Energy Vanguard’s Blog Has Moved

We’ve recently begun the process of integrating our online presence – Facebook fan page, Twitter, blog, and website – so please go to the Energy Vanguard website to see the latest blog posts and everything else. (Well, you can’t see ‘everything else’ just yet, but give us time.) For your convenience, here are the links:

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This will be the last post on, so please bookmark the blog link above, or better yet, become a subscriber.

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Cash for Caulkers

Remember when President Obama said that “insulation is sexy” a while back? Well, I’m happy to report that he and Congress are pushing to make things happen in the world of energy conservation.

In case you haven’t heard, chances are good that Congress will pass a jobs bill with a new program called Home Star, sometimes called Cash for Caulkers. It’s a win-win-win program that could have a significant impact on jobs, home energy use (and comfort, healthfulness, & durability), and US energy security.

The program will have two levels: Gold Star and Silver Star. For Gold Star, a homeowner has to take a whole house approach to improvements by first having a thorough assessment done by a RESNET or BPI certified energy auditor. Once the auditor identifies the cost-effective improvements, a contractor comes in and does the work.

If the house achieves 20% in energy savings, the homeowner gets $3000 to help cover the costs of the improvements. For every 5% savings beyond that, there’s another $1000 coming, up to a maximum of $8000. The total amount the homeowner can receive is also tied to the improvement costs, with 50% being the magic number. In other words, to get the full $8000 back, a home has to achieve 45% energy savings with improvements that cost $16,000 or more.

The Silver Star level allows homeowners to qualify for $1000 to $1500 for smaller improvements, with a cap of $3000. The measures that qualify are:

  • Air sealing
  • Duct sealing, retrofit, or replacement
  • Insulation in attics, walls, or floors
  • Replacement of windows, doors, and various appliances with high efficiency models

Home Star is going to be an incredible opportunity for homeowners. The amounts available through this program can be combined with other rebates and tax incentives as well to bring the costs way, way down. There’s currently a $1500 tax credit for doing this kind of work on existing homes, and I’m not sure, but you may be able to get it along with the Home Star money. Also, some utilities have rebates. For example, Georgia Power gives homeowners up to $1900 back when they participate in the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program.

If you’re a homeowner, make sure you know the details before hiring someone. I’m sure there will be a lot of scammers out there who will be very happy to take your money without delivering the goods. I’ll be posting more info about the program here in this blog as the details emerge.

If you’re a home energy rater or BPI building analyst–or you want to be one–get ready to ride the wave when it hits. Most of us are in this business because of our passion for energy conservation and the environment, and now we’re poised to see the kinds of things happening that we’ve long dreamed of.

If you need more training, there are plenty of opportunities for that. I teach a home energy rater course at Southface and am getting set up to offer the BPI building analyst and envelope professional training through Energy Vanguard. Contact me if you’d like more details.

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Filed under BPI, Home Performance, Home Star Program, RESNET

Don’t insulate your attic!

fridge vent in attic

fridge vent in attic

Well, at least not until you’ve sealed the air leaks. Most attics have a lot of holes where attic air can get into the house, or conditioned air can be lost to the attic. Don’t you just love the idea of breathing air that got sucked through that dead squirrel in the attic?

The picture above is a huge hole I found in an attic. The homeowners had their kitchen redone a few years back, and evidently the contractor thought that the fridge needed to be vented to the attic. Stupid idea! When I took the picture, I was standing in the attic and looking down at the back of the fridge. And the hole you see there is only half of it. There was more on the other side of the joist. Huge amounts of conditioned air went straight up into the attic!

The fridge vent is an unusual one, but I’m sure that other houses have it, too. Some of the more common holes in the ceiling are light fixtures, fans, wiring penetrations, and pull-down attic stairs.

An unsealed chase is another type of really big hole that I see in a lot of attics. A chase is a cavity through the house that’s meant for ducts, exhaust flues for furnaces & water heaters, and plumbing pipes. Sometimes they go all the way from the basement or crawl space to the attic and are open on both ends.

unsealed chase in attic

unsealed chase in attic

The picture at left shows an unsealed chase with a furnace flue pipe that goes from the basement to the attic. The hole at the top allows hot or cold attic air to go down through the hole and make the house uncomfortable because drywall has very little R-value. That air also finds holes in the chase walls and goes directly into the house.

To return to the title of this post, it’s a bad idea and a wasted opportunity if you just call the insulation contractor out to put more insulation in your attic because the air leaks are probably at least as important to your comfort and energy bills as inadequate insulation.

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Filed under Air sealing, Building Science

Energy Vanguard Rater Howard Feldman Meets President Obama!

Energy Vanguard Energy Ratings (EVER), a division of Energy Vanguard, is a home energy rating provider to over a dozen certified raters across the Southeast. Last Tuesday, EVER rater Howard Feldman of Hilton Head was in a small group of builders, contractors, and energy auditors that got to meet President Obama when he spoke about the Home Star program in Savannah.

In the short video here, you can see Howard occasionally. He’s the one closest to the camera, wearing glasses. This clip doesn’t show it, but he also got to speak to the President.

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Filed under Home Performance, Home Star Program

At home in the world

The 21st century, only a decade old, already has taken us on a wild ride on the economic roller coaster. The housing market inflated a huge bubble, which subsequently burst. Natural gas prices went up…then down…then way up…then down…then way down. A barrel of oil rose from about $40 up to a high of $147 in 2008. The construction industry has collapsed. People are staying in their homes and worrying about their job security.

In 2005, my friend Scott from Pennsylvania (well, really from Toronto but living in PA) visited me in Georgia. I was enveloped in the world of peak oil at that time and showed him an article that postulated that when gasoline hit $4 per gallon, the US economy would begin to falter and all hell would break loose. Is it just coincidence that gas hit $4 per gallon in the summer of 2008, and within months, the stock market went into free fall, huge corporations were deemed too big to fail, and the federal government scrambled madly to minimize the destruction?

Well, yes, in some ways it’s a coincidence because those problems in the financial industry had been building for a while. They were bound to happen sometime, but why had we built a financial system that was a house of cards anyway?

I believe that the peaking of oil production has a lot to do with the economic problems we’ve experienced in the past few years, including those in the financial industry. The US was producing about 10 million barrels of oil per day in 1970. It’s been downhill ever since, and now we’re at about 5 million barrels per day.

Let me state this simply: Energy drives economic growth. When we have to pay more for that energy because we keep importing more and more of it from overseas, we lose economic power. The shenanigans in the financial world were an attempt to masquerade that weakness as a new base of power. It was doomed to failure from the beginning.

Getting back to the main thrust of this blog, I believe that homes are hugely important to the recovery from this economic malaise we’re in. Almost every home out there wastes huge amounts of energy. We know how to fix the existing ones and build new ones so they use much less energy while increasing comfort, healthfulness, and durability. What are we waiting for?

I named my company Energy Vanguard because I believe that we have not only a responsibility to learn to live differently, but also an amazing opportunity. The downturn creates the possibility for us to try something new. Let’s seize this opportunity. Please join me in the vanguard, the energy vanguard!

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Filed under Big Picture, Peak Oil