CHERRY HILL, N.J. - One HVAC trend that precedes the green trend is the need to install systems, rather than boxes. Perhaps it was more of an awareness than an actual trend, but it is growing as a business practice among certain contractors.
The need for energy-efficient homes and other buildings becomes increasingly evident as people look for ways to save money. One of the ways contractors can help their customers realize how much money they could save by improving the efficiency of their home - including the entire home as part of the system - is by hiring a contractor to perform an energy audit. For Hutchinson Plumbing Heating Cooling, energy audits have become an area of expertise during the past two years.
The contractor began the energy audit service in 2007 to enhance the company’s many other offerings. Key leaders in the company soon saw the value of the service and how it could help customers, and they decided to permanently adopt it as a service.
“We saw an opportunity to add a new service to our repertoire, and knew just how we could promote it to customers,” said Fred Hutchinson, CEO of the company. “It has worked out great for us thus far, and has been extremely beneficial to our customers.”
WHAT IT DOES
For the uninitiated, energy audits identify the amount of energy consumed by a home while evaluating what measures can be taken to make the home more efficient. During the audit, the contractor pinpoints what areas of the home are least efficient, along with areas that are losing energy.
“Our energy audit program is very thorough,” Hutchinson said. “We let our customers know right away how, if they take full advantage of the program, they can drastically lower their energy bills, improve the health and safety of their home, and make it more durable.”
Company auditors follow a five-step program. The process begins when the auditor arrives at the home in a Ford Escape Hybrid vehicle to greet customers, and to provide them with a better understanding of the Home Performance with Energy Star program.
Home Performance with Energy Star, a national program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy, offers a whole-house approach to improving energy efficiency and comfort at home, while helping to protect the environment. Rather than focusing on a single component, such as an old air conditioning system or even leaky ductwork, participating contractors will assess how improvements to all of these components can work together to provide fewer drafts, consistent temperatures across rooms, better ventilation and humidity control, and lower utility bills.
Common recommendations of these inspections, according to the EPA, include sealing air leaks, adding insulation, sealing ductwork, improving the heating and cooling systems, and upgrading lighting and appliances. This is followed up with a quality assurance inspection with an Energy Star sponsor (a state energy office, utility, or nonprofit energy-efficiency organization).
When Hutchinson’s auditors arrive at a customer’s house, they pull up in a hybrid automobile - an extra emphasis on the company’s environmental friendliness.
The Hutchinson audit is an extremely detailed process that looks at the home from six different aspects: existing HVAC system, domestic water heater, air sealing opportunities, safety requirements, building layout/shell basics, and existing insulation. The HVAC and domestic water heater inspection is to determine its efficiency, but more importantly to ensure both are operating properly and safely.
The safety requirements step involves analyzing the interior and exterior of the home for leaks, mold, and other hazardous materials. This covers everything from plumbing and roof leaks to fossil fuel appliances and asbestos.
During the building layout step, the contractor looks at the structure of the home including any attachments, buffered walls, ceiling height, floors, and other conditioned areas of the home. The next level of evaluation during the energy audit, shell basics, focuses on the amount of air infiltrating the home, particularly in attics and other areas of the home between the ceilings and living spaces. The sixth level of evaluation is existing insulation, which analyzes the home’s current insulation location, quality, thickness, and type.
After the audit is complete, the auditor fills out required state paperwork and the Hutchinson personalized summary sheet. “We fill out a detailed summary of our findings, then sit down and discuss it with the customer and let them know what opportunities they have for energy savings,” said Hutchinson. The final summary also details the various tax credits, Carrier Cool Cash, and other state incentives and 10-year, 0 percent loans to assist in the energy-saving investments.
According to Hutchinson, all homes older than 10 years should have an energy audit performed. “The goal of the program is to bring the same sciences that help new homes conserve energy to older homes,” he said. “When performed correctly, we can typically reduce the energy cost to heat and cool the home, along with the cost to produce hot water, by up to 40 percent.”
In 2008, the contractor received two awards for improving the energy performance of homes in the area: the New Jersey Clean Energy’s “2008 Award for Outstanding Performance” and “2008 Award for Excellence in Advertising.” Both recognized Hutchinson as the leader in the New Jersey Clean Energy Energy Star Program. According to the New Jersey Clean Energy Website, Hutchinson has been responsible for 43 percent of all the energy audit completions in the area.
George Hutchinson Sr., and sons William A. Hutchinson Sr. and George H. Hutchinson Jr. founded the family business in 1948. They started Hutchinson Engineering in Haddonfield, New Jersey with $35 in a cigar box, the groups’ accumulated wealth at the time. Since then the company has expanded beyond its competitors by expanding its view beyond the box, to looking at the house as a system.
“Since we started performing these audits, our HVAC add-on replacement business grew from $5 million in 2008 to $12 million in 2009,” said Fred Hutchinson. “That’s the complete opposite of the rest of our industry. More than 50 percent of the time, our auditors schedule in one of our home comfort and energy specialists to quote on the recommendations they made to the homeowner.”Publication date: