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Murphy's Law: Offering Home Energy Audits

August 2, 2010
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Mike Murphy

Energy is important to people right now. According to Stephen Melman, director of economic services at the National Association of Home Builders, home buyers are becoming more cautious and practical about building homes. The number of homes that are 4,000 square feet or larger has dropped 14 percent according to the 2009 American Housing Survey. Melman said in a recent USA Today article, that people “View housing as shelter. Energy efficiency is important. It’s really back to the basics.”

It seems as though homeowners are becoming much more interested in protecting their practical investments, and in reducing overall energy costs. The mechanical system drives more than 40 percent of the operating costs of a home. Consider that the entire envelope of the structure contributes to the operating costs, and it makes sense that HVAC contractors should offer complete home energy audits.

However, very few HVAC contractors offer such a service. I wonder why that it is so rare? My gas utility company presents me with a standard monthly offer that comes with every bill.

Do customers really want home energy audits?

The utility company just contacted me with an offer that sounded pretty good - a company, Home Performance Solutions, that I think is affiliated with Columbia Gas of Ohio, but maybe not - offers customers up to 70 percent in rebates on insulation and air sealing with additional rebates on high-efficiency gas furnace and boiler replacement. To get this deal I must hire a pre-qualified contractor - that I think is affiliated with Columbia Gas of Ohio, but maybe not - to install the improvements within 30 days of the audit date.

Now, at this point, nothing really sounds all that bad with this offer, unless you have some beef with the utility companies getting involved in HVAC work, but that is just crying over spilt milk, right? Get over it, that train has left the station. The horse is out of the barn! How many clichés are needed for debating utility competition? They are kind of like prunes in that some people like a lot of them, but I think three is enough.

Actually, I am very interested in a home energy audit. The first thing a complete energy audit is going to reveal is a huge absence of insulation over the upstairs master bedroom which faces west. Somehow, the builder must have run out of the pink stuff and forgot to come back before the tiny scuttle hole cover was put back in place. It’s been kind of out-of-sight, out-of-mind for about nine years because no one in my family can wedge themselves up through the narrow space between the closet rack and the wall to make a 55 degree half-twisting lunge through the ceiling. So, we never went into that attic space; besides we had ample attic storage over the garage for tossing in reindeers and camping gear. Seriously, absolutely nothing of any substance will fit through the scuttle hole. We didn’t even discover it until we had lived in the house almost four years.

However, my super skinny neighbor, who is also a home builder, raised his eyebrows one day when we were kibitzing about the extreme temperature difference in the house, more than one might expect. Voila! The skinny neighbor announced from the back corner of the attic that he had found part of the problem.

I wonder what other energy deficiencies an energy audit might uncover?

WHO YOU GONNA CALL?

Not knowing enough about insulation installation practices, I asked a lot of people who are supposed to know what they are talking about. I got a lot of different answers and some of them bothered me so much that I’ve still not done anything with the attic space. Besides, it only gets hot at my house a few days in the summer, so we waste a little extra energy on those days. (Well, I guess we waste a little extra energy on all those really cold days, too.) However, the utility company has gotten me to think about this energy audit. There is no doubt I am spending extra energy dollars for escaping air.

Still, I am not very comfortable with some of the companies that I’ve come in contact with that do this type of repair work. Maybe your customers may feel the same way, and don’t know who to trust. Perhaps if your company offered energy audits, your customers might feel more comfortable with the options. After all, if your company is coming in twice a year as part of fulfilling a service agreement …

Publication date: 08/02/2010
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