No one product makes a house or a building energy efficient. This means that a salesperson for windows, heating and cooling systems, insulation, tankless water heaters, fireplaces, aerosolized duct sealing, radiant barriers, etc., who tries to convince you that his or her product is a panacea – is probably misleading you. Most salespeople on a straight commission program want to do one thing: sell a product or service, regardless of whether it saves you money. The problem is that a house is a system and all of these salespeople are simply addressing one part of it.
In this short article, I will share some practical advice on how to reduce your utility bill and enhance your comfort in an existing home. Although this column focuses on homes, the same advice holds true for all types of buildings. The basic physics of heat flow, air flow and moisture flow are the same in all buildings.
To begin with, you will need to be skeptical about contractor or manufacturer claims regarding utility bill reduction. We know that percentages of utility bill savings are almost meaningless unless they are modelled using state-of-the art software and your home’s parameters. It is a time-consuming process to thoroughly inspect a house and then model it in software. Be suspicious of any claims that are not driven by a thorough inspection of your home and then modelled. Better yet, have a contractor put the guarantee in writing.
The first question that needs to be raised is: “How do I know if my utility bill is high?” As a former building science instructor at Yavapai College and energy auditor, I know that comfort and energy efficiency go hand and hand. An uncomfortable building is often an energy inefficient building. Homes that rapidly lose heat are uncomfortable. The more a home loses heat, the longer the HVAC system has to run to replace it. Obviously, the more your HVAC system runs, the more you are going to pay for electricity or gas.
If your house is uncomfortable, then someone needs to determine why. No one can answer this question confidently without thoroughly inspecting the thermal envelope and mechanical systems. At Advantage Home Performance, when we have a customer who is concerned about the comfort and efficiency of a home, we start with an inspection. The results of the inspection drive the discussion. If an HVAC salesperson fails to carefully inspect your insulation and duct system, it is safe to assume he or she cares more about making a sale then about improving your home’s comfort and reducing your utility bill.
Selecting a quality contractor is also critical to making informed decisions about utility bill reduction. You need a company that has a proven record for reducing utility bills and represents the customer’s interest, as well as its own. I routinely tell homeowners that adding more insulation in an attic that already has an R-30 or better will not reduce their utility bill. We also know if products are not installed correctly, they will not produce savings.
The proof that you have reduced your energy consumption is in your utility bill. This past November, we replaced 40 heat pumps that were 20 years old with new Fujitsu slim duct heat pumps, sealed the duct system and upgraded the attic insulation. The preliminary numbers suggested a big drop in utility bills. One resident in this complex has reported that his energy consumption was 875 kWh in December 2018 and in December 2019, it dropped to 477 kWh. This represents a 45% drop in energy consumption, which is significant. Please keep in mind that not all buildings have this much potential.
In my experience of inspecting thousands of homes in the Quad Cities area, most existing homes built before the year 2000 suffer from missing insulation, leaky ductwork and mechanical systems that are now too old and inefficient. Most existing homes can benefit from energy upgrades that enhance comfort and reduce utility bills. The key to realizing these savings is determining where the problems exist in your home and solving them first. The second is to hire a contractor who you feel you can trust to do the right thing. Finally, don’t be fooled into thinking one product or service is going to drastically reduce your utility bill, because a house is a system. QCBN
By Mike Uniacke
Mike Uniacke is the owner of Advantage Home Performance. His company is the winner of the Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Business Ethics. For more information visit advantagehomeperformance.com.