The APS and SRP energy audits have a prescribed set of standards each auditor has to check. Outside the usual duct leakage, air leakage and insulation checks it is up to the auditor to decide what services they want to provide. At Green ID, we pride ourselves on our quality work and customer satisfaction. We think that our customers get a little more for their money when they use our services compared to other contractors, but there are some efficiency tests homeowners can do themselves to check on their efficiency. Below is one DIY tip that is easy to do, but is not very well known.
Back east, bathroom toilets were occasionally piped with hot water rather than cold water. It is easy to check if yours wasting hot water. Water heating can be the second biggest energy user in your home and costs will dramatically increase every time you flush the toilet it replaces 3.5 gallons (average toilet water use) of hot water. It is easy to check if your toilets are connected by turning on the corresponding sink’s hot water line. Run it until hot water starts to come out.
By the way, this is a good time to take a thermometer and measure the actual temperature of your hot water. Ideally, it should be 125 – 130 degrees. If it is higher, the water heater is overheating the water (130 degrees will begin to burn you) and don’t worry about the dishwasher, it uses its own heating element while running. If it is lower, you risk Legionaries disease growing in the water pipes. Anyway, once the water is hot, shut it off and flush the toilet. As it refills, take off the top and put your hand in the water stream that’s refilling the tank (this is clean drinking water and you can touch it) and see if it is hot water coming out. If it is, call Green ID at (602) 684-0462 and have our plumber change the supply to cold. Your wallet will thank you, as will your family when you take everyone out to dinner with the money you’ve saved.
APS has come out with great rebate programs and solidified their commitment to:
1) energy retrofits upgrades like duct sealing and insulation
2) renewable energy products like solar panels for electricity and hot water
3) switching out old appliances
Each of these rebate programs are separate entities that sometimes get confused since they are always changing. For example, APS solar rebate program has seen better days when solar electricity rebates used to be at $3.00 per watt. Every couple of months for the last 2 years, APS has dropped their solar rebates until they reached the current amount of $1.45 per watt. Now, the best and most affordable way to get solar is through a solar lease program that significantly buys down the costs of solar panels.
APS Home Energy Audit Rebates
Now the "hot" program is APS’s and SRP’s Home Performance With Energy Star. This is a national Energy Star program to make homes more healthy, comfortable and efficient. APS and SRP adopted the program to ensure a whole-home approach to reducing energy bills, while keeping homeowners safe and with better indoor air quality. APS requires a $99 energy audit be performed on a home to diagnose the causes of high energy bills, uncomfortable rooms, or excessive dust. Once the audit is complete, a report will be generated using building modeling software that gives cost savings for each upgrade. The APS rebates will help pay up to $1,000 (or more if you have two or more AC units) off the costs of the energy retrofit. The rebates for the Home Performance With Energy Star program are broken down below.
Duct sealing 75% off up to $250 per unit. For most homeowners, 20% of their heating and cooling bill is wasted from duct leakage.
Air sealing 75% off up to $250. Air sealing work can be complex as your auditor must determine
Insulation 75% off up to $250
Shade screens $1 per sq ft up to $250
APS has a great visual summary of their rebate program here.
APS rebates for pool pumps
$200 for variable speed pool pump. Each pump has to be calibrated to your pool to ensure that it is not over turning your pool. This upgrade will reduce your bills $200 - $350 per year. APS also provides a $75 rebate for pool timers.
APS Rebates for AC units
Air conditioning systems have become more efficient from federal standards and better technologies. Surprisingly, APS does not overlap its duct sealing rebates with its air conditioning rebates. With every unit we install, we include a whole home duct seal to maximize the high efficiency AC unit with a properly sealed duct system, otherwise it’s like using an umbrella with holes in it. APS will help you pay for a higher efficiency AC unit depending on the efficiency ratings. In the AC efficiency world there is a SEER rating, the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, EER rating, the energy efficiency ratio, and HPSF, or heating seasonal performance factor. In Phoenix, the EER is a more important number to pay attention to because of how hot it gets here. The EER ratio gives a better idea of how an AC will perform under very hot conditions (100 degrees) were the SEER rating gives an idea of performance under milder conditions (89 degrees). SRP recognizes and awards a higher rebate with higher EERs in their AC rebate program, but APS does not.
APS also has a quality installation standard similar to the post test done for the home energy audits that has to be met when installing heat pumps and furnaces in the Phoenix area. Only APS qualified AC companies can apply for their rebate for you, but not all of them will perform a duct testing and sealing upgrade. These rebates and companies are separate from the solar rebates and the home energy audit rebates. All the APS approved AC companies are required to do is a sizing calculation called the Manual J calculation. You should ask to see the results from your own home to ensure this was done. The AC rebate program also includes a check of the refrigerant charge to make sure that the unit is properly charged to manufacture specifications and a check of the air flow. Below is a list of the AC rebates available from APS.
SEER 13 with EER 10.8 receives $175 APS rebate
SEER 14 – 16 with EER 10.8 receives $425 APS rebate
SEER 17 with EER of 10.8 receives $525 APS rebate
All units must be installed by and APS approved AC contractor.
All contractors must perform a Manual J calculation to properly size the unit (you should verify this since it is not something a typical contractor will do).
All contractors should properly charge the unit and check airflow.
For more information on APS AC rebates, check out their link here.
APS Solar Rebates
APS solar rebates are divided into solar electricity rebates and solar hot water rebates. Solar electricity for my home was my dream growing up and has proven to be an attractive idea to thousands of homeowners across the Phoenix valley. APS perhaps did not realize how attractive solar electricity would be, since they have lowered their rebate amount dramatically since its inception. As of May 2011, APS solar electricity rebate is at $1.45 per watt. You can view their current budget and remaining monies available at the link below.
APS Solar Hot Water Rebates
After City and County applications have been approved, APS does random inspections of the installation. The solar hot water system must be SRCC rated and have proof onsite. The first 5 feet of your hot and cold water piping should be insulated to at least R-2.6. The panels must be un-shaded during the day for the entire year. The APS solar water heater rebates are currently at $0.50 per kWh of estimated first year savings (based on the OG-300 ratings), up to 505 off the system’s cost. The OG-300 rating system is based on the manufacturer’s rating by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation. Also important to consider for solar hot water systems is the federal tax credit of 30% off the cost and Arizona state tax credit of $1,000, which makes solar hot water much more attractive. Typical solar hot water rating systems are around 2,890 kWh per year. An example rebate table is shown below.
Solar Hot Water Cost $5,400
APS Solar Rebate $1,445
Arizona Tax Credit $1,000
Federal Tax Credit $1,620
Net Cost $1,335
Annual Savings $425
Simple Payback 3 years
APS Appliance and Tree Shading Rebate
APS also provides a $30 rebate to replace your old refrigerator and they will even come and pick it up for free. Also, a understated home comfort and energy saving rebate APS offers is to plant external shading along your home to block direct sunlight. The requirements of this rebate are that you attend a free tree shade workshop and can legally and physically plant shading trees along your home. Visit the link below for more information.
Crawling around in attics for the APS energy audit program and the SRP energy audit program has given me a pretty good idea where I can expect to find hidden “inefficiency jewels”. I feel like a kid at Christmas discovering open wall chases, uninsulated soffit drops, misaligned insulation and unconnected ductwork. It’s like finishing a marathon, reaching the river at the Grand Canyon or reaching the Seven Falls in Tucson… well, add a little sweat, being in a 140 degree box, and a chiropractor, and welcome to my world of home energy audits. Once I do find these things I often say to myself, “what were these contractors thinking!?”
Now a home performing as a system is a relatively new concept; as are the APS and SRP rebates available for helping homeowners reduce their bills, but some of the insulation contractors, framers and developers just left their common sense at home. When insulating a home, wouldn't you want all the interior walls insulated? Or why would insulation be installed with the paper facing inside on some kneewalls and have it facing the other way of kneewalls right next to it? I would like to share some horror stories through pictures of common and not-so-common defects in homes. I think all energy auditors in Phoenix will have photos and stories similar to mine, so cheers!
Part of the enthusiasm in finding these inefficiencies is the potential to save money on energy bills and dramatically increase the homeowner’s comfort. Another good thing about these construction defects is that APS and SRP offer $1,000 in rebates to fix these deficiencies.
A good number of the APS and SRP home energy audits I do are for eco-conscience snowbirds. These residents typically reside in the Phoenix, Surprise and Scottsdale areas during the winter and go back north for the summer months. Even though homeowners are only here for part of the year, many are still motivated to have the upgrades done because of comfort and air quality problems. Other homeowners will have efficiency upgrades like duct sealing, air sealing and insulation work done because of the APS and SRP rebate program and to drive down energy costs. During the homeowner interview, I am always interested to find out what each homeowner does to “summarize” their home. For Phoenix’s permanent residents, the summer is a time many will take vacation for more temperate climates. Either way presents opportunities listed below to save energy and money while away.
Tips for “Summerizing” Your Home While on Vacation
- Turn the water heater off completely at the breaker or shut the gas line off. At the least, set the dial to vacation mode to minimize stand by losses.
- Turn the thermostat up to 90 degrees. This will keep your home cool enough to not damage the structure or your belongings.
- Fill gallons of water and place several throughout the house to add moisture over time.
- Unplug energy vampire’s aka electronic devices. TV’s will use more energy in stand by mode than when turned on. Prevent wasteful spending by simply unplugging your electronics while away.
- Keep window shades closed and sun screens on the exterior windows to minimize heat gain during the daytime.
For more tips on “summarizing” your home while away, visit here.
This spring I was surprised to hear a friend tell me she was glad her spring allergies are back, because that means the winter is over. Although nobody likes the itchy eyes, sneezing and running noses that some unfortunate people suffer through every year, your allergies can be prevented while in the comfort of your own home. That is an important distinction that some people never notice and are suffering unnecessarily.
Cleaning furniture and flooring and keeping windows and doors closed are things everyone should be doing to reduce dust and pollen inside but there may be hidden causes that may be the main culprit in circulating unwanted pollen. These culprits have most likely been present since the home was built and are also causing you to overpay your utility bill. They are air and duct leakage and how the framing, drywall and insulation were installed aka the thermal boundary and they may be residing in your home.
The Problem: Our Homes
Small and large holes from any penetrations and duct connections in the house are not only a major source of energy loss but also can have negative health and air quality affects. Every other week your home may get a good cleaning from dust build-up and the regular activities; now imagine how much more you would have to clean if a 12-inch by 12-inch hole was made directly to the attic and was just left there. Put a large fan above the hole pushing your attic air into your home, and you’ll get a clear picture of the negative effects of duct and air leakage on an average home in the US.
How do I come into contact with the insulation if I can't see it and it's in the attic?
One idea is that it is in the air we breath. How do insulation particles get into our homes air? They get into our home by two ways.
1) from air leakage and connections from the house to the attic.
2) from the ductwork
Air leakage occurs when there is a small hole in the the ceiling or wall from electrical and plumbing penetrations, recessed canned lights, around registers and exhaust fans and windows and door frames. These holes can be enlargened greatly by the heating and cooling system pressures in the house. By air sealing all the little holes and gaps in the attic and to the outside you will help block the transfer of insulation particles.
The ductwork is most likely the main culprit of attic insulation particles getting into the house and the increase in home allergens. Any holes in the duct leakage return side (where your filter is) is directly sucking attic air into the heating and cooling system. This insulation-contaminated air does not get filtered because it occurs behind the filter then gets distributed to all the supply registers and into your home.
To recap, homeowners can easily reduce the allergens and dust and significantly improve the air quality of their home by doing the following steps.
1. Sealing the duct leakage
2. Making sure your existing insulation is properly installed
3. Air sealing the attic and outside holes off from the house
4. Balancing the airflow and room pressures
We have seen positive results by doing these four measures time and time again with our clients and you can have the same results by improving the air quality of your home for years to come if you follow the same steps and choose the right type of insulation for your needs.
Duct leakage explained
Duct leakage is common to every home and it is so important because the air handler is putting the distribution system under a lot of pressure, so a hole the size of a penny becomes a hole the size of a basketball under pressure. On the return side where you change your filter, a negative pressure is sucking in dirty attic air post filter and distributing that throughout the house. Want to stop indoor allergies; don’t clean your ductwork until you seal your ductwork first. Do unwanted critters frequent your home? Try sealing all the holes in the house from wires and plumbing vents to recessed lights.
Insulation performance explained
All attics are dusty but if the insulation is not in contact with the drywall, you can bet your attic will be excessively dusty and that dust will find a way into your home through air and duct leakage. Insulation is like a blanket, it needs to be touching your body to keep you warm. If the insulation is not in contact with the drywall (attic floor or kneewalls) as is sometimes the case because of electrical wires walking studs, recessed lighting or changes in the ceiling height that insulation is not working. The gap between the drywall and the insulation allows air to pass through the insulation, depositing dust and dirt on the insulation. That’s why you may see a cloud of dust form if you just touch your insulation. If the insulation was installed directly over an electrical penetration, leaky recessed lights or any gaps between the drywall- that insulation will be darkened with dust deposits. All the dust in the attic is more likely to enter the home and worsen allergen reactions.
Both the APS Home Energy Audit program and SRP Home Energy Audit program will assess and measure the condition of a home’s ductwork, air leakage and insulation performance among other tests. A cost savings analysis is given to each homeowner upon completing the home energy audit but the main benefit that some homeowners will feel is the cleaner indoor air quality, reduced dust and allergens and a more comfortable home. Learn more energy saving tips here and visit our friends at everyday health to learn many more tips on stopping home allergens here.
Who is the greenest insulation manufacturer?
Being a home performance contractor we offer our clients all types of insulation products and manufacturers depending on preferences and the conditions of your home. Our approach is to educate first then let our customers decide. That is why we don't just stick to one manufacturer or product like cellulose, spray foam or fiberglass.
There are several ways to look at the green attributes of insulation. One angle is that you are going to save energy on your utility bills and reduce your carbon footprint. Insulation saves 12 times the amount of energy the first year it is installed than it takes to manufacture it, so energy conservation is definitely more green than sustainable energy production. This is highly dependent on your home and how the insulation product is installed, not just how much you have. Another angle is to look at the material that is diverted from landfills as is the case with cellulose, denim or even recycled fiberglass batt insulation. The final way a product can be green is during is what is in it, how many chemicals and things get put in that are bad for your health, like formaldehyde.
There is no getting around the fact that insulation is far from chemical free, but it is an essential ingredient to help keeping our homes nice and cool in the summer and toasty warm in the winter. Fiberglass batt insulation is itchy, causes rashes and respiratory problems, and is a known carcinogen when inhaled with attic dust. Newly installed loose fill fiberglass insulation is slightly better for respiratory effects, is not as itchy and relatively inert. In both types of fiberglass insulation you will find rodents, critter infestation and its feces if they are present in your attic. Cellulose insulation tends to be a rodent repellent due to the added boron. Although cellulose insulation gets labeled as the greenest type of insulation because it's primary component is recycled newspaper, there are still a good amount of chemicals directly mixed in such as boron and boric acid and indirectly such as old ink, dyes, solvents, formaldehyde, chlorine, fluorine, lead, iron compounds, sulfur compounds, cadmium, nitric oxide and methane. These trace chemicals are estimated to account for 20% of the composition of cellulose insulation.
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