My Energy Upgrade California—The Numbers Are In

Posted by Jim Gunshinan on July 10, 2014
My Energy Upgrade California—The Numbers Are In
Jason Deshasier from Stewart Heating and Air finishing up after duct sealing.
Here are the final numbers for my Energy Upgrade California home retrofit.
Table 1. Air Leakage (CFM50)
Test-in air leakage      Test-out air leakage
1,850                         1,530
Table 2. Duct Leakage 
Test-in duct leakage   *Test-out duct leakage
22%                             10%
*Note: The duct leakage is a percentage of the rated flow of the air handler. The measured air flow at the return grill was somewhat lower, so the percent leakage was actually higher. 
According to the EnergyPro software used in the Energy Upgrade California (EUC) program, the air sealing, insulation blown into our exterior walls, and the duct sealing achieved a total of 23% energy savings; this was enough to quality for a rebate from PG&E that covered 40% of the costs for our project. I have been assured the check is working its way though the system to our mailbox.
Jason Deshasier from Stewart Heating and Air did the duct sealing and installed the bathroom fan. Jason spent some time sealing up the plenum by cutting holes in it, brushing on a lot of mastic on the inside leak areas, and then sealing the access holes. At the Energy Out West conference this year, I learned from Bruce Manclark that sealing leaks in a duct system close to the plenum, where the air flow is the highest, has a bigger pay off than sealing around registers, for example, where the air flows are much diminished.
I did the air sealing, and was a little disappointed that I only shaved of 320 CFM. I think most of that was due to my installing a Chimney Balloon in our fireplace. Brian Stevens, our test-out auditor from Energuy, pointed out some leaks that I missed: the cabinet and vent pipe above the kitchen range hood that connects to the attic and at the doorway to the dining room there was a gap connected to the crawlspace where a door used to hang.
Michele and I are very happy with the work done on our house, and working with Bill Stewart and his crew; our energy advisor Scott Mellberg of Populus, LLC; and Energuy’s Richard Cunningham (test-in auditor) and Brian Stevens (test-out auditor) was a pleasure. Bill, Scott, and Brian were all at our house for the test out, along with our dog Cooper, Tom White, Home Energy publisher, and Kate Henke, our designer. Kate took lots of photos that we will use in an article early next year. The atmosphere was festive, and it was great to see the contractor, auditor, and advisor all getting along and respecting one another. And when Brian pointed out a new rule requiring a two-inch clearance around gas water heater flues, Bill got on top of the water heater closet with a hand saw and cut out a bigger hole for the flue. 
Bill shared some horror stories—bucket of mastic falling through the ceiling onto a brand-new white carpet and antique table, for example—from past jobs and Brian kept things light with his good humor and some auditing horror stories—somehow this involved his young children at home. Brian was very thorough. He documented every measurement and test with an iPad Mini.
Michele and I were happy that 40% of the costs of our retrofit was covered through EUC. But if I were a typical homeowner and not the editor of Home Energy, it would have been difficult for someone to convince me to put in the time and the inconvenience and the 60% of the cost not covered in the rebate for a tighter, more efficient house. Plus, we were living pretty efficiently already, in a climate with hot summers but mild winters. Our gas and electric bill last month was only $38.75. It gets over $100 for a few months and peaks at about $150 mid-December to mid-January—more than $100 for heating—and we are looking forward to seeing how much we’ve cut our gas use for heating. The idea of an energy upgrade should be much more appealing though to the homeowner, perhaps with a few teenagers at home, who uses a lot more energy.
Wearing my homeowner hat, I’m happy about the new bathroom fan that is very quiet and automatic, and it felt good seeing the crawlspace covered. When we get our first heating bill next winter that will also make me happy. And the house is quieter. Jason moved the furnace filter from the air handler to the return plenum, so it is much easier to change the filter and much less likely that I’ll come crashing through the ceiling. Now that I don’t have to get up there to change the filter I may never see the inside of the attic again—until the day when we swap out our ducted system for a mini-split heat pump, anyway.
The whole process of our retrofit took several weeks and Michele or I had to be home several days during the week all together. It was noisy at times and disruptive. The wall insulation made a bunch of drywall nails pop inside! The guys from McHale’s Environmental Insulation, who sealed our crawl and blew in our wall insulation, are coming out next week to fix the nail pops. But that’s another day one of us has to be home.
As an energy geek, I love the fact that our walls are now totally insulated and our duct system is more efficient.  And I’m one of those people who feel some responsibility to the community and the planet to live more sustainably.
I am really pulling for contractors like Stewart Heating and Air and other businesses marketing, selling, and doing the often dirty and difficult work of home performance. Bill’s company is doing well, but we need more of them. I understand the frustration that business owners have with the amount of paper work and the changing rules for energy efficiency programs. Policy makers and program managers have their jobs to do as well. Not much would happen in the home building and renovation industry without some push from a higher authority—and I don’t mean the market. But we have a ways to go to make home performance work easy for the homeowner and the home performance contractor. I think that should be a goal at every level of our industry.

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