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Energy Audits Coming Into Their Own - Again

November 2, 2009
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Mike Murphy

Fall is typically the time of year when weekend mechanics are scurrying to Home Depot, Lowe’s, or the corner hardware store to purchase caulk or weather-stripping for doors and windows, or insulating foam for those hard to reach places in order to get ready for the coming winter weather. Such efforts have certainly become much more in vogue in the past months, what with an economy just beginning to wriggle its way out of recession.

The Big R has not only caused individuals to closely watch their grocery store carts, but homeowners are interested in every possible method for reducing the costs of operating their domiciles, especially with Old Man Winter on the way. Likewise, commercial owners are trying to find ways to tighten up their buildings - year around.

A push from the Energy Star™ program is reinforcing energy audits as a means to pinpoint building performance shortcomings. However, energy audits sometimes have carried the connotation of a lot of work for very little reward for contractors. For the most part, audits have been the domain of very specialized energy companies. Selling an energy audit that might easily cost $2,000 or more to a commercial customer has not always been that easy a sale, therefore many commercial contractors have shied away from the task. Sometimes, those who have ventured into this business gave away free audits in hopes of garnering future business. That is called risky business.

Now, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Energy Star benchmarking program is making energy audits much more attractive, less time consuming, and what is even more important - an effective selling tool. If an HVAC contracting company wanted to get into the energy audit business, the EPA Website might be a good place to start. (Google “energy star benchmarking”)

According to the Energy Star Website, its Portfolio Manager benchmarking program lets you, “Compare the energy performance of your facilities to similar buildings nationwide. Portfolio Manager also normalizes for weather and several other important building and operational characteristics, allowing comparisons to be made on a level playing field. By inputting energy and building information, this tool provides a benchmark score on a scale of 1-100. Buildings with a score of 75 or over are eligible for the Energy Star label.”

Building types eligible for energy performance rating include offices, bank/financial institutions, courthouses, K-12 schools, some hospitals, hotels, retail stores, supermarkets, residence halls/dormitories, warehouses, medical offices, and wastewater facilities.”

Tim Kensok, director of business development at Air Advice, an IAQ diagnostic company, said his company has adopted the Energy Star format and created an even simpler, one-page report that is extremely user friendly. “We see this as an on-ramp for HVAC contractors to get into the energy audit arena,” said Kensok.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

Of course, any savvy facility manager or building owner can go to the Energy Star site, sign up, and create an audit. But, how many will actually find out about this tool, find the time to explore it, and find energy savings in their woefully underperforming buildings?

Enter the HVAC contractor.

You may choose to offer this as a free service or a fee-based service. The bottom line is that you can offer owners a relatively simple energy audit in the form of an uncomplicated, revealing printout. If the savings opportunities are there, a few keystrokes and a click of the mouse will help you help your customer find them.

On the surface it would appear that the Energy Star goal for this benchmarking tool is to entice owners to seek an Energy Star label for their buildings. Pardon me, but isn’t that a bit like getting a plaque on the wall? It may be great for bragging rights, but is it really worth the effort? What is the ROI? The payback?

The underlying goal of Energy Star is probably more about saving energy in commercial buildings, which use approximately a whole bunch of energy.

There are usually two times when people get excited about saving energy: An energy crisis or when there is not enough money to go around, even when the energy is relatively cheap. Thank goodness for the recession. I don’t think we could stand an energy crisis. Oh? Some would argue that we are in an energy crisis because of our country’s reliance upon foreign sources. A point well taken.

Let’s just agree that an energy crisis could certainly be looming in our future. Now might be a good time to dust off those energy audit forms, or take the easy route online at the Energy Star site, or the Air Advice site before another industry picks up on this opportunity.

Publication date: 11/02/2009
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