The Green Column #39

Local Opportunities in Home Energy-Efficiency Upgrades

December 13, 2010—As the weather gets colder, homes that aren’t energy-efficient will become increasingly uncomfortable. Adding insult to injury, higher energy bills, the result of energy inefficiency, compounds homeowner discomfort. However, options are available for homeowners wanting a cozier home, as well as a larger bank account this winter.

Most homes have the potential to save energy. A typical home uses 1.5 to 2 times as much energy as necessary due to inadequate insulation, excessive air leakage, and inefficient heating and cooling systems.

Interested homeowners can contact a professional energy auditor/assessor to conduct an energy audit/assessment of their home. Energy efficiency is not the same as energy conservation. Energy efficiency, according to Marc Shkolnick, Energy Services Manager for Lincoln Electric System (LES), is “the optimal use of our current assets.” Energy conservation, on the other hand, focuses on lifestyle and behavioral changes that result in less energy use. Most people are unwilling to make changes in their behavior, so most energy savings in this area are short-lived.

A professional energy audit/assessment typically has four main goals:

  1. conserve energy, increase efficiency and save money,
  2. reduce the carbon footprint of the home by reducing energy byproducts,
  3. increase comfort in the home
  4. enhance the home’s health and safety.

Professionals use several tools to make their determinations. First, a blower door is installed to test for air pressure and air leakage followed by an infrared gun scan to look for heat pattern irregularities. Then the auditor/assessor will perform a comprehensive manual investigation to check duct seals and insulation for air leakage. These tests result in recommendations ranging from inexpensive caulking or weather stripping to new doors or windows. Energy audits/assessments cost about $300.00, according to Doug Gates, a private energy auditor/assessor.

Homeowners can also initiate the home energy audit/assessment process through local contractors that partner with LES through their Sustainable Energy Program (SEP). Through SEP, LES customers can receive cash incentives to make their homes more energy efficient. Some of the SEP incentives include whole-house sealing and insulation, high-efficiency heat pump and central air conditioning.

A local homeowner, Don Ritchey, interested in adding insulation to his attic, learned about the SEP program from a Nebraska Building Products contractor. LES’s contractor partners are an important part of the SEP program.

After the contractor and Ritchey visited about insulation and the SEP program, an energy auditor/assessor performed an initial blower door test to get a baseline energy reading of his home and to test for deficiencies, as well as, opportunities for improvements.

Ritchey’s 50 year-old home qualified for the “whole house sealing and insulation” incentive program. Insulation has a sizeable impact on the heating and cooling equipment in a home. After wall and attic insulation added to his home to Ritchey’s for the first time, he says the biggest benefit is increased comfort.

Once the improvements have been made, a second blower door test is performed to confirm increased energy efficiency and to estimate the homeowners’ future energy savings.

Ritchey said the estimated energy savings figure was right on the nose, about $270 saved a year. Ritchey also praised the SEP program and LES’s partner contractors. “They couldn’t have made the process any easier,” he stated.

Shkolnick says energy saved from each year’s home energy efficiency improvements builds upon the previous year’s energy savings. Currently, the energy savings impact to date is approximately 11.65 mega watts, which could potentially power four wind turbines.

According to Shkolnick, barriers between consumers and energy efficiency are:

Too much information Consumers are continuously bombarded with messages and information. Most consumers don’t have the time, energy or expertise to research energy rebates, incentives, criteria, etc.

Low energy rates Currently, energy rates are low, making energy efficiency a lower priority.

The renter/landlord conundrum Landlords typically don’t pay their rental property’s energy bills, and the renter doesn’t want to invest in property s/he doesn’t own, resulting in energy-inefficient homes.


Energy Star A joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that provides information on saving money and protecting the environment through energy-efficient products and practices.

LES Sustainable Energy Program, Online Energy Checkup, videos, quarterly television programs and a list of SEP contractors.

Nebraska Energy Office Provides information on funding sources, programs, do-it-yourself energy efficiency tips and more.

Future Opportunities

Omaha and Lincoln will share $10 million in stimulus funds for the Department of Energys Retrofit Ramp-Up Initiative for energy-efficient building retrofits. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 make these funds possible. Lincoln’s program, named Lincoln Energy Challenge, will assist homeowners in targeted Lincoln neighborhoods take advantage of these funds for improving their home’s energy efficiency.

LES will partner with the Lincoln Energy Challenge program by filling in the gaps with funding, education and support.

For more information on the Lincoln Energy Challenge program, visit the website. Do it for comfort. Do it for the community.

Two benefits of energy-efficient homes and are increased comfort and health for the homeowners. But improving the energy efficiency in individual homes also creates benefits enjoyed by the entire community. These benefits include: postponing the need to build additional power plants, keeping energy costs low, reducing the amounts of pollution and carbon dioxide and lowering the effects of environmental damage. Let’s make Lincoln a healthier, more sustainable community, one energy-efficient home at a time.

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