Now more than ever, energy efficiency is becoming a top priority for many homeowners. Whether it’s building a new home utilizing the latest in energy efficiency technology or making upgrades to an existing home, creating a more efficient house not only saves money and energy, but also means improved indoor air quality & comfort, and an altogether healthier living environment. Yet, as necessary as it is to make such changes, many homeowners are often overwhelmed by the wide range of possibilities and aren’t even sure where to begin the process. In fact, the reality is that typical solutions can be costly and even ineffective when not paired with other upgrades.
One resource, the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR (HPwES) program, changes all of that. A national program, HPwES is administered by the U.S. Department of Energy in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It offers homeowners a comprehensive set of efficiency solutions that addresses a house as a whole. Here on the local level, HPwES is used by AlabamaWISE, a state-wide energy smart program, to help homeowners reduce their energy use and save on utility spending. AlabamaWISE is a program of the non-profit Nexus Energy Center.
“The Home Performance with ENERGY STAR approach is really about understanding how the systems in your home work together to create superior comfort and performance,” says Daniel Tait, a program manager at Nexus Energy Center.
When it comes to most home repairs, the average homeowner tends to tackle one issue at a time and usually without the aid of a professional assessment. Yet, although applied with good intentions, Tait explains that addressing a single problem at a time can often render the consequence of subpar performance. “We typically see the need for a lot of air sealing and duct sealing. Many people have added insulation because they thought that was the answer to a drafty room or a winter cold spot. But until we can stop and control the movement of air, insulation is just an expensive air filter.” He adds, “you can have a state of the art high efficiency HVAC system that leaks 50% of the air it conditions. This is precisely what we aim to stop.”
When utilizing HPwES, homeowners can expect to begin the process with a comprehensive home energy assessment from a qualified local contractor. The assessment includes air leakage testing, duct leakage testing, and thermal imaging throughout the house. After initial testing, the participating contractor will meet with the homeowner to explain the findings of any existing inefficiencies, and to also offer a range of possible solutions. Homeowners may also consult with staff from AlabamaWISE to help determine the best course of action. Tait says these efforts are based on an overall goal of providing the homeowner with “the biggest bang for the buck.”
Tait says homeowners can feel confident about the level of quality when it comes to contractor work. Contractors with the program must meet specific certifications and are required to submit to periodic and random inspections of their work.
Investing in energy efficiency upgrades can also help increase a home’s financial value. “We believe that homeowners should be rewarded for the improvements they make to their home with higher valuations just as one would expect from a kitchen remodel,” says Tait. The key difference, he says, is that over time, HPwES upgrades pay for themselves. In fact, recent appraisals for several of the AlabamaWISE participating homes are already indicating an increase in value.