Category Archives: ENERGY STAR

Video

Cut your Energy Bills in Half

As you may know, we moved to 1000 N. Elm Street back in February. The house was built in 1920 and eventually turned into an office building. Before we moved in, the energy bills were high.

Watch this video to find out how we are saving 45% on our energy bills and how we can help you do the same in your home and office, whether it was built 1 year ago or 100 years ago.

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Experiences as an Electrical Utility Energy Auditor

By Aaron Martin, ESG Energy Analyst 

It is no secret that energy efficiency is here to stay. From homeowners to building managers to public utilities, we strive to maximize comfort, increase productivity, and enhance generation and distribution while simultaneously decreasing energy usage. As energy prices continue to rise, efficiency will very likely become the new norm. To paraphrase the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the term “green” may very well disappear from the modern lexicon as we replace older, resource-intensive methods and materials with modern, efficient alternatives.

Near the forefront of these efforts are the public utilities. The corporations that provide us with the energy we need to work and play have a vested interest in increasing efficiency and reducing demand. Avoided costs create added profits, streamlined services for customers, and funds for research and development. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, the typical coal-fired power plant has capital costs of around $3,250 per kilowatt; given that such a facility has a capacity of approximately 500 megawatts, it goes without saying that your local utility would love to avoid building another power production plant.

Duke Energy is no exception in this regard. Their website has received an overhaul that emphasizes energy efficiency, containing graphical analyses and tailored data points for homeowners, and even features an energy efficient product shopping area. Over the past couple of years, residential customers may have noticed the promotion of more efficient lighting through the distribution of free compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Duke Energy representatives have taken the subject of energy efficiency to local schools; during his kindergarten year, my son  came home one day with an energy efficiency kit containing CFLs and high efficiency plumbing fixtures (but as the son of an energy geek, these items were well known to him). Finally, Duke’s Smart Saver program offers residential customers financial incentives for purchases of select energy efficient heating and air conditioning products as well as home air leakage reduction services and insulation upgrades.

Over the course of the past three weeks, I acted as an auditor for Duke Energy’s Home Energy House Call (HEHC) program, during which time I visited nearly fifty homes throughout the Piedmont. Free for Duke Energy customers that own their own home (more about the HEHC program can be found here), the program features a visit by an energy expert who performs an abbreviated energy audit, as well as the distribution of an energy efficiency kit and additional CFLs upon request. The typical house call takes between 45 and 60 minutes, with visual inspections of heating and cooling systems and insulation levels taking precedence. Homeowners are interviewed on their energy usage habits, and then receive a customized report that can be used to increase the comfort and efficiency of their home.

For someone who is more accustomed to residential new construction testing, the experience of face-to-face communication with homeowners in homes built between the years of 1920 and 2008 was as rewarding as it was diverse. The houses I visited ranged from 800 square foot bungalows to 7,200 square foot mansions. When asked about the prime reason for scheduling the house call,  I estimate that approximately 50% attributed the appointment to high bills, 25% to comfort-related issues, and the remaining 25% to the desire for a general discussion on energy efficiency.  Though time management was a bit tricky during the first three to five days, I soon developed a rhythm that allowed me to thoroughly answer questions and address concerns while still accomplishing all items on the to-do list.

The homeowners were as diverse as the homes that I visited. While some people declined the free CFLs (one cited the dangers of mercury as a prime factor), most were very excited to replace their incandescent bulbs and begin saving money immediately. I was very encouraged to see the overwhelming desire to reduce electrical consumption and the overall interest in residential energy efficiency. Indeed, several customers will most likely pursue advanced home performance  diagnostic testing (a comprehensive home energy audit or duct leakage testing) in the near future. It was extremely gratifying to assist people struggling with expensive bills; in one instance I discovered a very large leak in a supply duct in the homeowner’s crawl space, which, when sealed, will result in significant savings. I was also able to identify an air sealing point at another home with an attached garage that will lead to heightened levels of indoor air quality and health and safety for the occupants.

But most of all, I feel very grateful to have had such a tremendous learning experience, seeing various construction styles, materials, and heating and cooling systems that I had not seen before, while helping homeowners increase the comfort, durability, and energy efficiency of their homes. Humans often focus on the negative, and with respect to large companies or other entities, on the products or services they lack. Perhaps it’s time to celebrate the minor victories. When American homeowners get excited about saving money and reducing their carbon footprint, everyone wins, and if the public utility is a driving force in making this happen, then more power to them.

 Sources:

(1) http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/capitalcost/xls/table1.xls

(2) http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c01.html

Stretch Your Budget the Furthest

By Brad Fletcher, Energy Analyst 

When a homeowner engages in energy efficiency upgrades on their home, the list of possibilities can sometimes feel exhausting. Unlike a kitchen upgrade or the addition of a bedroom, a whole house energy efficiency plan may be designed and executed over an extended period of time. An energy professional will help homeowners find the incentives and/or rebates available for the upgrades they recommend. Homeowners, with the help of an energy professional, typically develop a hierarchy of upgrades based on the cost effectiveness of each improvement for the home. Here are a few to start with:

Air sealing and insulating the home is an investment ranging from $50-$2000. Keeping the heat in and the cold out makes practical sense and is often the upgrade that stretches the homeowner’s dollar furthest.

Replacing the lighting with higher efficiency bulbs such as Compact Fluorescent Lighting (CFL) or Light Emitting Diodes (LED) can cost between $5-$50 per fixture and result in a short payback period making this investment a no brainer.

In a typical home, the heating and air conditioning system(s) consume the most energy and cost the most to operate. Upgrades to the HVAC system can result in considerable savings. Improving the mechanical system can include duct sealing, thermostat replacement, cleaning and tuning or in some cases, replacement with a more efficient system.  These improvements can range from $50-$3000 depending on the size of the home and extent of improvements.

Replacing water fixtures may seem like an unlikely way to save energy, but installing low-water usage or aerated fixtures in your kitchen and bathroom will reduce the amount of hot water needing to be generated by a home’s water heating system. Improving the efficiency of faucets and shower heads can range from $2-$200 and save both energy and water.

Older kitchen appliances can consume much more energy than newer, Energy Star rated appliances. Replacing old appliances that have become one of your home’s largest energy hogs will not only cut your total energy cost, but improve the look of your kitchen as well! A combination of dishwasher and refrigerator replacement range from $1500-$3000.

While there are abundant opportunities to improve the efficiency of an existing home, there are even more possibilities that exist in new home construction. This is due to both the technology that can be applied during the construction process as well as the ‘blank slate’ approach where builders can utilize more stringent standards and design features to improve the energy efficiency of your house. When constructing a new home, be sure to speak with your builder about how they can help reduce the cost of operating the home.

If you’re building a new home or doing energy upgrades to your current home, an energy professional can work with contractors and homeowners to calculate which upgrades provide the homeowner with the biggest bang for their buck. Beautiful light fixtures and stunning floor coverings are amenities you are able to see every day while energy efficiency is an amenity you can also feel and see on your monthly utility bills. With a wide range of upfront investment possibilities, energy efficiency is the only investment that will pay you back!

My First Day As An Intern With ESG Energy

Katie Bromley is a senior at Guilford College in Greensboro NC, where she is majoring in environmental studies and political science.

Part of my learning objectives and goals for my internship with Environmental Solutions Group is to understand what the company does on a daily basis.  I am a very visual learner, so it is no surprise that riding along with a few of ESG Energy’s engineers is what was decided to be most beneficial in helping to achieve those learning goals.

Last week I did my first ride-along with an energy auditor from ESG Energy named Aaron.  Getting ready for my first experience with an environmental company, I honestly did not know what to expect.  As sad as it may sound, my first question was, “what would be appropriate to wear?”  I did not know if I would be answering phones, or helping to file paper work in the office; if that was the case something casual and professional would definitely be in order.  However, the response to my question was, “you should wear durable pants that you would not mind getting dirty and shoes that are comfortable and durable, preferably work boots. Oh, and how are your climbing skills?”  It was then that I knew I would not be filing papers or answering phones.

My morning began early.  I left my house at 7:30 am and briskly walked to the ESG office and arrived right around 7:45.  It was then that I met Aaron, the energy auditor I would be ‘shadowing’ all day.  Aaron informed me that we would be visiting four houses, three of which were new construction and one existing home with a basement that was being repurposed.  Our job today was to conduct air duct tightness testing.  By North Carolina Energy Code, this is a required inspection for most new HVAC equipment.   Typically the inspection is done while the construction site is still in the “rough-in” stage.  For all of you who are not familiar with the term, (as I was not) this means that the house has plumbing, electrical, heating , carpentry, and other projects complete, yet the house still looks relatively bare.  There is often no insulation or drywall installed so the air ducts are typically exposed and accessible, thus making the inspection a little bit easier.

The general idea or process of duct testing is to seal up all of the ducts throughout the house.  Once that is complete, a piece of equipment that creates a vacuum is hooked up to the system; this device will pull air through the system and allow us to measure the pressure loss.  The intention of this test is to see how tight or leaky the air duct system is.  Ideally the system is allowed up to 6% duct leakage.  If that number is achieved during the test, the building passes the duct tightness inspection.

The reason why this is so important to measure is because HVHC systems can be one of the largest drains on energy in a home.  An inefficient system will lose heating and cooling energy and cause a dramatic increase in cost for the homeowner in the form of higher energy bills.  In a larger context the problem of inefficient HVHC systems means that more energy is being used by everyone with leaky ducts, which in turn means more coal has to be burned to produce that energy at the power plant.  That may sound silly and dramatic, but we have to remember that we are not just talking about the repercussions from one home.  We are talking about entire communities.

Taking measures to reduce energy consumption can feel like an overwhelming task for some. It is imperative that we all remember that what seems like a relatively small increase in energy efficiency will multiply as more and more people begin to make improvements in their home’s energy efficiency.

All in all, I would say that my first experience shadowing an auditor from ESG Energy was a success.  It was educational, physical, and kind of fun.  I cannot wait to see what else this internship will have in store for me.

Increasing Profits by Going Green at a Multifamily Property

Craig Whittaker is president of ESG Energy, which was recently named a ‘Top 300 Small Business in the South’ by Business Leader Media. ESG Energy has grown to become one of the nation’s leading green building consulting firms by helping builders and property owners understand the value of green construction.

With 80 million Gen Y-ers expected to flood the rental market over the next ten years, multifamily property owners will want to find new and innovative ways to attract environmentally-conscious renters. In a previous post at this blog, we highlighted surprising industry research indicating that 89% of tenants are willing to pay up to $50 more each month in rent in order to reap the benefits of energy efficiency housing.

While the numbers look enticing, many apartment owners are reluctant to spend money on energy efficient retrofits and new construction. Although the figures of actual savings are preliminary, an article in Apartment Finance Today found that a few specific strategies for implementing green investments are showing positive results.

Marketing

One of the best ways owners can increase attention to their apartments is to effectively market their green initiatives and resulting energy savings. A growing number of multifamily companies are using the energy efficient and green certifications earned by their properties as marketing tools to brand their communities as eco-friendly. For example, one owner is charging $40 more a month for their green-rated apartments that will save the tenant an average of $50 each month on electric and water bills. The occupancy rate at the energy efficient properties is significantly higher, so going green is obviously a win-win for owner and tenant.

Common Areas

Another way owners are saving money is through efficiency upgrades at common areas of the property. Lighting is a very effective upgrade that can reduce costs without sacrificing safety. An apartment complex with 150 retrofitted fixtures in common areas can begin to realize savings in as little as two months. A green building is simply less expensive to operate, and savings can be shared with tenants if desired.

Property Value

Probably the most significant financial benefit of green retrofits is the added value at time of sale. Achieving third-party certification for energy upgrades will especially increase the overall value, making the property more attractive to buyers. Green certifications are available through the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program, the NAHB Research Center’s National Green Building Standard, and the USGBC’s LEED program. Apartment owners should also note that the EPA is currently developing a scale that will be used to compare properties and give lenders the much sought-after metrics they want to see.

The bottom line is that green and energy efficient apartments are solidly in the future of multifamily development. Are you on board?

Energy Audits and the Multifamily Property Owner

As an apartment property owner, you may have considered a building audit to identify sources of energy loss, allowing you to make impactful upgrades and save a considerable amount of money. If you are serious about saving money and would also like to be able to claim energy efficiency of your apartments as an incentive to prospective renters, be sure to consider an assessment that includes in-unit audits.

A recent report from CNT Energy and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy noted that energy-efficiency upgrades to the nation’s multifamily portfolio would result in an annual savings of over $3 billion.  Much of this savings would be realized by the property owners, however, tenants would also benefit.  According to a survey conducted by Strata Research, 89% of renters are willing to pay up to $50 more a month in rent in order to reap the benefits of energy efficiency.

“Auditing a sample set of units in an existing complex will usually provide all the necessary data to implement complex-wide updates”, says Steve Armstrong, Executive VP at ESG Energy and a leading proponent of green and energy-efficient multi-family housing. Cameron Bard, assistant project manager with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, notes “you just really want to get to the point where you’re able to recognize the patterns and common themes and opportunities among all the apartments”.

Practically speaking, the cost of conducting an audit that includes individual units can become too much of an investment for some owners. “If you just aren’t going to have the financing or capability of making building-wide retrofits, possibly, as units turn, you can perform those in-unit audits to see what can be done to improve energy use,” says Paula Cino, director of energy and environmental policy for the National Multi Housing Council.The degree to which in-unit audits play a role in the overall auditing picture varies from asset to asset. “It’s really goingto be driven by the design of those individual properties,” says Cino.

While some cities have legislated in-unit audits with whole-building assessments, energy efficiency regulations vary depending on location. To help address financial fears in the pursuit of energy efficiency through auditing, numerous associations, government agencies and utilities are offering incentives to attract building owners into performing energy audits. “Something we really try to emphasize for our building owners is that industry standards or assumptions are great to try and help get people off the couch and start making decisions to get those upgrades done,” Bard of NYSERDA says. “But not until you have an onsite, building-specific audit done or energy assessment performed are you going to be able to let the analysis drive the decisions.”

Steve Armstrong in the NCEEA Blog

The North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance has written a blog item about ESG’s Steve Armstrong.