Did you know the average family spends more than $1,600 a year in energy costs? In many parts of the country, folks are spending double or triple that amount. Helping customers reduce high utility bills can be a rewarding and profitable opportunity for an enterprising remodeling contractor. We all know the secret to success is finding a need and filling it. No one likes paying energy bills.
There is a new breed of contractors, home-performance contractors, that specialize in reducing home energy bills 40 to 60 percent. Their approach to saving energy is very different from traditional approaches. Typically, if someone has high energy bills and he calls his utility, the utility suggests adding insulation or replacing the furnace, air conditioner or windows. But none of these may be needed or the best choice.
A home-performance contractor does not focus first on products as the solution but focuses on the homeowner’s energy bills. He or she finds where the energy is being consumed, then selects the most appropriate set of solutions. These contractors perform a detailed analysis of a homeowner’s energy bills to determine where energy dollars are being spent so the homeowner is not spending money on the wrong products.
For example, there are more than 5 million homes with in-ground pools, which can consume 3,000 to 5,000 kilowatt hours a year and are often the biggest energy hog in the home. Variable-speed pool pumps can cut the energy use of pool filtration by 50 to 70 percent. If a house has a pool, it may make more sense to replace the pool pump than to buy a new air conditioner.
Home-performance Contracting Explained
A home-performance contractor takes a house-as-a-system approach to retrofitting homes. His or her goal is to develop a good understanding of how all the systems in an individual house interact to make the home more energy-efficient, comfortable, durable and have good indoor air quality. Home-performance contracting is about measured results, not hopeful guesses based on a manufacturer’s marketing claims or lab tests. The key to home-performance contracting is a well-thought-out set of integrated energy-saving measures installed and tested on-site while the energy-efficiency retrofit work is being performed. The goal is that the measures and products are installed properly to ensure they perform to manufacturer specifications.
In addition to the energy bill disaggregation, a home-performance contractor also will perform a series of diagnostic tests:
- A blower door test to determine how leaky or drafty the home is.
- A duct leakage test, sometimes called a duct blaster test. This test determines how much conditioned air is being lost to the outside because of leaks in ducts.
- Airflow and pressure balancing of the HVAC system. This test ensures the system has adequate airflow and conditioned air is being placed where it provides comfort and performance.
- Using an infrared thermography camera, a thermal imaging test shows defects in insulation and air leakage.
- Combustion appliance safety testing. These tests help determine whether any of the combustion appliances, like water heaters, fireplaces, etc., are back-drafting their combustion byproducts into the home.
All these tests help determine the energy performance of the home. This diagnostic equipment is used during the energy retrofit to find leaks and thermal defects, as well as to measure how well the workers did at eliminating the air leaks, duct leaks and thermal defects. This is key because performance is measured, not assumed. After the tests are done and the energy use analyzed, a detailed plan is developed to remedy the true causes of the high bills.
Homes Built in the Past 20 Years
Energy codes have become far stricter and products are better. Air-conditioner SEER ratings have nearly doubled, furnaces are 30 percent more efficient and windows have tripled in performance in the past 20 years. Yet the average home’s total efficiency and energy bills have not improved much.