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 link that I had used for years to the original McDowell Owens Engineering Inc. report is no longer operating; however, you can find a pdf copy of the report by clicking here.

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.

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.

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