Retrofit Roundup

By now, green and sustainability aren’t perceived as trends or movements. They are viewed as building methods, and some people may look back and wonder why buildings have not always been sustainably built. Retrofitting homes is one way to be sustainable and is becoming an increasingly popular and viable option for homeowners to stay in their current residences but vastly improve upon them. A lot of research and development is under way to make tools and information available to remodelers about retrofit options.

Snugg Home

Adam Stenftenagel saw the need to integrate various retrofit software programs into one comprehensive program when he realized only about 5 percent of homeowners who get energy audits actually follow through and complete a retrofit. In response, he and co-founders Jeff Friesen and Benjamin Mailian created Boulder, Colo.-based Snugg Home LLC, a developer of comprehensive software that includes auditing, data tracking, financing, and projected energy- and cost-savings outcomes. Having all the features integrated in one program lessens confusion for homeowners and guides them through the retrofit process. Snugg Home currently is providing its software for two programs that are part of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, Albany, N.Y. Energy-efficiency programs in Connecticut and Nevada also are using Snugg Home’s platform. About 3,700 homeowners are benefiting from Snugg Home in Connecticut alone.

“We’re starting development of our platform focusing on programs government programs use,” Stenftenagel says. “We eventually want contractors to use our software outside of a program so they become program administrators for their own clientele. We want them to use this as an engagement tool that gets homeowners excited about doing energy efficiency by showing them how effective and affordable it can be.” Many government programs offer rebates and incentives to homeowners and contractors for retrofit, including government programs with which Snugg Home has partnered.

Stenftenagel became interested in building sustainable homes as a Boulder resident, where homes more than 5,000 square feet must be almost net-zero energy. “We became good at doing that here, but there are 130 million existing homes in this country that are big energy hogs. What are we going to do about that?” he questions. “We need to make accurate recommendations to homeowners so they understand why they need to retrofit.”

Snugg Home is in the final stages of developing a tablet-based tool that performs an energy audit in a house. The audit divulges what a homeowner could save and can provide an estimate, including financing. The report can be submitted to a homeowner’s online dashboard so the homeowner can log in to review the recommendations, make changes and find a contractor using the platform’s built-in database with rankings similar to Yelp. However, if a contractor is responsible for the lead in the first place, the homeowner only sees the particular contractor for the type of work the contractor performs. Contractors can contact the local program Snugg Home works with to get listed in the database. If there isn’t a local government program, contractors can contact Snugg Home directly about setting up an initiative in that locale.

Attic Insulation and Air Sealing

Combined with air sealing, installing attic insulation can have positive effects in reducing a home’s energy consumption. Recommended R-values vary by climate zone, according to Gary Parsons, fellow at Dow Building Solutions, Midland, Mich. “The further north you go the more insulation you want in your attic,” he explains. “There are places where R-40 in an attic is not unusual. Some super-insulated homes have R-60 in an attic. The more you put in, the more you reduce conductivity and get a benefit.”

Parsons asserts one of the benefits of attic insulation from a retrofit standpoint is attics are easy to access, which makes air sealing the top plates and penetrations uncomplicated, as well as eases the process of installation. “It’s a systems approach of air sealing and insulation,” Parsons continues. “Plumbing penetrations and things of that nature will allow air to flow from the basement through the attic in a huge chimney effect. Fibrous insulations don’t stop airflow so you can’t just add more insulation. You may reduce airflow a bit, but if you’re going to go through the trouble of better insulating your house, you want to do the job right.”

Dow Building Solutions has research underway about attic insulation. Research homes have various attic insulation packages applied that are being studied; this is a multiyear study and Dow will publish data as soon as it is reviewed and analyzed, Parsons says. The Dow Chemical Co. also is a member of a U.S. Department of Energy Building America team, a research program working with national laboratories and building-science research teams to accelerate the adoption of advanced building energy technologies and practices in new and existing homes. (To learn about the Building America Retrofit Alliance team, see page 42.) Dow’s team is studying attic retrofit work, and results will be published in about six months. Information will be available through the Building America website, Eere.energy.gov/buildings/building_america.

Insulated Siding

The Vinyl Siding Institute, Washington, D.C., is studying the energy performance of insulated siding. VSI commissioned Schenectady, N.Y.-based Newport Ventures Inc. to conduct the study, which collects two years of home-performance data prior to installing insulated siding and two years of data post-installation. The team currently is one year into the post-installation data study. Newport Ventures projects a 5 to 12 percent improvement in energy bills and a 2- to 8-point improvement in HERS ratings.

Mike Moore, P.E., LEED AP, Newport Ventures, explains four homes were chosen in varying climate zones to use as the study homes. “We were looking for homes with some insulation in the walls already that was representative of existing building stock,” he says. “We’re looking for utility bills to come through, and we’ll track and adjust them for the weather conditions over time and track energy use moving forward with the energy use in the past to account for the heating energy savings as a result of the insulated siding.”

Matt Dobson, VSI’s code and regulatory director, explains when a new product category, such as insulated siding is introduced, it is crucial to test it. In recent years, valid R-value testing helped ensure insulated siding is recognized as home insulation and in national programs, such as the Washington-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star for New Homes Program. Because of its ability to reduce thermal bridging, insulated siding was added to the checklist of building products or methodologies that can help qualify homes under Energy Star Qualified Homes Version 3. “Organizations are recognizing insulated siding because of how we approach it from a testing standpoint,” Dobson says. “DOE has picked up on this study specifically and is adding four more homes to this study model under its Building America program throughout the next year to further study the product category.”

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