Going solar is perhaps the the largest expression of energy independence, sustainability and energy savings homeowners can do. If you have solar power or have ever considered going solar, it's also important to consider how the utility companies feel about photovoltaics because unfortunately, installing solar alone is only considering half of the bigger picture.
As solar power customers, do you know what is happening in Arizona that could affect your savings? Most solar power users intend to use solar power as a way to save money, but this could be changing as the Arizona Corporation Commission members set rates and other policies for power companies. APS and SRP may seem like they are favor of solar power, but but have been quietly working to kill solar by taking away rebate incentives, forcing demand based energy plans and killing pro-solar bills at the State level. These changes directly affect your energy bills. We have seen homes with full solar that should satisfy 70% of their summer energy bills be hit with $300-$400 bills because of demand charges.
No matter how APS and SRP dance around the cons of solar, residential solar directly takes away their business of selling electricity. When a homeowner has solar equipment and produces most of their own energy, they take away the bulk of their business from the power companies. This means that non-solar customers are the ones supporting the majority of the power grid. The power companies want the non-solar customers to pay the excess that is not being paid by the solar customers. The companies claim that rate hikes are necessary to keep them in business, but what amount should non-solar customers be expected to pay, and are the companies being fully transparent about rate hikes?
AZ Central reported that “APS described the rate hike last year as averaging 4.5 percent on residential customers” and "raised their bills and average of “$6 per month”. Although, customers have found their bills to be significantly higher than the figures APS described. When we compared APS's new vs old rate plans, we found an average of 56% increase.
A View From Non-Solar Customers
On the non-solar side, customers should not necessarily be penalized for not using solar energy, because they are the ones largely supporting the grid. If the number of non-solar customers continues to dwindle, then the cost will fall on those than cannot or will not switch over to solar. These customers may not want to switch due to factors such as renting the property that they purchase power for, or their distaste for the look of solar panels on their property.
A View From Solar Customers
On the solar side, customers may be paying more for the power they do not generate themselves. Typically the solar equipment produces the majority of the power they use, but any extra power must be purchased from the power companies. The rate hikes makes it so that they might not be saving enough money to make their lease of the solar equipment worth it (Phoenix New Times, 2013). Solar power is still an attractive investment because as of now and for the next several decades it will continue to save residents money. It will also provide benefits for people who are interested in environmental sustainability or people who want to go off the grid completely.
The important action point now is to be aware of what the power companies are trying to accomplish and how it affects non-solar and solar customers alike. The power companies ultimately want to be able to make money, and their main way of achieving this objective is raising the rates. It will be important as the ACC begins to discuss this topic that the rates set do not hurt solar customers for choosing an option that proves more sustainable, but also does not severely impact those still directly tied to the grid.
Do you notice one room just doesn’t cool like the rest of the house... that one room remains uncomfortably hot even if you have the air conditioner blasting down to 74 degrees?... Temperature differences in homes are a common occurrence but can be difficult to find the cause and solution. Typically a specialty contractor like an air conditioning company, insulation or window company is called out and their one and only solution is to offer their product as the fix. This approach rarely works because while those companies are knowledgeable about their specific products, finding the cause of the single hot room involves a deeper knowledge of all the systems in your home and how they work together.
For example, let’s say you keep your bedroom doors closed and notice a good amount of air blowing out under the door when the air is on. You have 10” of insulation in your attic, but where you are from in the Midwest, 18” is code so you think your current levels are too low. An air conditioning contractor may tell you that another supply register in the room will help to deliver more air to the room and keep it cool. An insulation contractor will recommend more insulation but doesn’t sound too convincing because he himself believes that you won’t see much of a difference, he just cares about his commission. A window company will tell you how durable and seal tight their windows are, even though your windows are on the east side of the house and get only the morning sun, he is convinced his product is the best on the market and even has special discounts and financing available. Tackling the hot room problem like this is like looking for a boat at the airport.
What an energy audit would discover by measuring the room pressures is that the airflow in the room needs a place to escape first, and that just like blowing air into a bottle you can’t blow any more air in the bottle unless you let some out. The room is getting hot because the cool air can’t get in until more is able to escape and circulate back to the return. Following the air conditioning contractor’s advice, adding another supply register will only worsen the problem. Following the insulation contractors advice additional insulation won’t have a big impact if you have more than R26 existing but they won’t tell you that. Nor will the window rep mention that your window is not the major cause of your room getting hotter than others… say it together, “it takes a whole home approach.”
That said here are the top 5 causes an energy auditor might recognize that would cause your one room to be getting hotter than others in the summer. See what we can do for you with our $49 energy audit special by calling our office today at (602) 926-1650.
Bad Duct Design and Installation
It’s obvious when the hottest room in the house is the furthest away from the unit because the cold air has to travel far to reach its final resting place. But what about rooms that are close to the air handler, why would those rooms be hotter than others? Again we can likely blame a bad duct design. Either too many wye splits, bad placement of the other ducts off of the supply plenum, kinks, or ductwork leakage can throw the airflow out of balance and cause a hot room. A duct design perfectly installed per design specifications can still have major flaws just like a perfectly designed system but poorly installed. Each have their own built in flaws... a poorly installed system can have duct leakage, improper placement of duct collars and kinks. A poorly design duct system will have too many wye splits, restrictive registers, no plenum boxes and undersized ducts. Flex ducts are so easy to install that anyone can do it and unfortunately contractors just do the minimum required to pass inspection, which as you probably know leaves homeowners holding the short end of the stick.
Wrong Duct Size
Duct sizing is important because ductwork that is sized too small is like having high blood pressure, the AC system becomes stressed to try to fit a large volume of air down a small hole and not enough air gets delivered to the rooms. Ductwork that is too large is like having low blood pressure where your airflow won’t be able to “throw” itself across the room and leave the room only partially cool. In two story homes with both air handlers or furnaces in the attic, the supply ducts tend to be too small on the 2nd floor system. On almost every home, the returns also tend to run too small also. This is bad because it can make a 5 ton system only receive 4 tons of air and over stress the system.
If you feel plenty of air coming in the room but it seems like your hot room can’t hold that air in the room for a long period of time, the cause of the hot room could be an insulation issue. It’s not just low insulation that causes this problem either, how the insulation is installed is just as important as how much you have. This chart shows your insulation performance gets cut by 50% if there is just a 5% gap in the insulation anywhere around the home.
A thermal camera scan will uncover these insulation misalignments in areas that our auditors can’t get to and a good visual insulation can verify how well the insulation is aligned in areas that are accessible. A home insulated to Energy Star Standards will keep all the cool air in the home and make the AC system run less.
If you notice bird vents on the perimeter of your home or have any changes in ceiling height around the hot room, those are red flags for our auditors. Bird vents are to ventilate the attic but that same ventilation can wind wash the insulation back 1-2 feet from the perimeter of the house, leaving the attic bare in those areas. Insulation contractors are often confused what to do with any changes in ceiling height. Sometimes contractors will make a tent of insulation over a dropped soffit or just leave a decorative shelf completely bare of insulation.
Sun Struck Windows
Surprisingly in Arizona, our homes get more heat gain through sun struck windows than from the attic! Although we have never fixed a hot room by adding a shade screen alone, it will certainly help. And despite what a window contractor may tell you, you do not need to replace your windows to reduce the heat gain coming through them. Window film or a shade screen is all the window needs to reduce the heat gain. Shade screens are the most effective at reducing the heat gain into the home, even more effective than new windows, but they will darken the room. Window film comes in a clear film and is less effective than shade screens but is still more effective than interior blinds. Replacing your windows should be done for aesthetics or noise reduction, but never for cost savings alone. You’ll never get your money back on new windows.
Homes older than 1970 with block walls have zero insulation in them. You’ve probably felt the heat coming off the walls well into the night. By injecting closed cell spray foam into the sun struck walls, you’ll get exponential heat reduction. Block wall homes will typically have the registers above the ceiling and by closing the registers off you can direct more air into the hot room.
Quick Fixes That Help Keep Your House Comfortable and AC Running Well
Have solar prices been going down lately? The answer is yes! Solar power prices have been dropping faster than anyone expected. Experts initially underestimated the drop in prices and now believe they will drop down even quicker as time passes!
CleanTechnica has revealed that a solar panel per watt in 1975 was $101.05, while more than 40 years later, the price in 2015 was just $0.61.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance's Expert Jenny Chase, had predicted that a solar module that was priced from 62 cents/watt in 2015, will drop to the range of 21 cents/watt by 2040!
These figures have since been reduced even further, with an average solar module sold to a utility scale project in 2017 being about 35 cents. This will drop to 32 cents by the end of 2018, and drop to 31 cents in 2019.
As to some reasons why: the biggest factors resulting in the sharp drop come from the combination of fierce competition and technological advances in every part of the solar panel technology sector. These are being fed through to auction prices for government tenders throughout the world and bidders are seeing plenty of return on their speculation about module prices and EPC costs.
Solar power is going to dominate the energy sector this century. The question is just how quickly it will bring down costs and take over the world. Yet again, the answer seems to be: quicker than people thought.
There is no doubt that solar is a reliable and readily available source of energy in sunny Arizona. Installing solar in your home can have a positive impact on the environment and dramatically lower your monthly utility bill. It's a great investment for its low maintenance costs and high returns. For instance, a homeowner can expect a 10 year payback and a 10.6% Investment Return for a 5-kW system 1. Owned solar panels can add 4 to 6 percent to the value of a home 3. Real Estate agents agree that homebuyers are increasingly looking for solar panels in the same way they look for granite countertops or wood floors 3.
Adding solar to your home can save you a lot on your utility bill and potentially earn you money through feed-in tariffs annually. However, we all know that purchasing photovoltaics can have a high upfront cost anywhere between $18,000 and $29,000 2. While the initial investment to purchase solar panels can be high, there are different payment structures and tax incentives that can greatly lower these costs.
Incentives to Installing Home Solar Panels
When installing your home solar panels, you can expect absolutely zero sales tax! Under the Solar Equipment Sales Tax Exemption, you are free from the burden of any Arizona solar tax. Likewise, under the Energy Equipment Property Tax Exemption, the value added to your property from installing solar will not add to your property tax 2.
Arizona also offers a Residential Solar Energy Credit where the resident can get back 25% of the cost of the system through tax credits at a maximum of $1000. If the credit exceeds the taxes you owe, you are able to carry it over for up to five years 1.
In addition to state tax credit savings, there are also benefits on a federal level. Under the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC), a purchaser of a home solar energy system is eligible to receive a 30% tax deduction from the cost of their solar energy system after state rebates. To give you an idea of the kinds of savings you could get from this, in 2017 the average solar shopper saved over $5,000 on costs going solar from the ITC alone 4.
The ITC isn't going to last forever. in 2020, the tax credit will reduce to 26%, in 2021 it will reduce to 22%, and by 2022 there will only be a 10% credit remaining for commercial users only 4. This is all the more reason not to wait to install solar panels on your home.
Alternatives to owning solar panels
If you are looking for the benefits of solar but are not ready to invest in a solar energy system of your own, solar leasing and PPAs are both great options. Roughly 75% of solar installations in APS territory are leases, making it the current most popular choice for Arizona solar buyers 2.
With a solar lease, you agree to pay a fixed monthly “rent” or lease payment, which is calculated using the estimated amount of electricity the system will produce, in exchange for the right to use the solar energy system. With solar PPAs, the homeowner agrees to purchase the power generated by the system at a set per-kWh price as opposed to paying "rent" to the solar panel system.
Some of the benefits of solar leases and PPAs are that you can expect 10-30% savings over the cost of your utility bill 4. The leasing company is also responsible for maintaining and handling the panels and interactions between the utility company- making little-to-no work for you! Additionally, there are many options that have $0-down agreements, so you can be at ease.
When you sign a solar lease or PPA, it's important to note that you do not own the solar panel on your property. Under these agreements, you will not receive tax incentives. Additionally, a leased solar energy system can actually detract 3 to 8 percent from the value of a Phoenix-metro home 3. When you go to sell your home with a leased solar energy system, you are selling the lease with the home. This is often seen as unattractive to prospecting home buyers, despite the projected savings in utility bills 3.
A solar lease will last on average 20 years 2. At the end of the lease the homeowner can resign their lease, give back the system, or choose to purchase the system from the company. So if you plan on committing to your solar energy system in the long run, choosing a lease or PPA may be a feasible and effective option for you!
Energy audits are useful ways to uncover why a bedroom is always hot in the summer or why your energy bills are so high, but there is a hidden trove of useful information homeowners can uncover during their home energy audit that isn’t widely known. If you are wondering how much does it cost to have an energy audit and what do we do during an audit, here are the top 6 ways to get the most out of your energy audit from an experience Phoenix energy auditor.
1. Ask about your thermostat settings
Your energy auditor gets to see hundred of energy bills every year for homeowners with lifestyles all over the board. If you feel your energy bill is too high 1 quick thing you can do to lower your bill during an energy audit is to simply ask your auditor about whether you’re on the best rate plan for your lifestyle and whether there are better, more cost-effective alternatives for you. Often times there are hidden savings to be had a no cost to you by simply switching rate plans or installing a smart thermostat that automatically raises itself when you leave the house.
2. Follow the energy auditor
There’s no better way to learn than to be with the energy auditor and see how they do what they do. No, it's not being intrusive and we actually like when homeowners are with us because we get to talk about what we love doing. Being involved in an energy audit will help you better understand why we are recommending certain upgrades and the causes of high energy bills, hot rooms or dust. You can even feel where and how much air is leaking around outlets, windows and doors, pocket doors and exhaust fans. Our energy auditors look at solving your home's hot rooms and high energy bills as a fun puzzle. We perform a bunch of tests on the home which paints a clear picture of what are causing any issues and what is not at fault. It's not guessing or a visual inspection, which is why we attract more technical auditors than sales minded auditors.
3. Prepare 12 months of energy bills for them
For an energy audit to become as successful as it can get, the auditors in place require all the relevant information about your home that they can get and 12 months of energy bills is optimal for an auditor to paint a vivid picture of your home and find what home improvement solutions suits it best.
4. Ask about other recommendations they have that they do not sell
If there’s one thing in this world we can assure you of, it’s that asking never hurts! You can find out about other recommendations and improvements the auditor can suggest simply by asking. Your questions could trigger the auditor to recall a home improvement solution that he/she didn’t think about because it's not included in a typical energy audit.
5. Ask to use the IR camera while the blower door is running
You might think it’s strange for us to recommend you to have the blower door is running when the IR camera is being used. However, there is a good reason for this and it is that the IR camera alone only shows heat gain and the differences in temperature in a specific area but, when the blower is also running it allows the IR camera to also detect air leakage pathways and the source of the leakage. This is a great visual tool to show leakage pathways that are more than just a number.
6. Ask what the energy model doesn’t cover
Unfortunately, our modeling software is not able to model all of our recommendations like adding a return, jump-ducts or airflow balancing. This means that while you will still enjoy the benefits of the improvements, the model won’t be able to predict how much you are saving. This is where your energy auditor's experience comes into play to help find the right efficiency package for your needs.
APS Rebates Are Disappearing, Updates to the APS Energy Audit Program and APS Air Conditioning Program
The APS rebate program for energy audits, energy saving improvements air conditioning rebates are disappearing. Overnight APS has cut rebates to their energy audit program, removing rebates for air conditioning systems and air sealing completely. The APS rebate for a home energy audit has also been eliminated. APS pulled funding to the energy audit program with tens of thousands of dollars still remaining with no explanation and now they are making cut backs to popular programs that save homeowners money on their energy bills.
APS New Rate Plans
The APS new rate plans are designed to change homeowner’s lifestyles and how they use the air conditioner to stay comfortable in the summer. Although the changes to the rebate program and the new APS rate hike are not correlated they will have a big affect on homeowner’s energy bills this summer. On peak hours change from 12-7 pm to 3 -8 pm and a demand charge will increase homeowner’s energy bills by 56% on average. Learn how to best manage your energy use with APS new rate increase here.
APS Air Conditioner Rebate Program
The APS AC Quality Installation program will not accept any new rebate applications for units installed after March 7, 2018. If your air conditioner was installed before the March 7th deadline, you have until March 21st to submit your rebate application. The APS AC rebate was popular because it ensured a quality install. The air conditioner rebate had a minimum SEER requirement of 14 and EER of 11.0. An additional requirement was that a Manual J calculation had to be done on the home to verify the correct air conditioner size was installed and the program also required additional tests after the system was installed. Each unit needed to be charged properly and airflow and psychometric readings needed to be taken after every install as part of the AC rebate program. Eliminating the AC rebate program removes a quality control step that protects homeowners from AC contractors cutting corners.
Duct Test & Repair Rebate Program
Beginning January 1st 2018, the duct test and repair program is canceled. The duct test and repair program was a standalone program that allowed homeowners to seal their ductwork without performing a full energy audit and still receive a $250 duct sealing rebate from APS. It was a popular program but unfortunately abused by some bad apple contractors, which may have contributed to its cancellation. Ductwork sealing has always been one of the most cost effective ways to improve the energy efficiency of a home in Phoenix. Both APS and SRP estimate that a typical Arizona home has ductwork leaks of 15% on average. Since most of the Phoenix homes have ductwork in the attic the ductwork stays hot in the summer and air conditioners have to work to overtime to keep the house comfortable.
Although APS is eliminating their rebate program, many homeowners still realize the benefits of having an air conditioning system installed correctly, of making their home energy efficient by ductwork sealing or additional insulation and managing their energy usage. With or without APS rebates we will continue to provide homeowners with lower energy bills, a more comfortable home and better air quality.
Five Steps To Improve The Indoor Air Quality Of Your Home
Indoor air pollution vs outdoor air pollution:
Indoor air pollution can be more of an issue than we are instinctually aware of, and most of us are at risk. This occurs in our homes, workplaces, restaurants and other built environments.
Outdoor air pollution is commonly discussed; the effects of vehicle, industrial, and agricultural emissions. Pollution is repeatedly mentioned in the news, on television, social media, with stories of pesticides and hazardous factory chemicals being found in water supply, and several cases of fires and oil spills.
We humans spend approximately 90% of our time indoors; 65% of that time is in our homes. Here in Arizona, we are at particularly at risk because pollutants tend to increase and concentrate with higher temperatures.
Infants and the elderly are the most at risk population and susceptible to health problems due to indoor pollution. Health problems associated with indoor air pollution range from fatigue, sneezing, headaches, dizziness- all the way to upper respiratory disease, stroke, lung cancer, and ischemic heart disease.
When filters are dirty, poorly maintained or old they fail to filter outdoor pollution like pesticides, allergens and dirt from the indoors. Consequently our lungs act as a new filter. They also fail to filter dust, carbon monoxide from stoves, household cleaning fumes, pet dander, hair, old building or furnishing materials, and other particles from indoors. Poorly maintained air units and filters can negatively affect a person’s health, comfort, and ability to work and care for their family.
5 Ways to Improve the Indoor Air Quality of Your Home
1. Install a 4” HEPA filter and remove the restrictive 1” pleated filters. Replace air filters every few months
2. Install a UV filter to kill 99.9% bacteria, mold and spores
3. Don’t allow the visible buildup of dust. Dust often in all places; including tricky areas like the ceiling fan and under the couch
4. Avoid using cleaning products with harmful chemicals; use natural cleaners
5. Install a CO meter if you have a gas stove to make sure your stove isn’t emitting excess carbon monoxide
Take these steps to improve your indoor air quality, lower indoor pollution, and live a happier and healthier life with your furry friends.
To find out more ways to increase your indoor air quality for you and your animal friends check out this article by Comfy Corner!
Spray foam insulation is the most effective insulation type because it’s properties to act as an air sealant and insulator in one, it’s high R-value to resist and because it can be applied to the roof decking which slows the heat transfer into the home before it hits the attic. Spray foam not only saves on your heating and cooling bills, but you also realize savings from utilizing a smaller HVAC system, the ability to save on air sealing the attic floor, an less repairs on the HVAC system over it’s life. If you want to know how much spray foam insulation will save on your energy bills there are several factors you need to consider to get an accurate savings estimate. The table below shows how much savings to expect from spray foam insulation for different applications.
As APS energy auditors since 2009, Green ID has experience with spray foam in all types of homes. The factors that influence how much spray foam insulation will save on energy bills depend on the following.
APS customers are in for a big surprise this summer as their energy bills will spike even if there energy usage goes down because of dramatic rate increases by the utility company. The Arizona Corporation Commission has already approved utility rates that increase APS customer’s energy bills by as much as 70% (see below for calculation) by May 1st, 2018. APS states that the rate hike will better reflect the true cost of serving customers during peak hours but it will also offset the lower energy bills solar customers have that APS says is eating into their bottom line even as they profit from removing program to help customers save money on their energy bills through efficiency upgrades. You may have seen or heard APS promoting their rate changes as giving customers more options but in fact, they are mandating that every customer choose a new rate and will not allow any rate plans to be grandfathered in and the rate changes homeowners are going to see are amazing.
What Are The New APS Rate Plans
Below is a table of APS frozen rate plans which will expire by May 1, 2018.
The lowest on-peak and off-peak rates will come with a demand charge that penalizes customers for using more energy during the hottest part of the day.
Let’s say you had the ECT-2 Combined Advantage with peak hours from 12-7 pm with APS. Now, APS wants to switch you to the Saver Choice Plus with peak hours from 3-8 pm. Look at the table below to see what change you could expect.
That’s a $54 increase or 16% additional costs for using the exact same energy you were last year. Not only is the rate increase dramatic, the new rate punishes those who need the house at a cooler temperature for medical reasons or if you are like me and have teenagers in the house that don’t care what the thermostat is set to.
What is a Demand Charge?
A demand is a unit of measure APS and SRP use to say how much energy you are using at one time. Your demand increases when you are using multiple appliances at one time. If you have your dishwasher, dryer, water heater and AC running, your demand much bigger than someone running only their water heater. Obviously in Arizona, the air conditioner is the majority of our demand and when we need it the most during the hottest part of the day, that’s when APS penalizes us the hardest for staying comfortable. APS has a demand rate fee for each unit of demand so if your home averages 5 Demand Units, you would be charged $8.40 x 5 = $42. APS customers get their demand averaged every hour. SRP customers get their demand rate averaged every 30 minutes. The demand is an average so if you go above a demand of 4 one time but average a 3 in an hour period, you will be charged a 3.
How Much Energy Do Your Appliances Use?
How to Prepare for APS Demand Charge
There is no way around the monstrous APS rate increase but there are ways to prepare and make the best of a bad situation.
Compare APS Plans to Predict Your Energy Bills Under Different Rate Plans
Want to know what your energy bills are going to be under APS’s new rate plans? Use our tool to compare plans to see which plan makes the most sense for you. I’ve created a handy payment estimator that can predict your energy bills and help you to decide which rate plan is best and strategies to best manage your demand rate during peak hours. Simply fill energy your highest and lowest energy bill below and we will create a customized prediction table, recommendation and plan of action for you.
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