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Guest Jennifer Wilson

Study Helps Quantify the Benefit of Energy-Efficient Retrofits

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Guest Jennifer Wilson

Initial results from a research study in East Tennessee shows that energy-efficient upgrades can pay off for homeowners by reducing heating costs by 35 to 65 percent. The study uses three similar homes in the same development to gather real-world data about various energy-efficient improvements that can be made to an existing home.

 

While the study focuses on improvements to existing homes new, unoccupied homes were used in order to keep the results as unbiased as possible. The houses are typical two-story models built on insulated slabs with similar solar orientation, lot slope, wall areas, wind exposure and size. Computers and instrumentation are programmed to simulate occupancy, including opening refrigerator doors, automatic clothes washing and drying, showers, lights and plug loads in all three homes. But that’s where the similarities end.

 

The control or builder home was built to meet current building codes and earned a Home Energy Rating System score of 90, slightly better than a typical code-compliant home. It is equipped with two heat pumps, one for each floor, that have a total capacity of 4.5 tons.

 

The retrofit house includes energy-efficient upgrades that focus on the building envelope and mechanical equipment. These allowed the HVAC system to be reduced to one, three-ton heat pump located inside the conditioned envelope. The retrofit home earned a HERS rating of 66 – a better score than the builder’s home.

 

"The retrofit unit provided 35 percent measured heating energy savings from the builder home, yet offers a package of technologies that are considered to be a reasonable upgrade for many homes in the United States," said Jeff Christian, a senior researcher in the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

 

Improvements to the home include installing low-E gas-filled windows, changing all light bulbs to compact fluorescents, and replacing the ceiling insulation with spray polyurethane foam insulation on the underside of the roof deck and attic walls to make it an unvented, semi-conditioned space.

 

"An unvented attic is particularly helpful in climates where heating and cooling equipment is located in the attic,” said Chris Porter, building science manager for BioBased Insulation®. “Modifying the attic to create an indirectly conditioned space helps significantly reduce energy consumption and improves mechanical equipment performance.” BioBased Insulation® donated the insulation for the study, and Endless Supply, a BioBased Insulation® certified dealer based in Ashville, NC, donated the labor to install the product.High-performance improvements to the third home made it a near zero energy home with a HERS rating of 34 and a measured space heating energy savings of 65 percent compared to the builder home.

 

“The retrofit unit provided 35 percent measured heating energy savings from the builder home, yet offers a package of technologies that are considered to be a reasonable upgrade for many homes in the United States,” said Jeff Christian, a senior researcher in the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

 

Improvements to the home include installing low-E gas-filled windows, changing all light bulbs to compact fluorescents, and replacing the ceiling insulation with spray polyurethane foam insulation on the underside of the roof deck and attic walls to make it an unvented, semi-conditioned space.

 

"An unvented attic is particularly helpful in climates where heating and cooling equipment is located in the attic," said Chris Porter, building science manager for BioBased Insulation®. “Modifying the attic to create an indirectly conditioned space helps significantly reduce energy consumption and improves mechanical equipment performance.” BioBased Insulation® donated the insulation for the study, and Endless Supply, a BioBased Insulation® certified dealer based in Ashville, NC, donated the labor to install the product.

 

High-performance improvements to the third home made it a near zero energy home with a HERS rating of 34 and a measured space heating energy savings of 65 percent compared to the builder home.

 

While more extensive, some of the improvements could still be made to a deep retrofit of an existing home. They included, 2.5 kW solar panels, solar hot water heater, triple-layered windows with an R-value of 7, structurally insulated sheathing and BioBased Insulation® in the walls and R49 attic insulation with radiant barrier sheathing. The builder was able to downsize to one, two-ton heat pump because of the envelope improvements.

 

“With three houses with actual identical simulated occupancy we will have research capabilities that are world-unique,” Christian said. “And the really exciting thing is that these homes will be available for research for seven years, so we will be able to replace, test and accelerate the development of even more efficient technologies.”

 

So how much do energy-efficient upgrades cost? The upgrades included in the retrofit home cost $4 per square foot or about $9,800 more than the control home. Upgrades to the near zero energy home cost $21 per square foot or $51,576 more than the control home. Based simply on projected energy savings, homeowners who implement the retrofit upgrades would recoup their costs in eight and one-half years. It will take homeowners who implement the near zero energy upgrades 22 years to recoup their costs.

 

While the current round of results includes the heating season only, monitoring will continue during summer, and results for a full year of the homes’ operation should be available this fall.

 

“We’re excited to be part of the study,” Porter said. “Recently we’ve seen an increase in the number of homeowners taking advantage of the $1,500 Federal Tax deduction and other rebate programs. Many are doing upgrades similar to those found in these test houses. Even though these are only initial results, they are still very helpful in quantifying the energy savings from these retrofit options.”

 

The study is sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority and is being conducted in cooperation with researchers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. For more information on energy-efficient tax credits for homeowners and how BioBased Insulation® can help, visit www.biobased.net.

 

About BioBased Insulation®BioBased Insulation® is committed to making the world’s structures more sustainable by developing and marketing performance-tested, environmentally responsible spray foam insulation products through a global network of certified dealers. Our goal is to reduce dependence on petroleum products by correctly sealing buildings to make them energy efficient and by utilizing the latest technology to incorporate renewable ingredients into our products and sustainable practices into our business. BioBased Insulation® is manufactured by BioBased Technologies®, the developer of the Agrol® family of soy-based polyols.

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Guest Human_*

Weatherization of Homes Nation Wide

 

 

PHILLIP RAWLS THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Published: July 18, 2009

 

Ready or not, states are getting a huge boost in federal money to weatherize drafty homes, an increase so huge it has raised fears of waste and fraud and set off a scramble to find workers and houses for them to repair.

Virginia's cut is going up 23½ times, from $4 million annually to $94.1 million.

 

"I was stunned," said Shea Hollifield, Virginia's deputy director of housing. "Spending that much money will be a challenge."

 

An obscure program that installs insulation in homes and makes them more energy-efficient is distributing $4.7 billion in stimulus funds -- dwarfing the $447 million originally planned by Congress this year and the $227 million spent in 2008.

That is enough to weatherize 1 million homes, instead of the 140,000 normally done each year.

 

President Barack Obama said pouring money into the program would lower utility bills for cash-strapped families, provide jobs for construction workers idled by the housing slump, and make the nation more energy-efficient.

"You're getting a three-fer," Obama said. "That's exactly the kind of program we should be funding."

 

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development is allocating its weatherization funding regionally to 22 nonprofit organizations across the state, which have until March 2012 to spend the money.

 

On July 29, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and members of his Cabinet are planning to pitch in on a home weatherization project in King George County in coordination with the Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging. The event is meant to highlight the increased funding for the state's Weatherization Assistance program.

Kaine will work alongside a crew from Community Housing Partners, a contractor that has doubled its staff and projects over the past eight months to meet increased demand sparked by the newly available funding, according to the governor's office.

 

But some worry states won't be able to keep track of the money.

Leslie Paige, spokeswoman for the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, said the program is open to fraud because of the way oversight is divided. The federal government passes the money to states, then states pass it to community action agencies, and the agencies pass it to contractors who work with customers.

"It's such a Rube Goldberg operation it should be setting off alarm bells," she said.

 

Energy Department spokeswoman Christina Kielich defended the program, saying the federal government monitors state operations and does a thorough review at least every two years of the local organizations. In addition, states are getting their money in increments and must demonstrate quality control to get more.

 

The program helps low-income families take steps to reduce their home energy expenses, from caulking leaky windows to replacing heating and cooling systems. The Energy Department says 6.2 million households have benefited since it began in 1976, saving the average household about $350 a year on energy bills.

In addition to receiving an infusion of stimulus money, the program was expanded to cover families making up to twice the federal poverty level, or $44,100 for a family of four. Also, the average amount that can be spent per house was more than doubled to $6,500.

 

The funding for New York is going up from $20.1 million last year to $395 million. California's share is soaring from $6.3 million to $185.8 million. In Texas, the state's share is increasing nearly 60 times, from $5.6 million to $327 million. To spend the money efficiently and on time, state officials decided to go beyond the community organizations that normally distribute it and route $100 million to large cities.

"They have experience in administering large, complicated programs," said Gordon Anderson, spokesman for the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

 

 

Staff writer Olympia Meola contributed to this report.

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