New and Notable

November 06, 2008
November/December 2008
A version of this article appears in the November/December 2008 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Mainstreaming Renewables

Borrego Solar partners with Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club stores to bring solar to the masses. In a pilot program, members who shop at one of nine participating Sam’s Club stores in Southern California will find a kiosk at the end of the shopping aisles. There they can stop and find out just how easy and affordable it is to transition their home to solar power. The kiosks will give millions of shoppers a tangible feeling of what solar is. If they are interested in finding out more, customers can leave their contact information for a Borrego representative to call them later. Borrego’s President Aaron Hall says, “I think in general it’s still new enough that people feel a little intimidated in being sold on solar, whereas they can explore the kiosk, read a little bit, and if they are interested, say, ‘Yeah, I want someone to call me about this.’”

Sam’s is a members-only discount chain, similar to Price Club and Costco, where shoppers pay an annual membership fee to receive deep discounts on high-volume stuff. Sam’s Club is geared to the homeowner and small-business owner, who benefit from the high-volume discounts from a reputable source, allowing homeowners who didn’t think they could afford the initial outlay for solar panels to get in the game. Borrego is not going to skimp on quality to offer discounts to solar customers. As Hall says, the panels, other equipment, and installation professionals used will be of the same high quality as those they offer their other business and residential customers. “It’s just a different means to finding the end customer,” says Hall.

Borrego will handle everything, including designing the right-size system, securing permits, engineering, installation, and the paperwork to get rebates. If the pilot program is successful, Borrego and Sam’s Club plan to roll out the program to stores nationwide.

For more information:
To learn more about Borrego Solar Power, go to

Thermostat Recycling Program Meets Energy Optimizer Program

Kansas City Power and Light (KCP&L), the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Honeywell International will help recycle mercury-containing thermostats that are replaced under KCP&L’s Energy Optimizer program.

Because older thermostats may contain mercury, it is important to dispose of them properly. Following a suggestion from DNR’s Kansas City ombudsman, KCP&L and Honeywell’s program, Utility Solutions, decided to recycle used mercury switch thermostats through the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC), a national nonprofit organization that offers a free solution for the proper disposal and recycling of thermostats. TRC is funded and operated by thermostat-manufacturing companies. Collection takes place through HVAC wholesale outlets, HVAC contractors that meet certain size or location criteria, and local household hazardous waste facilities.

The Energy Optimizer program allows KCP&L’s residential and small commercial customers to replace their current thermostats with Honeywell programmable thermostats at no charge. The thermostats include a paging system that allows KCP&L to cycle air conditioners off and on for brief intervals. This happens only on the hottest days of the year, when electricity consumption peaks. By enrolling in the Energy Optimizer program customers can save both energy and money. According to DOE, consumers who use programmable thermostats can save up to 20% on their electric bills.

For more information:
Any residential or small-business customer in Missouri or Kansas who has a compatible central A/C unit can sign up for the Energy Optimizer program. For more information, or to sign up for this program, phone (1-866)882-4429 or log on to

For more information on the TRC program to recycle mercury from thermostats, go to

Energy Star Water Heaters

The Energy Star residential water heater program includes five different types of technology:  high-efficiency gas storage, whole-home gas tankless, gas-condensing, heat pump, and solar. The Energy Star criteria for these technologies incorporate requirements for energy efficiency, hot water delivery, safety, and warranties.

DOE’s long-term goal is to transform the residential water heater market to advanced energy-efficient technologies, which in turn will achieve significant national energy savings. The program takes effect January 1, 2009. At that time, DOE will launch residential water heater product pages on the Energy Star Web site. The information on these pages will focus on consumer education.

Readers interested in the Energy Star criteria can review the Water Heater Criteria Development page:

—Richard H. Karney
Richard H. Karney, P.E. is Energy Star products manager at DOE.

RESNET’s New Label

Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET)’s Rating Sampling standard requires that a label be posted on a home that is rated according to that standard. The label says: “This home has been certified using a sampling protocol in accordance with Chapter 6 of the RESNET Standards (see”

To help raters to meet this requirement, RESNET will be making HERS labels available to post on the home’s circuit box. These HERS labels will show the home’s energy rating, as determined by the rater. It will help RESNET raters to meet the RESNET labeling requirement.

The label will be preprinted, and the rating software program will be used to enter the information for the rated home. The RESNET raters can then print out the labels on their computers.

It is not mandatory that rating providers use the RESNET label. The only requirement is that sampled homes must display the disclosure label required in the national home energy rating standards.

When the labels have been preprinted, and the accredited rating software providers have released a revised version of their software program that includes the command for printing out the label, RESNET will be taking orders for the new labels from their raters. There will be no charge for ordering the labels.

For more information:
To learn more about RESNET and the new RESNET labels, go to

Inefficiency Is Not a Crime

With security cameras mounted throughout public places—and on many private homes—we have become people who live in public. Several U.K. newspapers and many blogs and newsletters have reported the (sort of) humorous story of Zally Huseyin, an English police community support officer and mother of five, whose colleagues raided her home for a suspected cannabis factory in the attic. A helicopter—on a different mission—was flying over Zally’s neighborhood in Cambridgeshire, filming with an infrared camera. It detected the roof of Zally’s freestanding home, glowing red as if there were a spotlight in the attic, and flagged the home for a visit from the Law. The officers would have broken in had Zally not been home; she answered the door confused and rattled. She thought her colleagues had dropped by for a cup of tea. Instead, they were raiding her house for a suspected pot farm. They apologetically showed Zally a DVD of the flyover, showing a great deal of heat radiating out the top of her home, as recorded by the helicopter’s onboard thermal imager. After a quick search, the officers didn’t find anything suspicious, only poor insulation. As Zally complains, “My heating bill was £1,000 a year. I feel ripped off.” But the four-year-old home’s developer, David Wilson, claims the home complies with all of the local standards for efficiency.

The story raises the question of whether using spy planes to detect energy loss—in addition to pot factories in attics—is a breach of our privacy. “The U.S. tried that decades ago,” says Home Energy’s Alan Meier, “but stopped because of privacy fears.” Now things might be a little different, with software such as Google Earth able to zero in on backyard swimming pools, for example. If there were such a service—one that used spy planes to detect energy-leaking roofs—would people respond and button up their homes? A few years ago, a study of hot roofs was performed in the U.K. using a spy plane that was hired to fly over the London borough of Haringey. Maps were used to match up the infrared photos with the homes’ locations on a grid. And the study was published online, as a series of maps. It isn’t clear whether this led people to change their behavior or upgrade  their insulation, or if it just made them uncomfortable. A house on the map that showed no heat activity, for example, might signal an empty house to potential thieves. The owners of a pot factory might see that their roof was hot and work hard to insulate it better.

One might also wonder: Does the energy used to fuel the spy plane offset the energy saved by tightening up a home?

For more information:
To see the Haringey Interactive Heat Loss Map, go to

Learning Construction from the Roof Up

The Challenge program in Wilmington, Delaware, is a nonprofit construction-training program that teaches job readiness skills and basic skills to at-risk youth ages 18–21. In this challenging yet innovative and practical program, the hands-on work the kids perform benefits the community directly as well, as they work on low-income residences and community facilities.

Their first project was to renovate a depressed row home in downtown Wilmington. That was in 1997, and they have been doing historic restoration, boat building, and timber frame construction, and rehabbing other city buildings, ever since.

The Challenge participants are facing low-wage jobs, no jobs, or in some cases, incarceration. This program gives them a chance to get some real job skills in ways that boost their self-esteem and discipline, while they give back to the community—and the environment.

It is icing on the cake that the Challenge program also happens to practice green building principles. Students are taught to source recycled products, reuse building materials, and recently, to help install living roofs. Working with Rick Truett at Furbish Company of Baltimore, who has extensive experience in green roof installations, they worked on a project to gain experience on a real green roof installation.

The first of these projects was Barclay’s USA Bank, on the Wilmington waterfront. Participants were involved in all aspects of the installation. They helped to lay down the drainage material, install the waterproofing membrane, clean and install the protection fabric, haul and spread the growing medium, broadcast the cuttings (in this case Sedum), and lay pavers.

These projects and others like them are giving these at-risk youth unique and valuable skills and hands-on training. Those skills and that training will put them ahead of the curve if they choose to apply for jobs in the green building industry.

For more information:
To learn more about the Challenge program, go to


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