Home is Where the Heat Is

Homeowners, driven by many factors—such as the desire to reduce fossil fuel use, improve the efficiency of their home, and benefit from federal and state incentives—may seek energy audits. Meanwhile, smart electrical contractors could consider conducting the audits as a means to balance out the sluggish new construction market. An audit is the first step toward quantifying energy-efficiency problems and then tailoring solutions, and ECs are uniquely qualified to assist current and prospective customers in navigating the path.

The opportunities that exist with auditing are twofold. The first is helping homeowners understand that, not only can an EC mitigate homeowners’ monthly energy bills, but unlike a utility representative or a home performance contractor, they can identify and correct some of a dwelling’s most critical energy issues. Electricians who become trained and certified to perform a whole-house energy audit, or even those specializing in electrical load reduction, can ride what some experts consider to be the nation’s second wave of energy efficiency.

“ECs missed the first tsunami in the ’80s,” said David Wylie, project engineer at Tustin, Calif.-based ASW Engineering. That wave was followed by nationwide complacency, then high energy prices, the threat of global warming and the advent of renewable-energy technologies, which has reinvigorated interest, he said.

“I think the early adopters in the second wave will have the advantage,” Wylie said.

The market for such work is largely untapped. According to John Jones, national technical director for the Building Performance Institute (BPI), given the current rate of retrofits, a 1,000-year plan would be required to address the entire country’s existing 130 million single-family homes. The former program manager for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) pointed out that New York alone is on a 100-year cycle.

“Despite being one of the largest residential home performance programs in the U.S., after 10 years, [NYSERDA has] only addressed 1 percent of the market,” Jones said.
Sophisticated weatherization

No one knows exactly how many home energy auditors are in the marketplace, partly because, as Jones said, there has yet to be consensus on the definition of a home energy audit. In general terms, an audit is the inspection or evaluation of an existing home to determine how energy is being consumed and lost, which systems are operating inefficiently, and what improvements can be made to protect and enhance long-term occupancy and lower utility costs.

“Audits are often misrepresented by a ‘survey,’ which is a much less comprehensive level of inspection,” Jones said.

In some states, taxpayers can claim an individual income tax deduction or credit for both the cost of a home energy audit and implementing energy-efficiency recommendations contained in the energy audit. Often misinterpreted by consumers as the old “weatherization” programs available from the Department of Energy in the ’70s, today’s audits are sophisticated assessments that collect historical data and help quantify more than the most obvious energy hogs.

The informed EC will need to choose whether to provide expertise solely on base load reduction or elect a broader scope.

“Are you interested in whole-house comfort, health and safety with a comprehensive assessment of a house, including modeling, usage data, blower door and duct blaster tests, base load evaluation, and an interview with the homeowner? Or, do you want to focus just on kilowatt reduction?” Jones said.

Whole-house approach
Like many industries, home performance serves up an alphabet soup of training and certifications, such as RESNET, BPI, HERS, HERS II, PACE, NATE and more. Currently, there are two main nationally recognized energy auditor standards: BPI’s Building Analyst and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) HERS Rater. RESNET has defined three types of energy assessments for existing homes, which range in complexity from a simple walkthrough home energy survey to a comprehensive home energy rating using sophisticated modeling software to produce a home energy rating score (HERS Index).
BPI, a not-for-profit developer of ANSI-accredited technical standards for home performance and weatherization retrofit work, developed an energy-auditing standard that includes software modeling and work-scope development. It provides certification for individuals and companies and credentialing in home performance contracting.

Demand for education increased BPI’s nationwide network of affiliate trainers to approximately 240 training organizations at present. Vince DeFrancesco, instructor for Everblue Training Institute, a training partner for both RESNET and BPI, said the building analyst course teaches the building blocks of performing an energy audit.

“You learn building science, how to inspect a home, perform diagnostics and make sure combustion appliances are working properly,” DeFrancesco said, describing the primary segments of the week-long course that costs approximately $1,600 and concludes with a written audit, written exam and a one-on-one field exam.

DeFrancesco, Everblue’s BPI program manager, said the structure of a typical building analyst course includes the following:
• Building Science—The study of heat transfer, air flow and moisture movement, and house systems interaction
• Diagnostics—Performing pressure diagnostics by conducting a blower door test and/or a duct blaster test; both air flow analyses allow contractors to measure pressure inside a house for identifying locations and severity of air leaks.
• Combustion Safety Testing—A critical life-safety measure, it determines if exhaust from combustion appliances (furnaces, gas stoves, boilers, water heaters) is re-entering a home due to negative pressure differences. Four tests are performed: the combustion appliance zone, carbon monoxide analysis, spillage or backdrafting using a mirror or smoke stick, and draft testing using a monometer.

“Another function of an audit is to look at power bills and energy usage and graph it out to determine load peaks and valleys, which is more of an electrical contractor function,” De Francesco said. The course, like an actual audit, concludes with a report and the development of a work scope analysis recommending the most cost-effective retrofit measures.
Electrical load reduction

Typical Energy Auditing Equipment
Each state has different requirements for the use of specific equipment; however, it’s helpful to have some working knowledge and access to the following tools:
• Fan-assisted whole-house pressurization device (blower door)
• Combustion analyzer
• Fan-assisted duct-pressurization device or pressure pan (duct blaster)
• Digital carbon monoxide analyzer
• Digital thermometer
• Gas leak detection device
• Diagnostic smoke
• Infrared camera

BPI’s Jones pointed out that the whole-house approach demonstrated by BPI, RESNET and NYSERDA are some of the most successful in the nation, but there are limitations where ECs can provide due diligence.

“The area they’re really lacking in is electrical load reduction,” Jones said.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the greatest residential electrical load is space cooling (16.5 percent) followed by lighting (15.4 percent), and computers and electronics (10.9 percent).
“ECs should market themselves to home performance contractors as being able to help reduce on the electrical side. Then they have twice the marketing, and it expands the customer base double and possibly triple,” Jones said.

Identifying this need, green energy leaders began collaborating with ASW Engineering’s David Wylie to develop a course geared to the contractor who focuses on observational energy survey auditing and recommendations for residential and small commercial properties.

“We added certain aspects for the EC because they have an electrical expertise to be able to look at wiring and an electrical service panel and see if circuits are overloaded. An average BPI auditor probably wouldn’t even open those panels.” Wylie said.

The National Electrical Contractors Association/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers course includes the following chapters:
• Energy Use in a Typical Residence—Covers electrical energy use, natural gas consumption, electricity motors, voltages, solar energy systems, and utility bills/rates
• Appliances and Air Conditioning—Features readings and discussions on cooling food, heating and cooling the house, and natural gas and electric heating
• Controlling the Temperature—A review of thermostats and controls, insulation, caulking and weather stripping, and solar heat gain through glass
• More Appliances—In depth look at water heaters, swimming pools and well pumps
• Home Entertainment and Electronics—Protecting consumer electronics
• Water Conservation—Focusing on kitchens, bathrooms and outdoor conservation tips

According to Dick Reed, IBEW Local 11 assistant business manager, the two-day “Amp” course is slated for launch in the Los Angeles area as early as June. Although this residential course bypasses specific training on tools used to conduct specific tests, it provides students with a 10-page residential audit form and example audit. Hands-on training of tools and installation would be provided in the state-approved apprentice program.

A future class is in the developmental stages to feature classroom duct blaster and blower door training. Another effort underway in Los Angeles seeks to change building codes to allow expanded electrical panel upgrades better suited to accommodate the load of renewable-energy systems and increased electronic loads.

Lessons from commercial auditing
Pacific Data Electric, Santa Fe Springs, Calif., identified the potential for energy auditing three years ago, investing time and resources into broadening their core focus to become a certified energy auditor. With the exception of one large residential project that included the installation of energy-efficient systems, energy storage, a fuel cell and a clean-burning generator, PDE integrated theses systems with existing photovoltaics, rainwater harvesting and storm-water management. The company specializes in design/build and aligns its energy solutions services with large commercial clients for turnkey projects.

Dan Henrich, PDE founder and president, credits auditing training in audits as critical to the company’s conversion and its on-going project evaluation.

“Even if solar and energy storage doesn’t pencil out for a client, improvements to lighting and mechanical systems might. That’s where training comes in. Economic modeling will kill a lot of projects but will create opportunities, too,” Henrich said.

There are more lessons to be learned from PDE’s commercial experience, said CEO Shelley Keltner.

“Even though we were close to this business, it took an enormous amount of our time, and still does, to strategize and build a business plan and do the initial training,” Keltner said.

“It’s a total commitment, and like the late ’80s and early ’90s with computers, it’s not a destination, it’s a journey and constantly evolving. You have to stay on course and up-to-date on technologies,” Henrich said.

MCCLUNG, owner of Woodland Communications, is a construction writer from Iowa. She can be reached at mcclung@iowatelecom.net.

About the Author

Debbie McClung

Freelance Writer
Debbie McClung, owner of Woodland Communications, is a construction writer from Iowa.

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