess air, dilution air and off-cycle air circulation.

Excess Air

Approximately 15 cubic feet of air is required to efficiently burn one cubic foot of gas.  Wasted heat and combustion by-products are carried by air through the chimney and are not heating water.  Some of this waste cannot be avoided, but the more excess air that flows through the burner the more energy is wasted.

Dilution Air

Dilution air is air from within the room that enters the flue at the draft diverter during combustion to assist in providing the draft needed to carry the dangerous combustion by-products to the outdoors.  Some or all of this dilution air is air that has been heated or cooled from the home.

Off-Cycle Air Circulation

Surrounding indoor air circulates through the burner and flue, carrying the heat away from the water (and conditioned air away from the home) and up the chimney.

There are improved gas and oil water heaters that reduce these losses that are directly related to ventilation by restricting the air that flows through the flue and chimney.  Some designes have eliminated the draft diverter.

By restricting the air flow through the flue and chimney, air circulation carrying the heat away from the tank has been reduced.

None of these are modifications that the home owner should do on their own since proper drafting through the flue and chimney are necessary to ensure that the dangerous by-products and gases produced during the combustion process are safely vented to the outdoors.

Since gas is a less expensive energy resource than electricity, many home owners will want to find the way to efficiently use it as opposed to replacing their gas appliances with those using more costly electricity.  The professional who conducts the diagnostic home performance evaluation will assist the home owner in locating a qualified contractor who can safely affect these changes.

Energy Efficiency and Your Water Heater (Part One)

Although water heating will consume approximately 15% of the average family’s annual use of electricity (25% of natural gas use) in the home, not many fully understand how the wasted energy is lost and what can be done to reduce this waste.  Most of what they know comes from the power company, along with some confusion and contradiction, with electric company rebates to replace gas water heaters with electric — and gas company rebates to replace electric water heaters with gas.

To understand how to produce and use hot water more efficiently it is important to know exactly how energy is used by the common residential water heater.  In the typical residential dwelling the water heater will use energy in three ways:  demand, standy and distribution.

Demand

Demand refers to the use of energy for heating incoming cold water up to the temperature setpoint as hot water within the tank is used.  The amount of demand energy that is used will depend upon the energy efficiency of the water heater’s design, behavior of the hot water users and the consumption of fixtures like the dishwasher, clothes washer or shower.

Standby

Standby energy is in the form of heat that is lost through the walls of the storage tank’s walls.  Standby losses can vary from 20% to 60% of energy loss depending upon the amount of demand.  The greater the demand, the less time the water is stored in the tank and the less standby energy loss.  Households using less hot water will have the highest percentage of standby energy loss.

Distribution 

Losses through distribution occurs as heat escapes through the pipes and fixtures.   Pipes that are nearer to the water heater will lose heat even when the water is not flowing as hot water rises out of the tank, is then cooled in nearby pipes, and falls back down into the tank to be reheated.

These three factors are important to know and understand as one seeks and determines the best actions to take in improving the energy efficiency of their hot water systems.

Newer water heaters are designed with increased insulation and, in some cases, adding additional insulation to the outside of the tank to reduce standby energy loss may void their warranty and/or show minimal improvement.

Smaller tanks with a higher demand will probably show less improvement by insulating the distribution system to reduce energy loss than larger units with less demand.

Reducing energy demand through behavior changes or equipment changes will, as we see, increase the standby energy loss and require additional measures, as well.

A diagnostic home performance evaluation will assist home owners in selecting the most efficient, safest and balanced means of heating water in their homes — in addition to addressing the entire home as one single system.

Mobile Homes: Most Serious Air-Leakage Sites

Improving the comfort and energy efficiency of a mobile home (now called “manufactured home”) can present special challenges.  Keeping the conditioned air inside the home and the unconditioned air on the outside can be particularly difficult, due to the home’s design for intended mobility.

Prior to attempting to remedy air-leakage, owners and occupants of mobile homes should ensure that a diagnostic analysis is performed before and after the air sealing efforts to ensure that there is safe levels of air for proper ventilation and to prevent the growth of mold.

The most serious areas for air leakage in mobile homes are:

1.  Water heater closets with exterior doors.

2.  Plumbing penetrations in floors, walls and ceilings.

3.  Torn or missing underbelly.

4.  The joints between the halves of doublewide mobile homes.

5.  Joints between the main dwelling and any additions that might have been added.

6.  Large gaps around chimneys (furnace and water heater).

7.  Deteriorated floors in water heater compartments.

8.  Gaps around electrical service panels, fans and light fixtures.

9.  Jalousie windows.

10.  Leaking crossover air ducts.

Electrical Safety: Some Thoughts on Knob and Tube Wiring and Insulation

Knob and tube electrical wiring was an early method of electrical wiring in buildings and was commonly used in North America from about 1880 to the 1930s.  While it was replaced with other electrical wiring methods decades ago, home with energized knob and tube electrical wiring still exist.

Knob and tube wiring consists of single-insulated copper conductors run within wall or ceiling cavities, passing through studs and ceiling/floor joists through protective porcelain insulating tubes.  The wires are supported along their length by porcelain knob insulators that have been nailed in place.

Knob and tube wiring runs at a higher temperature than modern wiring materials and requires a minimum of three inches of air space around the length of the wire.  This requirement adds an additional challenge to home owners wishing to add insulation in order to increase the comfort and energy efficiency of their older home.

If you have knob and tube electrical wiring in your home and plan to add insulation, first have a qualified electrical contractor inspect your wiring to ensure that it is safe prior to adding insulation.  Ensure that all connections are enclosed in appropriate protective boxes, that the wiring insulation is intact and in good condition and that it has not been modified in any manner since its original installation (addition of non-metalic sheathed cable wiring circuits, for example).

The next step, prior to insulating attics or floors where knob and tube wiring is present, is to identify and seal air leakage points.  This is an important step that will maximize the efficiency of the insulation, extend its life and assist in providing a comfortable and healthier living space.

Do not insulate wall cavities containing knob and tube wiring.

Knob and tube wiring in attics may be isolated by building a barricade around it with R-30 unfaced batts.  Ensure that the batts are at least three inches away from the knob and tube wiring.

While the presence of the older knob an tube wiring does not, in itself, violate national electric codes (though some regions forbid it), the best solution for knob and tube wiring is to replace it, if economically possible.

I’m sure that there are electrical contractors and weatherization folks who could add much to this topic and  I hope they will chime in.  Home owners should always consult a professional electrical contractor prior to adding insulation in the presence of knob and tube electrical wiring.

Save Energy – and Money – By Avoiding Rebate and Incentive Programs

If your objective is to reduce your use and waste of energy in the operation of your home – and to reduce the costs associated with it … you will have a better chance of success when you avoid being led by “rebates” and other incentives provided by government agencies and utility companies.

How can passing on the cheap or “free” audit … or ignoring the rebate for the water heater or furnace … save you money?  Read on, and  be surprised.

Economic Stimulus versus Reducing Energy Use and Costs

First, let me introduce you to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

This is an act passed by the U. S. Congress and signed into law by the President that set aside billions of dollars to be spent for the purpose of putting more money into the economy and creating jobs.

Money sent to the states, utility companies and other private entities under this Act of Congress has that … stimulating the economy and creating jobs … as its only purpose.

Some of the money under this act was provided to a particular government contractor for the purpose of creating energy efficiency computer calculators designed for the use of home owners (such as yourself) and energy professionals (such as me) to use to calculate present levels of energy use and to recommend improvements.

In almost every case, these calculators will produce a report that will recommend that home owners spend additional money, such as to exchange presently owned appliances for newer “EnergyStar” rated models, which puts hundreds of their dollars into the economy and creates jobs to produce and ship these new appliances and materials.

These models do not require an  actual  measurement of air leakage … representing the amount of heated and cooled air in the home that is being wasted to the outdoors … which can reduce the heating and cooling costs by up to 40% with the use of inexpensive caulk or foam.

Instead, the calculators and their reports will simply refer to an undefined act of “plugging air leaks” and provide a default savings projection which, in the absence of a diagnostic check by a qualified energy official, could actually create dangerous or unhealthy conditions (refer to link under “air leakage” in the preceding paragraph).

These calculators produce reports that will also suggest spending additional money to add insulation which, in the presence of air leaks that have not been addressed first, will not only reduce the effectiveness of the added insulation but will also result in the probable need to spend even more money when the air leakage is eventually addressed and the new insulation is damaged in the process.

The Home Energy Score

Soon, you will be hearing of a new U.S. Department of Energy program called the “Home Energy Score“.

This program will appear to be an inexpensive energy survey where home owners will pay someone up to $100 to come into their  home and collect information for a computer model — designed by that government contractor who was paid with money from the same American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — to simply give the house a “score” (from 1 to 10) and a brief report to tell the owner what to spend money on in order to increase his “score”.

If your home’s “score” is more important to you than its level of comfort, indoor air quality and energy efficiency it might be worth the $100 to know what that score is, but the advice that comes with the score – directing you how to stimulate the economy and create more jobs by telling you what to buy – is already available to you for free through on-line sources.

Utility Company Rebates

Utility companies are also playing their part by paying rebates for various purchases that their customers are encouraged to make.

Chances are, your electric company is  offering you a rebate to replace your gas water heater with something that uses their electricity while – at the same time – your gas company could be providing a similar rebate to throw away the electric water heater and replace it with one that runs on their gas.  Does this save you energy … or does it simply encourage you to spend more of your money to stimulate the economy and create more jobs?

Does your utility company provide you any significant rebates for sealing up the air leaks that keep your heated air in the house longer or do they, as many do, place their emphasis and largest rebates toward the purchase of bigger and “more efficient” furnaces and air conditioners?

How many times are customers actually choosing the less efficient system by incorrectly assuming that the rebate is directing them to the smarter choice?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in an article last year, considered a utility company asking its customers to use less energy as being similar to the Anhueser-Busch Brewery  asking its customers to drink less beer.

And, in consideration of all of the recent increases in their rates for their customers, let’s not even ask where those rebate dollars actually come from.

Let’s ask this, instead … If the gas and oil service providers stopped using rebates to encourage people to get rid of their electrical equipment – and the electric service providers stopped using rebates to encourage people to get rid of their gas and oil using equipment – might they both require less of a fee increase next year?

The bottom line is this:  Upgrading your older model appliance with the recommendations of your certified energy auditor is going to save you much more money than the rebate, anyway.  After first making the educated choice … if your choice should still qualify you for the rebate anyway, that’s icing on the cake.  Not the cake.

The Solution = Independent and Unbiased Advice

Saving energy and reducing the associated costs is not always about spending more money, although some expenditures are sometimes necessary.  While it is wise and prudent to replace broken and improperly functioning mechanical equipment with newer and more efficient models, energy efficiency can be improved through a variety of steps that do not require major purchases, initially.

Seek the assistance of an independent home energy professional for a complete, accurate and unbiased description of your home’s performance and recommendations for improvements.  Seek, first, the steps that are best in achieving your energy efficiency goals and then … after selecting the right materials and establishing a scope of work … see what rebates or incentives might be there to assist you.

Remember, it is not the “rebate” or discount that you are seeking … it is the results that will produce a more comfortable, healthier and energy efficient home to live in with the greatest return on any financial investments that you make toward that end.  Take the money that you stop wasting on unnecessary energy loss … and stimulate the economy by spending it on something you enjoy.

How To Be a Smart Consumer in the Energy Efficiency Marketplace

Home owners wanting a complete, accurate and unbiased report on the current performance of their home’s energy systems … and a comprehensive report on all of the opportunities available to them to improve the comfort, health and efficiency of their homes … must ensure that the source of their information is reliable and unbiased.

Here is a list of services to avoid if you are looking for the best results with the greatest returns on any investment you make.

1.  Say “no” to the energy audit when it is to be performed by someone representing the sale of a product or service that is likely to be “recommended” in the report.

How unlikely is it that this so-called “energy audit” would result in a recommendation for something other than what the company performing it is in the business of selling?  When the “XXX” salesman does your “energy audit”, you already know that you will need to buy hundreds of dollars worth of  his “XXX” to improve your home’s energy efficiency.  How surprising is that? 

2.  Say “no” to the people who want to charge you for quick energy “scores” or “surveys”.

There are free energy surveys available to anyone with internet access.   Paying someone to come to your home and provide you with the same basic information may not be a good thing to do.  Government promoted in-home “scores” and “surveys” utilize computer software funded with money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act  — a program designed to motivate spending and create jobs — produce reports advising home owners to pump their money into the economy and replace their appliances with newer “EnergyStar” models.  If any part of your goal is to reduce your overall energy use and associated costs, it may be counter-productive to use a program designed to increase consumer spending and create jobs to accomplish that goal.

I will add that none of these “scores” or “surveys” require air leakage measurements which could reduce up to 40% of energy wasted in heating and cooling your home.  Is it because you may not have to purchase more than a few tubes of caulk, which leads us to …

3.  Say “no” to any energy audit that does not include a measurement of air leakage with  the proper test equipment.

Air leaking in and out of your home can result in up to 40% of waste in the cost of cooling and heating your home … and is often the least expensive energy issue to fix.  Addressing air leakage may not “create jobs” or put a whole lot of your dollars into the economy, but it has the potential of cutting your heating and cooling bills, significantly.  Reducing air leakage provides the greatest return on your investment and should be done before spending money on any additional insulation or heating/cooling equipment upgrades.

4.  Say “no” to being motivated or led by “rebates” or “discounts”. 

Many of these “rebates” are designed to direct home owners to spend their money in particular areas without actual regard for energy efficiency.  Consider, for example, the rebate offered to pay you to change your water heater from electric to gas offered by the Gas Company … and then the rebate to change your water heater back from gas to electric by the Electric Company.

The following are four things that you can do to be a smart consumer in the energy efficiency market place:

DO … keep your focus on your goals … be they to increase your level of comfort, improve the indoor air quality of your home and/or to improve the energy efficiency of your home.  (Keep on target and don’t “stimulate the economy” or create any more jobs than you have to.)

DO … seek the unbiased and qualified advice of an energy professional who does NOT anticipate any additional purchase from you to cover his expenses for providing you with the “free” energy audit.

DO … find out ALL of your options and learn also what the least expensive measures might be to achieve the greatest results toward improving the comfort and/or energy efficiency of your home.

DO … take the steps to improve the comfort and efficiency of your home by calling an independent professional energy auditor, today.

Has Your New Furnace Made Your Water Heater Dangerous?

Naturally drafting residential chimneys develop draft because the air inside the chimney is lighter than the air outside the chimney.

The source of the heated air at the bottom of the chimney burns fuel and creates a column of gases that are lighter than the outside air. The taller the chimney and the hotter the contents – the greater the draft.

Today, with the installation of more efficient heating systems that vent their combustion gases through fan-assisted plastic vents, it is often left up to the fuel burning water heater to create enough heat by itself to make a sufficient draft to vent the combustion gases through a chimney that was originally designed for much more heat provided from both appliances.

The water heater’s over sized chimney now needs a chimney liner.

The need for chimney liners is often ignored when the heating system has been upgraded and the potential for dangerous combustion gases to enter the living space is increased. Unlined chimneys and those deteriorated from acidic combustion gases should be upgraded, as well, to include stainless steel, aluminum or masonry liners.

For more information about inspections of mechanical systems for safety and efficiency, visit http://www.missouricertifiedenergy.com.

%d bloggers like this: