The following story, of fictional Wisconsin homeowners Ken and Barb, illustrate the expected and unexpected benefits of following the recommendations of an energy audit.
Wisconsin homeowners Ken and Barb decided to have an energy audit and give their 100-year old Madison home the energy and efficiency upgrades they’ve been promising themselves.
Their reasons were the typical ones that make it feel like the right decision.
They knew it could save them some money and they wanted to do the right thing for the environment, like so many of their neighbors have.
An auditor came out to inspect their home and gave them a report and recommendations. Like most energy audit reports, it also includes financial projections.
Typical Energy Audit Recommendations
They were pleased to see that their monthly bills will be lower, and the resale value of the house will increase when it’s time to sell. The auditor also informed them that the increased value would not affect the assessed value of the house, so there’s no downside to upgrading.
On the recommendation of the auditor they replaced their aging furnace with the latest most efficient model and new thermostat with a smartphone app.
The old water heater went (turns out it wasn’t vented properly) for a new one with better controls and direct venting.
They insulated the entire house with cellulose for a better R-value. (The R-Value is how professionals measure the resistance an insulation has to the flow of heat into or out of a building.)
Along the way they updated some unsafe electrical wiring and closed some gaps in the foundation that were letting in the wrong sort of wildlife.
Both Barb and Ken are glad they made the decision to upgrade their home efficiency. Each for different reasons, both typical and unexpected.
Barb notices daily improvements
Saving money and helping protect the environment made Barb feel RIGHT about their decision.
She also feels really GOOD about the decision for reasons that have nothing to do with money or saving the Earth.
Immediate reasons to feel good about an energy upgrade.
The following benefits appeared as soon as the upgrades were complete.
The house is quieter. The planes and buses that go by are now difficult to hear. It feels like their home has been transported to a quiet place in the country.
Consistent room temperature. The temperature is even everywhere in the room. There are no drafts and when the fan runs to circulate air it is nearly silent.
Convenient thermostat app. Anyone who has ever forgotten to turn down the thermostat before going to bed immediately loves the convenience of being able to adjust thermostat settings from a smart phone app.
No more shopping for light bulbs. The new LEDs they installed will last more than 20 years. On top of that they come on right away and can be dimmed to any level. Their slightly higher cost will be easily made up in lower electric and replacement cost.
For all the consideration of costs and payback, carbon footprint and environmental legacy – Barb realizes that she also has a simpler, more pleasant life right now and that makes the adjustments worthwhile.
Ken is still thinking about money
Ken is also thinking about the energy upgrades they did recently. At first he’s a little uneasy about all the money they had to spend up front to make them happen. This was a lot of money to spend at one time, including some that came out of their retirement account.
He also noticed the paybacks in comfort, convenience and simplicity that they saw right away.
Like Barb, he feels right about the decision, but he doesn’t yet feel good about it because he has more yet to decide.
Adding Rooftop Solar
Ken and Barb are considering adding rooftop solar panels to their home to further reduce their dependence on the electric utility and fossil fuels.
They’ve gotten a solar assessment from Legacy Solar Co-op showing that they can offset their electric usage almost entirely with a modest-sized system of several kilowatts.
The assessment included financial projections showing that the money they’ll have to spend up front will be paid back in only a few years. That was a nice surprise. Now he has to decide on the best approach financially, i.e. how exactly to pay for it.
Ken is considering the pros and cons of each financing option for their solar rooftop array.
If they choose to get a loan to finance the installation, it is likely that their electric bill and loan payment combined to be about the same as their current electric bill. Once the loan is paid back, it will be lower by hundreds of dollars a year.
If they take money out of their savings or retirement account, they’ll avoid the interest costs of a loan and end up with a guaranteed rate of return. Since most panels and solar rooftop equipment are guaranteed for 25 years (and are usable for up to 40) years, when they are retired, and their incomes are fixed, this will mean their electric costs are fixed too.
If anything does need to be upgraded after retirement, they may be able to deduct the expense (if current tax deductions for renewables continue).
Additional possibilities if they go solar
Rapid advances in battery technology mean they may soon be able to replace their dirty, noisy emergency generator – and even convert their gas appliances to electric to further reduce their fossil fuel use.
Vehicle to grid technology will also soon be available to use their electric car as an additional battery, meaning more of their appliances can be taken off natural gas.
The solar assessment from Legacy Solar Co-op has answered all of his questions except one. What are we waiting for? With the help of Legacy Solar Co-op Ken and Barb choose a solar installer and get their rooftop panels!
Benefits over Time
A few months after Ken and Barb completed the solar photovoltaic (PV) installation on their rooftop they sat down to talk with Phil – an energy auditor – to check in on how well the system is working for them.
They’ve inspected the solar panels on the rooftop to confirm that everything looks good.
Aesthetically the panels blend in with the existing shingle pattern they had on their roof. Although roofs on older homes sometimes need reinforcing to hold the extra weight of the panels, theirs was given the OK without modification after a structural inspection (an optional, but recommended step).
Since it is an older house and the roof has sagged a little, there was some minor expense for adjustable mounting feet to conform to the surface. Phil also points out the edge guards that were installed to keep out wildlife that could damage the panels and wiring.
Inside, they’ve looked at the electrical panel and inverter where the solar power comes into the house. The electrical service had been upgraded previously so they had an extra breaker slot to bring in the power.
The inverter they chose is “battery-ready” meaning that in a year or two, when batteries are more available and have some reputation for dependability they can add storage without major modifications.
There are simple displays on the inverter and meter to show how much electricity they are making, and when they are making more than they are using. At these times they are credited for excess production, so they can draw on it like a bank account.
Through an app on their phone, they can check solar production any time.
An extra consumption meter can be installed that monitors solar production, solar used before it hits the grid, the solar sold to the grid and the energy purchased from the utility. With this information, Ken and Barb can review their energy use patterns and make adjustments to their use when necessary.
Ken and Barb discover even more benefits of solar
Now they’re having coffee at kitchen table and discussing their experience.
“I’ve already noticed that our monthly electric bills are lower” says Ken, “and we haven’t even gotten to the best solar months yet.”
Barb says “I’ve really enjoyed being able to monitor our generation and I’ve showed it to a few of my friends, but is there anything that solar can do for us besides save money?”
Phil answers, “That’s a great question folks. Solar gives you a lot of flexibility to reduce your other utility bills. For example, you have an air conditioner – right?”
“Yes, but we rarely use it because it made our electric bill skyrocket” says Ken.
“Well you don’t have to worry about that anymore” Says Phil. The times when you need air conditioning are the times when your panels will be making the most electricity, so you’ll be using it right when and where you make it.
What appliances are you using natural gas for?”
“Well, there’s the furnace, water heater, clothes dryer and kitchen stove” says Barb.
Phil answers “You may be able to switch those to electric if you choose models that are efficient enough so you can stay within your solar energy budget.
If you trade out your furnace for a mini-split heat pump you’ll be heating and cooling with the same equipment. You’ll be able to take the furnace and all of that retrofitted ducting out of the basement and get more space.” You can also convert your water heater from gas to electric. Although traditional models were electricity hogs, there are new heat-pump versions that aren’t.
“How much do all of these things cost? “ Ken asks Phil.
“I’ll admit that some of these technologies are pretty new, and for other reasons may not fit your situation unless you have strong feelings about getting completely off natural gas.
You just replaced your furnace and water heater, but it looks like your clothes dryer and range are ready for replacement. Energy Star versions are available at your local appliance dealer and you’ll just have to add the 220V service to both of them.
You’ll want to look at the exact costs and savings to determine whether it’s worthwhile. And since you’re considering an electric car, extra panels could provide you enough to charge it at home. The main thing to realize is that now you have choices – your rooftop is producing the electricity that could meet all of your energy needs if you want.
Going with renewables isn’t just about saving money – it can also give you energy independence.”
“That really sounds great” says Ken. “It seems like everyone with a roof should be doing this, is there something secret about it?”
Phil answers “Solar has been around and well-known for many years but most people don’t know that it’s come down in price a lot recently, so make sure you tell all your friends about it.”
Ken and Barb learned that they have several new and affordable options to support their energy needs. So do you.
Are you thinking of making some energy improvements to your house? Are you in a similar situation as Ken and Barb? Perhaps it is time to do a site assessment for your home.
There are many such services. We recommend Green Homeowners United as a great place to start learning more about how to green your home. They also can conduct an energy audit. https://www.greenhomewi.com/
In addition, Legacy Solar Co-operative can help you make sense of many home energy improvements, especially solar. We offer solar consulting for homeowners through a free solar snapshot or in-depth solar feasibility assessment.
For more information email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.