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Energy audits of existing homes can save money and resources


Carol Cole-Frowe April 22nd, 2010

Trey Parsons wants to show, not just tell.Parsons, of Oklahoma City's Enersolve, along with his partners, decided to purchase a 1923 home in northwest Oklahoma City that usually would be considered an...

Enersolve-2-Marianne-Pickens
Trey Parsons wants to show, not just tell.

Parsons, of Oklahoma City's Enersolve, along with his partners, decided to purchase a 1923 home in northwest Oklahoma City that usually would be considered an energy-efficiency disaster. Instead, they intend for it to be a teaching tool.

Parsons asserts that he can save 30 to 40 percent on energy on the older home just by using proven techniques along with some new technology.

First, they'll take measurements so they will have benchmarks on just how energy inefficient the home is currently. Then they'll seal up the crawl space, put in foam on the roof deck and isolate the attic, among other techniques.

The windows are not original and are already double-paned, which saves energy and money.

To save that 30 to 40 percent in energy from its current situation, Parsons only expects to spend about $4,000.

"The foam is probably the majority of the cost," he said.

But the cost could go higher, if money were no object.

"You can go out and spend $50,000 on heat and air, insulation and new windows," he said. "But that's a huge expense."

Enersolve uses the house to prove a point and be able to show existing homeowners some of the possibilities that are out there.

Parsons, a certified RESNET (residential energy services network) inspector for new homes, said many of the techniques being used on new homes to achieve energy efficiency can be used to retrofit existing homes. Part of his job is to inspect new and existing homes working toward an Energy Star designation.

Every situation is different and every retrofit is different.

"It all depends on the house, what the house is made out of, who lives in the house, the mechanical system and how that is functioning," Parsons said.

For a retrofit on an existing home, Parsons does a three-hour diagnostic home energy audit on the home. He takes pictures to illustrate the problem and educates the homeowner. Then he gives them their options for upgrades and retrofits and helps them prioritize the items that will be the most effective for the least amount of money. Getting a complete report on an existing home costs about $300.

A less-expensive option is a visual home energy audit. For $75, Enersolve will provide a thorough property and mechanical system inspection.

For the homeowner, trying to coordinate the variety of contractors to make sure things are installed in the energy-efficient way is often the next challenge. When a homeowner doesn't know where to turn, Enersolve can also help find qualified contractors and subcontractors.

"And if (homeowners) want us to help with that stuff," Parsons said, "we'll come in with our subcontractors."

Oftentimes, homeowners trust a heat and air contractor to calculate the correct load. But just as often, they get too much or not enough of a system to efficiently heat and cool their home. Oversizing HVAC units can add moisture to their air and result in higher bills.

Parsons said homeowners should insist their contractor use the "Manual J" industry standard, calling it the only correct way to size a mechanical system for a home. It's one of the biggest mistakes contractors or homeowners make.

"Heat and air guys learn how to do them in school, but then they don't use them after they get out of school," he said.

The industry standard is 500-square-feet per ton, but that doesn't take other items into account. Parsons said it's not unusual for a home to get up to 1,300-square-feet per ton that has other efficiencies.

One house he inspected recently would have been overloaded with its heat and air system, but because it was sized properly, saved about $20,000 on the geothermal bill.

Oklahoma City hasn't yet required that heat and air contractors use Manual J for each job or utilize all the tools that are out there for energy efficiency.

"We're kind of in a gray area," Parsons said about requirements for contractors to make homes the most energy-efficient. "San Francisco gets it. Austin gets it."

Right now, the Energy Star program requires that its standards be 15 percent better than the 2006 International Energy Conservation Codes. It's adjusted annually.

"They keep moving the bar up," Parsons said.

And as there was the Cash for Clunkers incentive program, there are federal and state stimulus incentives to use more renewable energy.

He recommends checking the DSIREUSA.org database, a site where homeowners can check for a comprehensive list of state, local, utility and federal incentives and policies that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Oklahoma legislators also passed PACE, or Property-Assessed Clean Energy, financing in 2009, which lets state counties create "County District Energy Authorities" that provide financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements.

"There's all kinds of help that's on its way," Parsons said. "Carol Cole-Frowe

photo Trey Parsons and Jason Branson of Enersolve outside of the house they are renovating, 2208 N.W. 16th. photo/Marianne Pickens
 
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