Decatur (and many parts of Atlanta) is filled with older homes … known for their charm and character, NOT for energy efficiency. How can you create a more efficient home, lower your utility bills and possibly get some rebates from your power company?
Carter & Associates sat down with Leo Velichkovsky, an energy audit and consulting contractor, to get some general energy efficiency recommendations. We have worked with Leo on home inspections and energy audits and have found him to be a great wealth of information, not to mention a source of rebates from our local power company! The most recent project we did together was a full renovation in East Lake. Leo helped us get a post-restoration rating of over 92% (and a rebate of $2,000). The pre-renovation efficiency rating was 31%.
Question: In the hundreds of homes you’ve audited, what is one of the more common big investments you recommend?
Leo: Without looking at the specific home, I can tell you in most cases we see great opportunity in areas where there’s a big temperature difference between indoor air and outdoor air. In about 90% of the houses we’ve audited, this is the attic. In the summer, attic temps can easily reach 150 degrees. On the flip side, the barrier created by insulation prevents heat loss in the winter. Attic insulation is a smart investment, and at about a dollar per square foot (for labor AND materials) it’s not THAT big of an investment. It is extremely important to combine the insulation update with air sealing measures in the attic. Fresh insulation provides a thermal barrier but is not intended to block leakage of air. To use an analogy, think about extreme winter sports athletes. They usually wear two layers: something that provides heat (like fur), covered by an air barrier (like a wind breaker). For attic insulation, the experts recommend a similar approach.
Question: What are some things that homeowners can do cheaply and easily to keep in heat?
Leo: Air leaks will keep your heating bill high and your home energy inefficient. On a bright day, turn off the lights inside the house and look under every door jamb, in all your window casings, etc. to see where light is coming in from the outside of the house. These areas need to be sealed or weather stripped. Here are a few tried and true weather stripping and insulation foam products:
If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, you can try yourself to improve your ductwork: crawl into the crawlspace (or get into the basement or attic) and feel around for where air may be escaping. These areas need taping/repair. It is important to keep in mind that not every part of a home’s roof is heated/cooled. Professionals refer to conditioned space as the “building thermal envelope.” Most attics and crawlspaces are located outside of the boundaries of the thermal envelope; therefore, duct leakage occurring there is the same thing as blowing heated/cooled air outdoors. See below for links to duct repair materials:
FYI: If you live in a drafty house, you could live with a carbon monoxide issue for a long time and not know. Once your house is sealed better, you could have a life-threatening issue on your hands, so be sure to make sure your carbon monoxide detectors (and fire alarms, for that matter) are in good working order.
Question: A homeowner can spend a lot of money becoming more energy efficient. Any “buyers beware!” areas you want to tell us about?
Leo: There are a few products that consumers may put too much faith in. I’m not suggesting these improvements would be mistakes, but they aren’t magic bullets:
1. Programmable thermostats that you can adjust from your smartphone may be COOL but they don’t improve the efficiency/performance of the system, and if you have an unpredictable schedule, it may be tough to keep your thermostat on a schedule. Not to mention it’s fair to consider your pets’ comfort while they’re home alone (i.e., don’t set the thermostat really low). Full disclosure: a programmable thermostat could get you up to a $100 rebate from Georgia Power, as it’s one of the individual improvements the utility provides rebates for.
2. Window replacements may not be as strong of an investment as one might think. Attic insulation, ducts, and window leaks are the big places to invest, and they cost much less than new windows. Additionally, if you have an older home, you will likely pay big lead remediation fees on top of labor and materials due to residential home safety regulations.
3. For tankless water heaters, be careful what you’re signing up for — it’s not usually an easy swap. If you are thinking about going that route, be sure to ask about all the things involved — such as if you’ll need to move or replace exhaust pipes. You can save quite a bit of energy with a tankless heater, but often the cost of materials and installation (sometimes upwards of $4,000) make the cost outweigh the rewards.
4. Insulation foam can help with sealing cracks under/around doors and windows, however, some are rated for doors and windows and some are not. Read the label carefully to make sure it’s the right kind because some foam expands over time and will jam windows or doors.
Question: How can a homeowner get rebates from the power company for improving the energy efficiency of his or her home?
Leo: Georgia Power offers cash rebates in exchange for homeowners making energy improvements to their homes. The program works as follows: An approved contractor such as myself comes out and does an initial assessment of the home. This is when baseline performance is determined. Then the homeowner calls an improvement company who does the actual retrofit (fixes/improvements). (Note: The homeowner chooses improvements from the list recommended by the initial auditor.) Once improvements are completed (improving gaps under doors, leaks in ducts, etc.), then the assessment company comes back out for a follow-up test to determine the improvement level. According to Georgia Power’s web site, “once the recommended improvements are successfully completed by a participating program contractor, a follow-up assessment will determine the resulting energy performance and customers can receive a rebate up to $2,575 based on the energy savings actually achieved.” Read more about Georgia Power’s Home Energy Improvement Program here.
Note: To our knowledge, Georgia Power is the only major power utility offering an incentive program at the moment (though it never hurts to look for new programs) — and the incentives are only available to current customers.
Contact us directly about our experience with making homes more energy efficient, or about buying or selling in the Atlanta area. Carter & Associates also has a custom, new home build program as well.