With government incentives, rebates and loans in abundance, the demand for energy retrofits in the home or business is on the increase. The optimization of sustainability not only supports a greener planet by reducing greenhouse gases, but it can also result in significant utility cost reductions.
The U.S. Department of Energy (USDE) reports that in 2006, the nation featured a whopping 113 million residential structures, nearly 60 percent of which were built prior to 1980. The sum of homes accounted for 37 percent of the country’s electricity consumption that year, with homeowners spending a total of $225 billion on utility bills. Those same residential structures were also responsible for 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. The agency further predicts that by the year 2020, homes constructed prior to 1995 will consume approximately 70 percent of all energy used in residential structures.
These statistics underline the push by federal and state governments for home and business owners to conduct energy retrofits. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in spurring residential upgrade programs on a municipal level in dozens of states. Backed by federal efficiency grants and stimulus funds generated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the city of Tucson, Arizona, for example, optimized sustainability in more than 100 residential structures built before the year 2000 at no cost to the homeowners. This year, the Empire State Building in New York City completed a major refurbishment project that increased its Energy Star rating from a mediocre 52 to a top performance rating of 90. Building ownership conducted the overhaul with the vision to reduce utility costs by nearly 40 percent and saving at least 105,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 15 years.
A deep or “whole house” energy retrofit consists of a thorough audit of the client’s home or business, evaluating the structure’s electric and plumbing systems, appliances, ducts, insulation, lighting and windows. The audit also includes the assessment of chimneys, furnaces, water heaters and HVAC systems. Traditionally, heating and cooling systems, followed by water heaters, are the most electricity-intensive components of a building that warrant particularly careful examination by the auditor. Proper insulation and duct sealing are also important to prevent a structure from leaking both carbon dioxide and money into the environment.
Upon completion of the inspection, the auditor presents the findings of possible problems to the client in the form of a comprehensive analysis. The report also includes proposed solutions to improve the structure’s efficiency, projected costs and available incentives or rebates. Upon approval by the client, contractors go to work, implementing necessary changes.
In many cases, homeowners can reap considerable financial rewards from an energy retrofit. For every dollar invested in upgrading or replacing existing systems, according to the USDE, the home returns $2.75 in benefits in the form of utility savings, reduction of pollution, air quality improvement and a healthier living environment. With a target of 25-30 percent reduction of utility use, the agency reports, homeowners can expect to save an average of $350 per year on utility bills following a whole-house overhaul.
An energy retrofit is a cost-effective way for both home and business owners to save money while simultaneously reducing carbon footprints, helping preserve the environment for future generations.