Top 10 Ideas to Stop Wasting Energy and Money

Now that the dust has settled from the New Years and Super Bowl, spring is starting to take hold.  Therefore, it’s time to start thinking about your home and what you can do to stop wasting energy and money through the right energy efficient home upgrades (not to mention making your home more comfortable and healthier – and contributing to a healthier environment).  In the spirit of David Letterman, the following is a list of the Top 10 ways to save energy and make your home more energy efficient: Top 10 List

  1. Cover up the cracks. By examining your home and finding areas in which heat and air escape, then plugging them with either insulation or sealant, you can save a considerable amount of energy.  $400+ in yearly savings from this one.
  2. Use energy efficient light bulbs! Switch from your current light bulb to a CFL or LED model. In doing so, you will put $140 per year or more in your pocket.  Yes, they cost a bit more – but they’ll save you some serious money in the long run.
  3. Use a “smart” power strip to automatically shut off devices when you aren’t using them.  Even when you have turned off a computer monitor or TV, the device uses power – even in standby mode. Amazingly this will keep you from wasting $30+ per year.
  4. Buy ENERGY STAR appliances – ENERGY STAR appliances are certified by the government and rated as more efficient than their older counterparts. Look for the logo on any new appliances (note, ENERGY STAR does not rate ovens and ranges).  This could save you a few hundred dollars or more each year.
  5. Use cold water for washing clothes. Is hot or warm water really necessary to clean your clothes?  The answer, no – not usually.  Unless you’re fighting some tough stains like oil stains, consider switching from hot water to warm or cold.  The majority of the energy used by our clothes washer is spent heating the water.  So switch to cold and save.
  6. Get a programmable thermostat. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, get one now!!!  Why pay for the energy to heat or cool your home when you’re not there???  A programmable thermostat is one of the simplest methods of energy reduction. Raise the temperature a few degrees in the summer, and lower it a few degrees in the winter.  This simple action will save you a couple hundred dollars or more each year.
  7. Add more insulation to your home. By adding more insulation, you can keep the heat in and the cold out. If your home was built before about 1980, you should have an expert evaluate it to determine if you have the proper level of insulation.  Doing this could save you $1,500 each year.
  8. Purchase a low-flow showerhead.  ”Low-flow” showerheads help you save hot water and the energy used to heat it.  Yes, you may not feel like you are showering under Niagara Falls, but you will put another $140 in your pocket each year.
  9. Hang dry your laundry.  At first this may sounds like a pain, but hang drying clothes when weather permits saves $150 per year and helps your clothes last longer, a double benefit for the planet.
  10. Get a personalized home energy savings plan.  Take Energy Results’ Virtual Home Energy Audit to learn more about the upgrades mentioned above and explore other savings opportunities for your home.  And this one is free!!!

Spring is just around the corner, use these months of more mild climate to get your home ready for the summer and winter months.  The right efficiency upgrades can help take a bite out of your high energy bills.  So get started today – and if you need help, contact us at Energy Results.  We can show you how to save energy by selecting the right energy efficient products or scheduling an energy audit or home efficiency services with one of our experienced professionals.

What do CFLs and Charlie Sheen Have in Common?

Really only one word: controversy. When you mention CFLs nowadays, you’re likely to get some strong feelings on the subject and it ranges from adoration to contempt – similar to the feelings Charlie “Winning” Sheen stirs up in people. So where does this controversy come from? Well, it seems CFLs have become somewhat of a poster child in the fight over government’s role in the “greening” of our economy. With all that attention comes the inherent spread of misinformation by both the admirers and the haters.

When you look at the dialogue surrounding CFLs, there are a few different takes on things. On the one hand, you have people claiming the government cannot tell homeowners what light bulbs to use in their homes, especially when these bulbs contain mercury and allegedly pose a health and safety risk. On the other hand, people argue CFLs reduce electricity consumption lowering green house gas emissions, which the government has the authority and responsibility to control. Beyond the politics of it all, there are other people who simply have had a bad experience with CFLs, whether due to the shape, color, light quality or lifetime of the bulb.

With all the banter on the subject, it can be difficult to figure out what’s accurate. Rather than debate the politics, we think a much better solution is to provide people with good information and let them make a choice that fits their needs. We’ll leave the controversy of CFLs and coverage of Sheen’s latest mishaps to the 24hr news teams and dive into what’s important for you to know when considering CFLs in your home. Here are some basics that highlight the pros and the cons:

1. How much money do I save using CFLs? For a light that is on an average of 2 hrs a day, you’ll save $6 per bulb every year. Multiply that by the average number of lights in a home and you’re looking at saving $140 a year.

2. I started using CFLs and I didn’t save that much, how come? CFLs save you the most money for lights that are on a lot. Now that doesn’t mean you should stop turning off your lights, although your kids would love to have that pressure off their shoulders. What it does mean, is that you’ll save the most money by replacing bulbs that are on for more than an hour a day.

3. How long does a CFL bulb last? CFLs last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. This means you’ll buy 1 CFL for $3 instead of buying 10 incandescent bulbs for $6.50.

4. Why do my CFLs burn out after 3 months then? Switching CFLs on and off repeatedly decreases their lifespan (also see #10 below). So, for the light in the closet that you turn on 10 times a day but it only stays on for 15 seconds, using a CFL doesn’t make sense.

5. Do CFLs contain mercury? Yes, CFLs contain mercury. The next question should be, how much? About a 1/4 as much as old thermometers. You know the non-digital ones you would stick under your tongue 10 times before you got a reading that was in the range of possible. So, when you hear people say CFLs pose a health and safety risk, they’re overstating things a bit.

6. Once my CFL burns out, what do I do with it? Because CFLs contain a small amount of mercury (see #5 above), you can’t just toss them in the garbage. You can check with your local dump or recycling center to get more info about recycling in your area. If that seems like a hassle, you can also buy ready to ship boxes to recycle your used bulbs. All you do is fill up the box with your old CFLs and ship it off to be recycled.

7. Why does my CFL make my skin look like it hasn’t seen sunlight in years? Most likely it’s an older CFL or see #10 below. CFLs now come in multiple colors/shades just like incandescent bulbs and across all the different wattages, so you should be able to find a CFL that works for you.

8. How do I figure out which CFL is right for me? For most situations all you need is a 13-15W spiral CFL to replace your 60W incandescent. For bulbs with different wattages, check out this table to find the correct replacement. CFLs come in all the various shapes you need for your different fixtures (globe, reflectors, A-shape, candle, etc) and dimmable and 3-way bulbs are also available.

9. Why does it take so long to turn on? Spiral CFLs on the market today rarely have this issue, but some globe and reflector shaped bulbs can take 10-15 seconds to reach maximum light output.

10. I still don’t like CFLs, what do I do? Some CFLs are just made poorly. The brand you buy has an impact on the color of the light, how quickly it turns on, how long it lasts and whether or not you buy another one. If you’re unhappy with your current CFLs, try a different brand.

The next time you hear spirited conversation about CFLs, the list above should help you sort through the facts and make an informed decision. While CFLs may not be the best fit for all situations, the reality is CFLs will save you energy and money. The technology for CFLs is also constantly improving to meet consumers’ demands and when compared to the technology of incandescent bulbs, the benefits are difficult to ignore. Think of it this way: only 10% of the energy used by an incandescent light bulb actually serves the purpose of a light bulb, to produce light. The other 90% of the energy is released as heat. In a world of iPads, smart phones and cars that drive themselves, calling the incandescent light bulb technology is like calling Charlie Sheen one of the great philosophers of our time. It just doesn’t make sense. When it comes down to it, the conversation about switching from incandescent bulbs to CFLs should not be dominated by controversy, but by the acknowledgement that CFLs offer a great step forward for homeowners both financially and environmentally.

Electricity Generation in the US: Top 5 Cleanest & Dirtiest States

When you were a kid, did you ever have to put a nickel into a jar every time you left a light on? It’s a great childhood lesson about the economic concept of externalities, the idea that an individual’s actions can have associated costs & benefits that they do not incur and are passed off to others. As a kid, leaving a light on has zero costs associated with it and the benefit of saving some time and effort. As a parent, however, those “always on” lights have very real costs when the electricity bill rolls around. A kid leaving on a light is a simple example of a negative externality or an external cost. The kid consumes the electricity, but does not have to worry about the associated costs. The money jar acts as a means to balance the cost vs. benefit analysis, to make them reconsider turning off the light in order to save them a nickel and, in the end, keep the parents’ electricity bill down.

When thinking about external costs associated with electricity use, consider this the next time you turn on your lights: electricity generation in the US contributes to over 40% of all CO2 emissions, which is the leading cause of global warming. Coal burning power plants specifically produce more harmful air pollutants than any other industrial pollution source, including toxic metals like arsenic, lead & mercury and known carcinogens like formaldehyde, benzene and radioisotopes. We all receive our monthly electricity bill so we’re well aware of the monetary costs of using energy at home, but what about these environmental and health costs? The reality is, we largely don’t consider these costs on a daily basis because they are an external cost. They are less tangible and longer term consequences that are far removed from our daily routine and our pocketbooks.

So what kind of impact do we have when we turn on a light?  Well, it turns out it depends on where we live. In a state that generates over 94% of its power by burning coal, using a kWh of electricity will emit 361 times more CO2 when compared to a state that relies primarily on nuclear and hydropower. Here’s a look at the Top 5 Cleanest and the Top 5 Dirtiest States when comparing CO2 emissions from electricity generation.

Top 5 Cleanest States

1. Vermont

Top 3 Electricity Sources: Nuclear 71%, Hydropower 21%, Biomass 7%

Emissions Rate: 0.003 kg CO2/kWh

2. Idaho

Top 3 Electricity Sources: Hydropower 79%, Natural Gas 14%, Biomass 5%

Emissions Rate: 0.065 kg CO2/kWh

3. Washington

Top 3 Electricity Sources: Hydropower 71%, Coal 10%, Nuclear 8%

Emissions Rate: 0.163 kg CO2/kWh

4. Oregon

Top 3 Electricity Sources: Hydropower 62%, Natural Gas 27%, Coal 7%

Emissions Rate: 0.206 kg CO2/kWh

5. California

Top 3 Electricity Sources: Natural Gas 47%, Hydropower 20%, Nuclear 18%

Emissions Rate: 0.317 kg CO2/kWh

Top 5 Dirtiest States

1. North Dakota

Top 3 Electricity Sources: Coal 95%, Hydropower 4%, Natural Gas < 1%

Emissions Rate: 1.082 kg CO2/kWh

2. Wyoming

Top 3 Electricity Sources: Coal 95%, Hydropower 2%, Wind 2%

Emissions Rate: 1.033 kg CO2/kWh

3. Utah

Top 3 Electricity Sources: Coal 94%, Natural Gas 3%, Hydropower 2%

Emissions Rate: 0.961 kg CO2/kWh

4. Indiana

Top 3 Electricity Sources: Coal 94%, Natural Gas 3%, Other 2%

Emissions Rate: 0.951 kg CO2/kWh

5. Kentucky

Top 3 Electricity Sources: Coal 91%, Oil 4%, Hydropower 3%

Emissions Rate: 0.930 kg CO2/kWh

Now there may not be a giant jar that we can all put our money into to help offset the environmental and health costs that come with using electricity. Being knowledgeable about where our electricity comes from, however, is a good place to start. Over 35% of the electricity produced in the US is used to power our homes. As consumers, we can have an impact by demanding that our power comes from cleaner energy sources. You’ll notice though, that even with renewable energy projects popping up all over the country, wind and solar are not found in the Top 3 Electricity Sources for any of the Top 5 Cleanest States. What that means is that in the long run, there is tremendous room for growth for renewable energy and that in the short term, as consumers we can have an impact simply by using less. Energy efficiency at home is the most direct way we can help minimize the external costs of using electricity and it can be as simple as a cookie jar full of nickels.

Home Energy Audits: What, Why & Is It Right For You?

More and more people nowadays are hearing about the benefits of getting an Energy Audit for their home. It seems the more publicity Energy Audits get though, the more difficult it becomes to figure out what an Energy Audit is, why the price ranges from Free to $800, and who’s qualified to complete one.  Let’s try to address the What and Why of Energy Audits, and help you to determine if an Energy Audit is right for you.

First, what is an Energy Audit?  Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a wide range of answers to this seemingly simple question.  At its core, an Energy Audit is a diagnostic of your home to assess your home’s overall energy performance – effectively how your home produces, uses and loses energy.  Much like the difference between a brief check-up at your doctor’s office versus a thorough physical examination, a home Energy Audit can vary in its thoroughness.  In our view, there are some key components that should be included with any Energy Audit that we’ll discuss below.

Blower Door Test

A blower door test analyzes how well sealed and insulated a home is.  It is the most time consuming, labor intensive and, therefore, the most expensive part of an Energy Audit.  That said, without it, you’re really only making an educated guess. In a blower door test, an industrial size fan is attached to the front door and sucks air out of the home. In places that lack insulation or where there are holes in the home envelope, air from outside will be sucked into the home. Based upon the amount of air that enters the home from outside, you can accurately measure how well sealed and insulated the home is.

Infrared Imaging

Combined with the blower door test, infrared imaging is the best way to pinpoint specific gaps in your home envelope and insulation. The infrared camera displays differences in surface temperature. So as air from outside is sucked into the home during the blower door test, the camera can be used to find problem areas by showing the change in temperature.

Insulation Inspection

During an Energy Audit, the amount, quality and age of the insulation should be inspected with the primary focus being insulation in the attic and basement/crawlspace.

HVAC Inspection

Heating and cooling costs can often be eliminated by fixing simple maintenance issues associated with the furnace or central AC unit. For units that are 15 years or older, it often makes sense to replace the unit completely. The Energy Auditor should recommend any maintenance that is needed or, when necessary, recommend that the unit be replaced.

Duct Air Flow and Leakage Assessment

Ducts and vents should be inspected to find any leaks or damaged sections. The ability of your HVAC equipment to efficiently and safely heat or cool your home is directly linked to your homes’ ducts and vents. The two should always be inspected together.

During most energy audits, the efficiency of the appliances, lighting, and showerheads should also be examined. Upgrades made within these categories generate significant energy savings, although armed with the right information, most homeowners can make an informed decision on these items without an Energy Audit.

There are other inspections that can be offered with an Energy Audit, such as Indoor Air Pollution tests, which can address specific health and safety concerns. In terms of costs, these add-ons can cause the price tag to jump into the $800 range. The other end of the spectrum is free or discounted energy audits often offered by your Utility. These usually only include a brief walk-through that addresses the “low-hanging fruit” such as switching to CFL light bulbs. Very rarely do they include any examination of the home envelope, insulation, ducts or HVAC equipment. These walk-throughs are a great first step, but they should not be categorized as a complete Energy Audit. For most homes, the primary purpose of an Energy Audit should be to address the main points listed above, which should cost around $300-$400. At Energy Results, we’re currently offering a discounted rate of $199 for a complete Professional Energy Audit. If you’re interested, please contact us today (866-471-4885).

The last question to answer is who’s qualified to conduct an Energy Audit. In general, our recommendation is to make sure any auditor is either BPI and/or RESNET certified. If they have either of those certifications, the auditor should be qualified and well-trained.

An Energy Audit should be seen as a thorough health checkup for your home. It’s a minimal upfront cost to find and fix small issues that can develop into costly long term bills and home-comfort issues. Just like a health checkup, an Energy Audit should inspect all the main interacting parts and make a diagnosis based on the home as a system, much the same way a doctor views the body as an interconnected system. So get a check-up for the health of your home, it could save you money, improve the comfort of your home, and make your home more environmentally friendly.

Kick-Starting the Energy Efficiency Market

We’ve spoken in previous posts about programs and initiatives on the horizon that may give the market for energy efficient home upgrades a much needed push forward.  We’ve also spoken about the absence of certain market dynamics and the need to fill this void with innovative solutions.  One such example is the need for dedicated financing solutions for energy-saving home ugprades.

The truth is, financing an energy efficient home upgrade – or a home retrofit as it is sometimes called – should be a win-win for both the homeowner and the lender.  From the homeowner’s perspective, the right upgrades can save them energy and money, while at the same time improving their home’s comfort level, air quality and carbon footprint.  From the lender’s perspective, an appropriately structured loan to support such an upgrade helps their customer save money and become more environmentally responsible, while the risk of default on a loan of this type would be far lower than other consumer or home finance products given that it actually saves the homeowner money.

Say that again, the loan saves the homeowner money?  Yes, you heard that correctly.  Combine the right home upgrades with an appropriately structured loan and the monthly savings on the homeowner’s energy bills can often exceed the payment on the loan.  These savings are used to repay the loan and in no time, the loan is paid and the homeowner continues to enjoy the savings, comfort and environmental benefits that the home upgrades provide.

The ability to offer savings to the homeowner each month with little to no upfront cost is really what positively shifted the market in residential solar installations.  Companies like SunRun and SolarCity used innovative solar lease and power purchase agreement financing structures that made it easy for customers to make the switch to renewable energy.

So why hasn’t the market for alternatives to finance these energy efficient home makeovers evolved more?  Well, there are quite a few reasons for that.  Most notably, there needs to be substantial demand for such a product to motivate lenders to dedicate the resources to provide these solutions.  For many years, the perception has been that consumer awareness and demand for these efficiency improvements has been lacking.  The good news is this dynamic is changing and lenders are taking notice.  Of course, in recent years financial institutions have become more apprehensive about lending in the consumer and home finance sectors of the market.  As the economy improves, this obstacle is also diminishing.

Government agencies are trying to do their part to stimulate demand for residential efficiency by providing financing alternatives to support homeowners.  The Department of Energy (DoE) and the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) recently announced the FHA PowerSaver Loan pilot program, offering a dedicated financing vehicle for energy saving home upgrades.  This program was introduced, in part no doubt, as a replacement to PACE financing initiatives.  After being touted by the Obama Administration, principally Vice President Biden and the Middle Class Task Force, PACE was stopped dead in its tracks by the FHA.  In short, the FHA was concerned about the “seniority” of the obligations generated under PACE programs, which would have put more payment obligations ahead of the mortgage debt that the FHA holds.

While it lacks some of the benefits of the PACE program, the PowerSaver program is a positive step in providing a more accessible and dedicated financing vehicle for efficiency upgrades.  The PowerSaver loans will offer homeowners up to $25,000 to make energy-saving improvements of their choice, including the installation of insulation, duct sealing, replacement of doors and windows, HVAC systems, water heaters, solar panels and geothermal systems.  Loans will have terms of 15 or 20 years depending on the type of upgrades and will offer interest rates estimated to be between 5% – 7%, aided by the 90% FHA guarantee on the debt.  The FHA announced 18 participating lenders in the program on April 21, 2011 (see list here).

So stay tuned to development in the financing market for energy efficient home upgrades.  While it’s still early in the game and the market is still developing, market forces, consumer awareness and political will seem to be aligning to help this market evolve – and make “going green” at home a no-brainer.

Earth Day 2011: 5 Ways to Get a Hug from a Polar Bear

Today marks the 41st Annual Earth Day, which was first celebrated on April 22nd, 1970 by over 20 million Americans. The event has since grown to 192 countries and more than 1 billion people now take part in Earth Day activities each year. More and more, people hear about ways to be “green” and in many ways this has become a “trendy” thing to do. What’s easy to forget though, is that when Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, DDT was still being used in the US (not until 1972 was it banned and now India is the only major producer) and the first Clean Air Act wasn’t signed into law until December of that same year by Richard Nixon. When you look at the change that has occurred since then, it’s impressive. Whether or not Brangelina driving a hybrid (incidentally, while owning multiple homes with enough sq ft to host a party for a small country) has a positive impact, the fact remains people are paying more attention to how we effect the environment and that’s a good thing.

Now on the residential energy efficiency side of things, we still think there’s some much needed work to be done. Think about this to start; the annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from US homes is equivalent to that from 166,863,107 passenger cars. That’s nearly half the number of vehicles on the road in the US today. We all know that when it comes to cars, a Toyota Prius is going to use less gas and be a lot better for the environment than say a Ford F-350 Super Duty truck. But when it comes to buying a new central AC unit, do we know that an ENERGY STAR qualified model is 14% more efficient than a standard model? To the same point, when we look at costs, how many of us know what we pay for a gallon of gasoline? Nearly everyone. But what about for a kWh of electricity? Even if we did try to figure it out, it’d take a couple days of research trying to understand our utility bill.

The next question then becomes: Why do I pay such close attention to how much energy my car uses, but not my home, if how my home uses energy can have just as a big, if not a bigger impact on my wallet and the environment? The answer isn’t that people don’t care about the environment, the growth of Earth Day proves that. Or that people love wasting money (although you might have a decent argument when it comes to the beanie baby craze of the ‘90s). One answer it seems lies in where we get the energy and how we pay for it. When we fill up our cars at the gas station, we’re actively taking the fuel and putting it into our car, all the while watching as the dollars and cents fly by and the gallons seem to move slower and slower. Not only do we actively get our fuel and pay for it on the spot, but we do it a few times a week. It’s part of our daily or weekly routine and when the price per gallon jumps up by a nickel or we make a long road trip for the weekend, we feel it in our wallets. If you don’t believe it, watch this Ford truck commercial from the Super Bowl; fuel economy isn’t just touted for cars that look like something from The Jetsons anymore. Now, think about the last time you had to pay a dollar to turn your kitchen light on? Or have you ever sat outside and watched your electricity meter spin out of control as you cool your home on a hot summer day? Even if you did, you’d have to hire someone with a PhD in math to figure out what those spins of the meter mean in terms of cost. Simply put, when we drive our cars we know how much energy we’re using and how much it’s costing us, but when we leave the AC at full blast while we’re out of town for a holiday, there’s no easy way to tell how much energy we used or what it cost us.

There is a similar disconnect on the environmental side as well. We’ve all been stuck behind the big diesel truck from the 1960’s spewing out exhaust like the engine is on fire. Very few of us though, see a coal power plant on a regular basis. If you asked someone what makes their dryer run, they’d probably say the On button, not the power plant a hundred miles away. But if you asked them what makes their car run, they’d say gas. We know we need energy to power our cars and we know that energy comes from some place, but more often than not, we don’t make the same connection with our homes. A great example is Nissan’s initial ad campaign for the Nissan Leaf. Nissan didn’t shy away from the environmental implications of the new electric vehicle. What’s ironic though is that Nissan is sure to mention the Leaf doesn’t use gas, but skips the part about where the electricity comes from. There’s no doubt that electric vehicles are a great step forward, but it illustrates perfectly how removed we are from where our electricity comes from. That polar bear would be far less likely to hug the new Leaf owner if he saw the coal fired power plant that was powering his car a few miles out of town.

All this focus on cars vs. homes is not to slight the dramatic progress US carmakers have made when it comes to fuel economy, or the influence US consumers have had on that change. Rather the example set by our shift in attitudes about our cars and how they use energy, should be seen as an example to follow when it comes to using energy in our homes. Even small changes in behavior, or making relatively small investments in improving our homes insulation or HVAC systems, can have significant impact. The first step is simply raising awareness and celebrations like Earth Day are a great means towards that end. So in that mindset, here is a list of 5 things you can do this Earth Day in the realm of home energy efficiency to get you ready for summertime. You probably won’t get a hug from the polar bear in the Nissan Leaf ad by doing these things, but if you share a few ideas with a friend, you may help start a trend towards energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is not only the easiest way to make an immediate impact, but it’s the most cost effective way as well. With our economy still looking for a little help, that’s what you call a win-win.

  1. Install a programmable thermostat: The idea is simple, don’t have the AC running when no one is home. With a programmable thermostat all you have to do is set up the schedule once and then leave it alone.
  2. Clean your central AC unit coils: Dirty evaporator and condenser coils reduce the unit’s ability to cool your home and cause the system to run longer, increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the unit.
  3. Plant a tree on the south side of your home: Shade from a deciduous tree (aka, a tree with leaves not needles) cools your home in the summer and in the winter, the tree loses it leaves allowing the sunlight to heat your home.
  4. Replace your air filters: Be sure to replace your air filters every 2-3 months. A dirty filter can increase energy costs, increase indoor air allergens, and damage your equipment.
  5. Place your window AC unit in the shade: A unit operating in a shaded area uses 10% less electricity than the same unit operating in the sun, so put your neighbor’s obnoxious new addition to use and save a little cash.

Good luck – and enjoy your more efficient (and polar bear friendly) home!

Do Energy Efficient Upgrades Add to Your Home’s Resale Value?

“Insulation is sexy.” President Barack Obama, December 15, 2009

The television stations available as I run on the treadmill at the gym in the morning seem to be dominated by shows centered around house “flippers.” While these shows may soon become a relic of the more heady times in real estate, I couldn’t help but notice the home upgrades that these individuals were focused on. The “flippers” seemed to gravitate towards upgrades that were flashy and would catch the home buyers attention – but they largely put style over quality and seemed to be setting the new home buyer up for disappointment later when they discovered the home improvements were really form over substance.

I started to think about the value placed on energy saving home upgrades. Will the “flashiness” of the high on style, low on quality upgrades that were prevalent in the “home flipping” era be replaced by the financially savvy upgrades of a new more financially prudent era? Is our President right – is insulation sexy? If so, how sexy? (Note: we thought the excessive use of the word sexy might attract a new audience normally interested in other online pursuits…but hey, the President said it, not us!)

This increased awareness around energy efficiency will mean that as prospective buyers tour your home, they’ll not only be interested in the home’s price and property taxes, but they’ll also be keenly interested in energy costs. And rightfully so – the average U.S. home can save $800 or more annually by implementing the right energy-saving upgrades. Not to mention the benefits of renewable technologies, like solar.

So what does the savings of a more efficient home mean in terms of relative home value? Using a simplified calculation and assuming a 30-year mortgage with a 5% interest rate and a 28% tax bracket, the $800 in annual energy savings should translate into a $16,000 increase in your home’s value. In other words, if the $800 in savings is applied to the mortgage, these savings support an additional $16,000 in home value.

A study performed by ICF Consulting on behalf of the EPA and published in the Appraisal Journal confirms this analysis. ICF says their research indicates that the value of a home increases between $11.00 and $21.00 for every $1.00 in annual energy savings. Our example above translates into a $20/$1 ratio of value to savings, near the higher end of the range, which is expected given historically low mortgage interest rates.

As home buyers become more financially savvy and cost conscious, they will increasingly focus on energy costs. The real estate agents and home buyers that we have spoken to recently indicate that this trend is already noticeable. A potential rise in energy costs will only serve to make these energy efficient upgrades even more valuable and attractive to home buyers.

Energy Registry

So how do we help you get the value for your home upgrades? Energy Results helps homeowners verify energy-saving home upgrades through our proprietary EnergyRegistry(tm). All upgrades purchased through Energy Results are stored under your personal EnergyRegistry, which is located under your account and accessible at any time. Here you will also find important information about these upgrades, including their expected energy cost savings. Think of it as your own personal “upgrade appraiser.” If you’d like to verify these completed upgrades, say to a potential home buyer, you can easily print or email this information.

As always, we’re committed to finding ways to make energy efficiency easier and empowering homeowners to save. Our EnergyRegistry is just another tool to help us do this. If we can help you prove how valuable your upgrades are, the President just might be right. Learn more about how our process works >>

Chicago Service Launch – Special Intro Price for Energy Audits

Attention Chicagoland! You’ve suffered through a long winter: a Bears disappointment, a “snowpocalypse” and the bitter cold – and, of course, the sky-high energy bills that go along with that frigid weather. We’re here to help! (note: by help we mean lowering your energy bills, not a whole lot we can do about the Bears).

We’re launching our in-home service capabilities in the Chicago area on Saturday (2/19). To celebrate, we’re offering our Complete Home Energy Assessment Package for the special low price of $199* for a limited time. This is a 30%+ discount off of our already very low regular price. The audit will be performed by one of our experienced professionals.

To sign-up for this special rate, click here.

Beginning on Saturday, you will also be able to order the following “home performance” services through us:

- Home Envelope (Insulate, Seal & Weatherize Home)

- Windows, Doors & Skylights

- HVAC Consult & Install

- Water Heater Consult & Install

- Energy Audits

If you have questions, give us a shout at (866) 471-4885. We look forward to helping you save!

Changes to Tax Incentives for Energy Efficient Home Upgrades

As you were doing your holiday shopping and getting ready to ring in the New Year, Congress was hard at work (relatively speaking of course). One issue that was addressed were the federal tax incentives for energy efficient home upgrades. We’ve received a fair amount of questions about the new policy and the impact of these changes, so we thought we’d discuss the changes in more detail in this post (hope it helps!).

In short, tax incentives for energy efficient home upgrades were reduced to 10% of eligible upgrade costs with a $500 cap for tax year 2011, down from 30% of eligible upgrade costs with a $1,500 cap for tax years 2009 and 2010. The upgrades covered remain largely unchanged, although certain upgrades now carry new caps of their own, like a maximum of $200 for exterior windows and skylights and caps for certain heating and cooling upgrades (click here) for a more detailed summary of eligible upgrades and limits). Another point of note is that the $500 limit applies to cumulative claims for energy efficient upgrades dating back to 2006. In other words, if you have applied (or will apply for 2010) for $500 or more in tax credits for upgrades made from 2006 – 2010, you are not eligible for the tax credit in 2011.

In the case of renewable energy upgrades, including geothermal heat pumps, solar photovoltaic cells, solar water heaters and fuel cells, these home upgrades still garner a 30% tax credit with no cap and will continue to do so until the end of 2016.

So as it relates to energy efficient upgrades, the new federal tax policy is certainly less advantageous to homeowners looking to improve their home’s energy performance. Are you ready for the possible silver lining? States, cities and municipalities have been awarded an unprecedented amount of federal funding to spur the adoption of energy efficient and renewable energy technologies in their respective jurisdictions. Much of this funding came from the ARRA (aka the “Stimulus Bill”). In the ARRA, the federal government made the determination that all states and cities are different, as are the methods by which they most effectively encourage homeowners to take action – so they put the power in the hands of the states and cities to shape their own programs. Most of the states and cities that were awarded funding are currently structuring their programs and will introduce them in the upcoming months. In most cases, these programs will include a range of initiatives and incentives to encourage participation. Utilities also continue to offer more targeted and shorter duration programs that encourage the more efficient use of energy. The net result of these state, local and utility programs could lead to more attractive incentives in your area than previously offered by the federal government.

So stay tuned and be ready to participate in the state and local programs that are right for you. You can sign up for our Newsletter to stay apprised of major announcements on state and local incentives or feel free to check our site for the latest programs in your area. As always, we’ll continue to make the process of saving energy as easy and efficient (pun intended) as possible.

P.S.: We need to add the usual disclaimer to this post that: This information should not be considered tax or accounting advice and you are STRONGLY encouraged to consult with an accountant or tax attorney to ensure that you fully understand these provisions and their impact on your particular circumstances.