By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now
Reputable companies are emerging that can handle all aspects of weatherizing and remodeling your home into a green abode, improving its energy efficiency and in some cases, its eco-aesthetics too.
Whether you’re in for a dollar or a dime, these new full-service firms will start with a master map of all that you can improve. Got some bucks for the upfront costs? They’ll tick through the to-do list with their own crews. But even if you’ve got limited cash, they’ll help identify how best to seed a green upgrade.
Expect the process to follow these steps:
Assessment: A good company starts with a comprehensive assessment or audit, says Mike Rogers, senior vice president at GreenHomes America in Syracuse, N.Y.
“We look at the utility bills, the homeowner’s comfort issues, and issues like ice dams (a common winter affliction in northern climates).
“We then come in with a blower door to measure leaks and find them,” he says. The blower door, he explains, sucks the air from the house and shows where the homeowner is losing air. They also use an infra-red camera that helps see what’s hot and cold behind the walls.
“And before and after we finish, we check all combustion equipment to make sure its safe for the homeowner and for our workers,” says Rogers. ‘There’s no point in sealing up a house, if bad air is trapped inside.”
At Sustainable Spaces, a similar assessment is done. The company first looks at the home’s fundamentals including air sealing, insulating the attic, light bulbs, leaking ducts. Crews also examine the home’s major systems, such as heating and air conditioning. (And conduct a blower test, see picture, right.)
“These are the heart and lungs of your house,” says Matt Golden, founder of Sustainable Spaces in San Francisco. “Homeowners don’t always realize that by switching to a smaller HVAC system, they can save energy because the new systems are powerful yet more efficient.”
Recommendations. Next, the company lists recommendations or what Golden calls a “road map” of work to be done.
“We charge for the audit,” says Golden, “but we will refund 100 percent if the homeowner follows through on our recommendations.” Home energy audits don’t make a lot of sense, he says, unless the homeowner enacts at least some of the recommendations.
Making Changes. Most contractors don’t do all the work that might be suggested by one of these assessments, says Rogers.
“Recognizing this,” he says, “is the reason we do it all in-house. When we hand off our recommendations to the homeowner, he doesn’t know where to start and who to trust. What we do and what Matt Golden does at Sustainable Spaces is one-stop shopping.”
Budgeting. Retrofitting may be smart, energy efficient and green, but not every homeowner has the money to spend all at once. Rogers says they work with a customer to prioritize the most important issues. “We’ll work within the homeowner’s budget. The customer gets to decide. We can also hook people up with incentives and sometimes work with lenders.”
The more investments made in renewable energy for the home such as solar or wind for electric and hot water, the less a homeowner ultimately spends on energy, says Golden.
“If clients can afford to do solar thermal and solar electric, that’s great,” he says. But, to reach the point of affordability for all, “we need highly regulated open markets for competition. We also have to engage the private sector. And we need to develop incentives to jumpstart the market. “
(Photo credit: Blower door test, Sustainable Spaces.)
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