Home Energy Resources

My thanks to Marcus Sheffer, LEED fellow and partner of Energy Opportunities, a 7group company, for reviewing and adding to this section.

Marcus’s company deals with solar installations for commercial businesses. He can be reached through www.sevengroup.com, or write to sheffer@sevengroup.com.

Here are some suggestions for action:

Arrange for a home energy rating 

…by a practitioner who has a thermal imaging camera and can conduct a blower door test and possibly a duct blasting test.

  • Studies have shown that an investment of $3000-4000 in sealing your house and improving insulation often provides a significant reduction in energy costs – even as much as putting in solar or geothermal. Later, solar or geothermal can be added.
  • Adding attic insulation without sealing leakage holes is often a waste of money.
  • To find a qualified energy rater, check out referral lists at Building Performance Institute (www.bpi.org) and RESNET (www.resnet.us). Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $500-600.
  • Here is what you want:
    • Infrared thermal testing
    • Blower door test
    • Ductwork blasting – (possibly, discuss pros and cons with your auditor)
    • House construction experience
    • Preferably, an independent voice, i.e., does not also do the retrofitting – yet, there is also merit in having the whole package together – at least be aware of conflicts of interest – and that there is an independent consultant (Stan Kuhn) who could review the recommendations with you before you proceed.

The average homeowner does not need a LEED-level energy rating. The more expensive LEED level of energy rating is precise and includes computing the cubic footage of a house. These numbers are then crunched, particularly with new houses, to qualify them for tax credits and EnergyStar status. Most homeowners do not need to go to this extreme.

Here are two companies that have been recommended to me in the Central PA area:

  • www.pureenergycoach.com, owned by Tamasin Sterner, 717-293-8990, audits@pureenergycoach.com, or tsterner@pureenergycoach.com (recommended by Marcus Sheffer)
  • Stan Kuhn, stan@energyauditors.biz. Stan is a former building inspector turned energy rater. He inspects in PA but is available to review recommendations elsewhere, 717-943-2582 (I met Stan at an energy fair and found him to be well-spoken and practical in his approach. If there’s a less costly work-around, he knows it.)

Tip: Tight houses can be good, but remember that we need to breathe oxygen, too. See the “fresh air” section in Topics A to Z.

Look into leasing solar equipment for your home

  • Your roof or yard would have to have clear access to sunlight.
  • There are multiple companies who will deliver, install, and maintain solar equipment at your home. Here are 2 names, one national and one from PA, but I have no experience with either of them, so please give me feedback as you can, along with names of other companies:
    • http://www.sungevity.com
    • http://www.communityenergyinc.com/blog/residential-solar-panel-leasing-programs-in-pennsylvania.
    • Solar City, www.solarcity.com, installs, maintains, and leases solar equipment in many areas but not all states.
    • Comment: One of my teachers noted, “You are going to spend the money, anyway. You can either spend it for fuel, which is an on-going expense, or invest it in reducing heat loss at your home and installing solar or geothermal.” “Geothermal” taps into the heat of the earth in winter and the cooler temperatures of the earth in the summer – see below for more information.

Other energy saving resources

  • The Energy Star program website has valuable information for the homeowner. See www.energystar.gov.
  • Some states have innovative websites and programs, such as New York State. Check out these websites if you are from New York. If you are from another state, see what your state is doing: www.getenergysmart.org and www.neighborhoodnetwork.org.
  • Installation of a geothermal heating unit would help save on fuel bills forever after. With geothermal, you tap into the coolness of the earth during air conditioning season and into the warmth of the earth during the cold season. At the prices of today’s oil, the pay-back of the system is running 3-5 years, and then fuel savings are “gravy.” Two web sites for further information are: www.igshpa.okstate.edu and www.geoexchange.org. Multifamily and high-rise buildings could also benefit from geothermal heat.
  • Marcus is co-author of the Pennsylvania Solar Manual, published by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Go to http://www.sevengroup.com/pa-solar-manual/
  • For technical advice, books, products: Real Goods, www.realgoods.com. More and more folk are taking steps to get “off the electrical grid,” and Real Goods is a good place to find technical information for doing that. Years ago, I visited a Riverhead, Long Island, house where owners worked with Real Goods to get off-the-grid. They even sold electricity back to the electric company. Imagine the dollars in our pockets had you and I done that 15 years ago!!
  • Real Goods is a for-profit company. Acres USA is a non-profit company that offers many books relating to energy-saving and homesteading.
  • Carbon offset – Consider donations to offset your carbon use. One recommended program is www.cotap.org.
  • For energy policy, Marcus Sheffer “heartily” recommends the Rocky Mountain Institute as a great source for energy (and resource) solutions – http://www.rmi.org. Their latest book, Reinventing Fire outlines how we can eliminate the need for oil, coal, and nuclear by 2050.
  • For green building, Marcus recommends the US Green Building Council, http://www.usgbc.org. He says that they have a system that is better than the NAHB (National Association of Home Buildings) guidelines called LEED for Homes – http://www.usgbc.org/leed/rating-systems/homes.
  • Marcus informs us that his colleague wrote a wonderful book on the subject called Your Green Home – http://www.buildinggreen.com/ecommerce/ygh.cfm. They also offer other unbiased informational services on the subject of green buildings.
  • For builders and communities, there is the Enterprise Green Communities Initiative Enterprise for affordable housing projects, www.GreenCommunitiesOnline.org, 410-715-7433.
  • BluWood is pre-treated with boric acid to prevent mold (and termites). See WoodSmart Solutions, Inc., at www.perfectbarrier.com.

Improve your indoor air and water quality and reduce exposure to mold and electromagnetic fields