Real Home Improvements

Lack of information has long been cited as a reason why homeowners do not invest in energy conservation, efficiency or management retrofit measures. Vice President Joe Biden’s Middle Class Task Force (MCTF), Council of Environmental Quality has recognized information distribution as one of the three main barriers to establishing a self-sustaining retrofit market. It is up to electrical contractors (ECs) to bring homeowners the straightforward, reliable information on energy-efficiency and energy management retrofits to create untold opportunities for market growth.

Typical energy management and efficiency retrofit measures that homeowners take are aimed toward stopping air leaks; improving insulation; controlling ventilation; improving heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) and hot-water systems; installing efficient lighting, including CFLs, LEDs and smarter controls; replacing appliances and other devices; and metering that helps evaluate and change energy-use patterns to save energy when most advantageous.

“For most people, typical retrofit measures are devoted to climate control,” said Mark Dyen, executive vice president of strategy and products for the Conservation Services Group, Westborough, Mass.

Homeowners also can take advantage of energy audits.

“These audits, often conducted by Malta, N.Y.-based Building Performance Institute Inc. (BPI) or Home Energy Rating System (HERS) certified professionals, can help the homeowner identify the most cost-effective improvements to make,” said Joe Wiehagen, senior energy engineer for Home Innovation Research Labs, Upper Marlboro, Md. 

Less complicated audits help homeowners make simple changes such as installing fluorescent lamps. In addition, some utilities offer smart thermostats that make it easy to set the temperature to save energy and to participate in utility programs to reduce peak energy costs.

Tightening the house’s envelope can typically be one of the best approaches to take for an energy-efficiency retrofit.

“Beyond focusing on just windows, homeowners can seal and insulate air gaps as well as HVAC duct bends and joints. This is a cost-effective approach that can produce considerable energy savings,” said Robin LeBaron, managing director of the National Home Performance Council, Washington, D.C.

Why do it?

Homeowners typically undertake energy management or efficiency projects because they want to do the right thing for themselves and the planet. They want to adopt technology early; save money on fuel or electric bills; increase comfort; be insulated from severe weather; and go off the grid if necessary.

“Most people say they want to save money, but homeowners who perform larger projects that require an EC’s expertise usually also cite motivations including technology, comfort and reliability,” Dyen said.

LeBaron said health is another reason to take on a residential energy-­efficiency retrofit project.

“Living in a space that is really hot or really cold, or that has mold or other air quality issues, can be unhealthy,” he said.

Unfortunately, many homeowners aren’t aware of their options, don’t know the potential return on investment, are afraid of disrupting their lives, or lack a reliable contractor. ECs can help mitigate these homeowner concerns. For example, contractors can give homeowners information about utility incentives and federal and state tax credits, provide easy financing, and explain the ROI so the homeowner realizes tangible benefits, Dyen said.

“Contractors can leverage their expertise and guarantee their work, which lets the homeowner know the contractor will take care of them and make sure the job is done right with the least disruption,” he said.

To increase homeowner awareness of their options, the federal government and some utilities sponsor various programs, such as the Department of Energy’s Home Performance with Energy Star Program, which provides a list of qualified contractors to help homeowners choose the right companies to perform the work. In addition, according to ­LeBaron, local utilities and jurisdictions conduct outreach efforts to increase awareness of their programs.

“Utilities may provide incentives to help with financing to further promote adoption of energy-efficiency measures,” LeBaron said.

ECs have a wide range of skills and technologies to offer this market.

“Contractors will have the most current information on efficient lighting equipment, fans and motors and can help homeowners reach their goals by installing fixtures and equipment that are air-sealed or by sealing penetrations for new wiring and outlets,” Wiehagen said. 

Also, contractors have the expertise to understand home energy monitoring technology, the information that the technology provides, and the level of control the technology is capable of offering.

Contractors can make customers aware of the programs, incentives and benefits of home energy-efficiency and management improvements. Doing this, contractors can take advantage of what is sure to be a steadily expanding market.

About the Author

Darlene Bremer

Freelance Writer
Darlene Bremer, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributed frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR until the end of 2015.

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