This article was originally published in the September/October 1994 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1994

Of Energy Purists and Pragmatists

As I ponder the lack of progress we have made in the United States toward building more energy-efficient homes, I'm continually made aware that a condescending attitude in the building science community exists towards builders, creating an obstacle to progress. An example of this attitude is reflected in the cartoon Home Energy ran with the article I wrote (see Building Science Education in the Community College, HE May/June '94 p.35).

It is my premise that if the building science community had more empathy for the challenges builders face on a day-to-day basis, we'd be building more energy-efficient homes in this country. Yet the reality of the job site is obviously a bit much for the ivory tower energy purists and desk jockeys who are supposed to be designing studies and programs which will save energy. Instead of sharing responsibility with builders for the lack of progress towards building more efficient housing, they blame builders.

The failure to be more in tune with builders is evident in the large number of articles, books, programs, energy details, and so on that have little or no influence on the way homes are being built today. Energy purists seem to want to create programs and construction details that will satisfy equations and theories. They fail to realize that these details need to be implemented in the field.

If you think I'm off-base in my critique, take a tour of almost any new home under construction. Most new homes tell quite a story of lost opportunities to reduce energy consumption. In the state of Arizona, our utilities, energy office, national laboratories, and state universities have had little or no impact on the way homes are being built, in terms of energy consumption.

As purists collect weekly paychecks and argue about the finer points of theory, the travesty continues. I often inspect new homes where 30%-50% of the attic insulation was never installed and the remainder is installed very poorly. The majority of duct systems being installed today have significant leaks. Most HVAC contractors are still unaware of the impact of duct leaks on energy consumption and human health.

Why does the dissemination of efficiency information take so long? What's going on at our national laboratories, energy offices, utilities, and universities? My experience teaching builders and architects at our local community college suggests it's not difficult to have an impact, especially if you maintain a strong connection to the field. What is a challenge is maintaining a high level of quality control in the field, where it counts. This is exactly what the bureaucrats and building scientists who perpetuate programs and perform studies that have little or no impact on the way homes are being built today fail to realize.

If the building science community approached builders with a little more respect and empathy, perhaps they wouldn't have such a laughable tract record in terms of tech transfer.

Michael Uniacke
Prescott Valley, Arizona

Sun Frost Refrigerator Test Conditions

I recently read an article in your magazine entitled Do Refrigerator Thermostat `Set-ups' Save Energy? (May/June '94 p. 11). I would like to clarify several points.

It is valuable for both the consumer and the utility to know the actual in-home energy use of a refrigerator. However, there is only a limited amount of in-home test data available. Testing of conventional refrigerators shows that energy consumption in a home is about the same as in a 90deg.F closed-door test. Our refrigerators are designed to minimize energy consumption under actual use conditions instead of 90deg.F closed-door test conditions. As a result, our refrigerators consume much less energy during in-home use than the 90deg.F closed-door test would indicate. A Sun Frost unit's energy consumption is closer to that measured in a 70deg.F closed-door test.

Our Sun Frost RF-19 was recently tested by Home Power magazine (April/May '94). The refrigerator was located in a relatively warm environment with an average ambient temperature of 77deg.F. The average freezer temperature was below 1deg.F. The energy consumption for a 9-day test averaged about 1.1 kWh/day, or 410 kWh per year, substantially lower than would be consumed by any of the refrigerators mentioned in your article.

The refrigerator referred to in the Consumer Reports article is our RF-19. This is a rather specialized model. The freezer is one half of the total volume. On an energy-use per-unit volume basis, our other models are even more efficient, due in part to the units' proportions and the design of the condenser.

Our Sun Frost RF-16 is a more typical refrigerator than the RF-19. The RF-16 is about one-third freezer and two-thirds refrigerator. Its energy consumption is substantially less than that of our RF-19 model on an absolute or energy-consumption-per-unit basis. The Sun Frost RF-16 typically consumes about 220 kWh per year. Under standard 90deg.F ambient, 5deg.F freezer, closed-door conditions, the Sun Frost RF-16 consumes 350 kWh/year. In a recent 18-day Home Power magazine test with the freezer at 1deg.F, and an ambient temperature of 65deg.F, the Sun Frost RF-16 averaged 0.462 kWh per day or 168 kWh per year. A one year test carried out for PG&E in an Arizona home with an average ambient temperature of 69deg.F and the freezer averaging 6.5deg.F measured an average energy consumption of 257 kWh per year (see Home Alone--Living Off the Grid, HE May/June '93 p.13). These rates of energy consumption are also substantially lower than those of the other manufacturers' models presented in your article.

It is imperative for us to minimize actual in-home energy use rather than energy use under standard lab test conditions, because most of our customers' homes are powered by photovoltaics, and their energy supplies are limited.

Larry Schlussler
Sun Frost
Arcata, California

Refrigerator Myths

Thanks for your article on savings from refrigerator temperature settings. There's another refrigerator myth I'd like to see cleared up: the traditional recommendation to put milk jugs full of water to fill up partially-empty freezers. I've seen this recommendation applied to both stand-alone freezers and refrigerator-freezers.

Dave Brook
Extension Energy Program
Oregon State University
Portland, Oregon

Leveraging the Landlords

In response to the letter, The Landlord-Tenant Quandary (see Mar/Apr '94, p.3), I offer the enclosed multifamily weatherization report. Our experience with landlords since publishing the report has been quite positive. We now contract with an average of four landlords per month, and word-of-mouth is greatly affecting the number of landlord contributions to our Home Weatherization Rental Partnership Program. Since February, we've required landlords to contribute a minimum of 25% of weatherization costs to this program. In conversations with landlords, we explain that for each dollar they contribute, three federal dollars are leveraged.

In closing, let me say WOW!! about Home Energy. The publication is a significant part of my motivation to take the progressive steps to improve Kansas City's Home Weatherization Program. I should have sent you kudos long ago. I still have all my copies of Energy Auditor and Retrofitter.

Robert T. Jackson
Department of Housing and Community Development
Kansas City, Missouri


Editor's Note: The Multifamily Weatherization report Mr. Jackson mentioned is available from the Department of Housing and Community Development Home Weatherization Program, 11th Floor, City Hall, 414 East 12th Street, Kansas City, MO 64106. Tel: (816)274-2201.

Cellulose Insulation Density

I want to expand on Dave Yarbrough's response to the question of cellulose insulation density in walls (see Dense-packing Low-density Cellulose, May/June '94, p.3.). The Insulation Contractors Association of America (ICAA) recommends an installed density of 1.5 times the settled density. The literature seems to support an absolute value of 3.5 lbs per ft3, but most of the studies were done in the era when 3.5 lbs per ft3 was 1.5 times the settled density of most cellulose products on the market.

The Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association courageously begs the question. Our Codes, Standards, and Specifications publication states: In wall applications standard practice is to compare the material to a density that will prevent settling. (ICAA) recommends a density of 1.5 times nominal settled density; other authorities suggest a minimum density of 3.5 lbs per ft3 for wall installation.

Eventually the question will be answered by new studies. In the meantime, I would be interested in receiving information based on actual field experience that might point one way or the other.

Daniel Lea
Executive Director
Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association
Dayton, Ohio

Solar Savings?

I read with great interest your article Making Passive Solar Homes Affordable (May/June '94, p.11). Mr. Neuffer is to be commended for his approach to passive solar homes and his ability to market them. However, the gas consumption/energy savings figures didn't sit well with me.

I recently lived in a 54-year-old frame-built home that has been added onto at least four times. The majority of the windows are single-pane, and it is not a tight house. It is approximately 2,200 ft2, with 600 ft2 of the total in the basement. We had cellulose blown into the walls 13 years ago, brought the attic insulation to R-30, and never did get around to insulating the crawl space. The duct work is all in the basement and not exposed to outside temperatures. We heat the house with an 80% AFUE gas furnace, and set the thermostat back 11deg.F every night, from 71deg.F to 60deg.F.

Our February average temperature was 34deg.F, same as the January weather in Reno mentioned in the article, and my gas usage for the month was 87 therms, or 9 therms more than the home described in the article. I had to wonder, what savings did this home actually achieve, and at what cost? For the entire year of 1993, our home averaged 1.6 heating therms per day. It was an unusually cold year for us, with 6,454 degree-days recorded, which is higher than the 6,036 degree-days for Reno (as listed in the Passive Solar Energy Book).

While solar homes are very pleasing esthetically, are they truly energy-efficient? Wouldn't that extra $1,500 for the solar upgrade have been better spent on additional insulation and house-tightening measures? The furnace efficiency wasn't listed, but that same $1,500 would probably have paid for the upgrade to a super-high-efficiency furnace. We consistently hear the solar mantra and have conditioned ourselves to believing that is the way to go. Based on the figures supplied in the article, in this instance, how valid is that conclusion? In how many other instances is the consumer fed erroneous conclusions about the benefits of solar heating?

Fletcher Scaife
Pacific Power and Light
Toppenish, Washington

Capturing Conservation in Iowa

We compliment you on your article Capturing Conservation through Community Energy Management, (see Mar/Apr '94 p.21). However, we were disappointed that our project was not highlighted in the story.

Options 2000 is headed by the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities (IAMU), which represents 137 municipally owned electric and 47 municipally owned gas utilities. Nine IAMU members are currently using Options 2000 to design, implement, and monitor community-wide energy-efficiency/economic-incentive programs. Programs are tailored to meet unique community needs, and they return saved energy dollars to the local economy.

In each participating city, a task force representing a cross-section of the community is assembled to work with the local utility to identify local energy issues, community goals, and possible marketing strategies. With input from the task force and other sources, IAMU prepares an Energy/Economic profile for the community.

At the heart of the program is a software program called OPTIONS, which compares community goals with the potential community impact from various energy technologies. It then selects the mix of technologies which yields the optimal benefit to the community in terms of meeting six community goals: conserving energy and energy dollars, short-term paybacks, job creation, the multiplier effect on money roll-over in the community from saved energy dollars, reduced peak demand on the utility, and community budget (which is more often a constraint than a goal). The goals are prioritized by each task force and entered into the software program.

OPTIONS generates a list of energy-efficiency technologies that serves as the foundation for the community-based program, and it recommends a funding level for each technology. The software also forecasts resulting economic impacts if technologies are implemented at the recommended levels.

Once a final list of appropriate energy-efficiency activities is selected, a meeting is held with local retailers, contractors, and other trade allies. Participants are asked for input into the program and to participate by marketing energy-efficient products that are integral to the plan. After the pieces are in place, we prepare a business plan, which is presented to the public at a kick-off meeting organized by the task force.

So far, the program has been enormously successful, with customer participation far exceeding expectations. To evaluate the impact of Options 2000 programs in various communities, we will continue to gather information and results. Measurements will include retail sales figures, rebate and energy usage information, survey results and estimated energy and emissions savings.

Our association would be pleased to share additional information about either the program or OPTIONS goal programming software. Contact: IAMU, Energy Services Department, 6900 N.E. 14th Street, Suite 27, Ankeny, IA, 50021-8997. Tel:(515)289-1999.

Paul A. Erickson
Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities
Ankeny, Iowa

Software Solutions?

In the May/June issue of Home Energy, which offered a series of articles about home energy audit software, the opening article suggested that the trend towards computerized audits will better link weatherization agencies to other energy activities--such as home energy rating systems and demand-side management programs. There is a huge problem with this assumption. Nowhere in the series of articles does anyone address the difficulties of using the audits nor do they examine the necessity of linking these tools with other software products, or with the information-management needs of existing weatherization programs.

I've seen and used many computer software products in my 15 years as chief of information management systems and weatherization for an 11-county planning and development organization in central Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, these software solutions fail to consider the basic challenge of using computers and software. If a particular evaluation procedure employs perfect energy use assumptions and calculations to produce its outputs, but lacks managerial usefulness, the disadvantages of using the procedure can negate the benefits.

Computerized energy audits should support maximum productivity levels, regardless of whether direct hire or subcontracting labor is used and whether the audit is operating on one computer, on one of many computers on a network, or on a multi-user multi-tasking computer. It's duplicative and expensive to re-key in information. At the very least, evaluation tools must have functions for horizontal data analysis, store and read data in a generic recallable format, available for analyses where other management tools are present for responding to unexpected lines of inquiry from program funding sources.

Among the computer-based evaluation tools we use are the WECC and NEAT audits. But both audits disregard managerial and information-management impacts. These tools do not have viable import and export data functions, which reduces their managerial effectiveness.

In Pennsylvania, we are developing an automated energy auditing tool designed to meet the challenges of today's managerial and information management systems environments, enhancing the flexibility, operability, and, therefore, usefulness of the engineering engine. The audit is called dSIR, for discounted Savings-to-Investment Ratio. It was designed to be a number-crunching tool used by experienced energy technicians. In this regard, decision-making is left up to the energy technician.

Each energy-saving measure can be evaluated individually or in interaction with other measures. Measures can be saved or discarded at will and fully interacted results are available instantaneously with each modification. The audit contains integrated functions capable of reading other data files, saving its own data, and allowing access to the dSIR summary values, as well as supporting variables. We are currently testing the audit in the field and have prepared a 60/40 waiver application with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Thomas O. Sweet
SEDA-Council of Governments
Lewisburg PA


Editor's Note: Mr. Sweet makes an important point about the need for computerized audits to provide for proper and efficient data management. This was not totally ignored by the developers of NEAT, WECC and other software.

NEAT and WECC both store building description data in ASCII format. These files can be easily viewed, and can (and have) been used to generate summaries of building characteristics representative of homes audited. Statistical analyses of the data can also produce significant correlations of house characteristics with consumption and savings. This is accomplished using computer data analysis with no re-entering of data. NEAT, for instance, can recall a building description formally entered, allowing modifications, then save the results either as a replacement or modification of the previous audit.

According to Mike Gettings, of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, there are plans to add a feature to NEAT which will generate and update a single file containing summary data on all homes for which NEAT has been run. NEAT would automatically collect the results and store them in a format even more accessible to spreadsheet or statistical analysis software. Weatherization Assistance reporting standards are being considered in designing this feature, Gettings said.

Gettings said that with the generation of work orders from audit software, a lack of standardization has been a major obstacle to further increasing the usefulness of NEAT. If a standard were available, formatting output to adhere to it would be quite straight forward, he said. I doubt that any specific tool can meet everyone's specific needs, added Gettings. In developing a `national' tool, many individuals' requirements must be considered, making the end-product possibly less specific to any one person's needs.


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