“Truths, half-truths, and nothing but lies”, “are they blind, wearing shaded or rose colored glasses”, “is it a myth, misconception, or…”, are just a few terms you might here from someone that is either really involved in or looking into the “green” arena. In many cases, it can be hard to tell as many of the “experts” still parrot the bad information as truth. In some cases it is because they have heard it so many times, it must be true, while in others they are simply trying to sell you something.
As many of you may recall, last month we had a great guest article from Jamie Kaye of the Elm’s Energy Group in regards to Solar Power and are we putting the cart before the horse. I really do look his common sense approach & writing style for getting points across, so I was ecstatic when he also gave us permission to repost this article. So without further ado, Jamie Kaye on Energy Myth’s and why the ball must be carried.
It is everywhere in the media today about “going green” and being more energy efficient in our homes and lives, as well as reducing our carbon footprint and our reliance on oil. For anyone in the energy efficiency field, it is no surprise that a large part of our job is getting the word out about what we do and how the energy audit is crucial for those that don’t know where to start or what to do. About a week ago, I went to a local “energy efficiency” seminar that was put on by a local HOA (or so I thought) and was excited to see what kind of primer this would be for people interested in making these positive changes. I showed up open-minded and enthused to be around people interested in energy efficiency, but left a bit frustrated when I realized the panel was mainly filled with people pushing their products and not talking about the house-as-a-system approach, or at least helping debunk some of the myths of “green” and energy efficiency.
I keep hearing people talk about their high energy bills or condensation on their AC registers, the hot spots in the summer and cold spots in the winter, and of course, the dust and allergens that are prevalent here in Hilton Head and the Southeast. With these problems though, nothing is done until something breaks and then their first thoughts are to call the installers of the products: HVAC, window sales people, insulation contractors, etc… They are not far off, but these subcontractors are probably going to focus on their products and not care how they work together with the rest of the system.
At the seminar, there was one person who talked about real problems and wasn’t just selling a magic product and that was Paul McGovern, a local energy auditor and certified professional. He spoke about airflow and why the air tightness of a house matters. He touched on the diagnostic tools and the process of finding out where you are before you start fixing things, and was excellent in talking about the specifics of infiltration. What bothered me though was the fact that all of the rest of the panel pushed their product and that is what most people heard! We are no doubt a society who craves the quick fix and want fast solutions without having to participate or change!! This type of non-participation is what allows the vultures to feast.
After the seminar, Paul spoke to a number of them, and told me later that one man in particular told him, “Thanks for the information” and that he guessed what “he would do is spray foam his house and then call Paul to see what he could do next?!” Paul told him poignantly though that this approach was a bit counterproductive and actually getting him in prior to spraying foam would allow Paul to baseline the house, let him know about the progress after the retrofits, and also ensure that the spray foam was his first logical step. Did this gentleman get it and listen? I don’t know, but if I were a betting man I would bet that he didn’t. He was searching for that quick fix.
What frustrated me more were the claims that were being made. The spray foam guy stated that you could expect 50% in energy savings from foaming your existing house. WHAT? The HVAC guy said that you could save 10% or so from installing a programmable thermostat. WHAAAAAT??? The window guy ended the night by saying for all those owning existing homes, opportunities were limited and all you could do was change the windows and doors in your house??? What the *#@!? I think the window guy was kidding and trying to sell his product like the rest of them, but I don’t think people doubted what he was saying. As we all know, many people mistakenly believe the windows are the best place to start when actually, in many situations, they at the bottom of the list! I am so glad there was not a radiant barrier sales person present though, as I may have lost my cool and began heckling for people’s sake.
A little deeper understanding of the seminar was gained the next day though, when it was discovered that the builder who put on the seminar actually owns the spray foam company. This builder himself stated that his energy bills were cut in half (YES 50%) from his previous home to his new house due to spray foam. People heard that and I know left thinking this was what they had to do (Paul’s conversations confirmed that this was true). The builder did not once represent that he had a stake in the company and owned the franchise, which in my mind was a little covert. He also never talked about his old 8 SEER unit vs. his 15 SEER unit now (or whatever). He didn’t talk about his high efficiency windows vs. the old single pane windows (or whatever he had previously). He didn’t talk about his new water heater, appliances, CFL’s, etc…. basically all slices of the pie that make up our utility bill and could weigh apples to apples. This was clear a day later, that he had a mission and that was to sell foam and I think he probably did a good job. What I am getting at here is yes, his bills may have been 50% less at his new house, but it definitely is not from just spray foam, it is due to the system!!
The problem I had is this is not the kind of primer course people need on energy efficiency. A lot of people think cutting their lights off will help them the most, or changing out their light bulbs is all they need to do to save money. Although personal habits matter, there is so much more to energy efficiency than just those actions or a single product. Energy efficiency is really fairly simple and all of the “magic” products do have a place in the system, and an important one at that, but they all need to be balanced and considered to make the system perform its best. Each of these products need to be orchestrated properly instead of getting the cart before the horse.
I am hopeful, encouraged and invigorated though. I know that it is part of my responsibility, along with other raters and auditors, to get the primer courses out there effectively and non-product biased. We have to get out in front of this wave with good information before people begin making mistakes and hurt all the potential positives that can come from retrofitting these existing houses. I can’t count how many existing homes that have been retrofitted for foam and have horrible condensation problems after the fact due to the spray guy not understanding the envelope, heat transfer, moisture management, and building science basics. My true fear is that people will get burned in this trying economic time instead of being helped and guided towards the best performing homes they can create, which saves them money and helps us all. We shouldn’t rush and throw around money, we need to allow for a road map to be laid. The hard part about knowing where to end is that you have to know where you are beginning as well, and that is where patience, education and the energy audit comes into play.
First off, I would like to thank Jamie again for allowing us to repost this article. He has since written two other great articles you might like to read; “Energy Performance Does Add Value! Just look at the HERS Rating!” located on the Home Energy Pro site & “Are Energy Audits a Commodity” which is located not only on but also on the Home Energy Pro Site.
Jamie Kaye & the ELM Energy Group offer three main services (Hilton Head, Bluffton, Beaufort, and Savannah areas in South Carolina. If you would like to learn more about this or other facets, you can reach Jamie & the ELM Energy Group , or in Alabama you can reach us here at . Thanks again Jamie for allowing us to repost this article., , and ) and they serve the