Home audits promote saving energy - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

Home audits promote saving energy

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Posted: Friday, May 6, 2011 10:14 am

For many Valley homeowners, poorly insulated homes and inefficient air conditioning systems mean summer starts a little earlier and sometimes lasts well into the fall.

Aging homes not equipped to handle the intense summer heat, including many in the Sun Cities, not only can drain homeowners’ pocketbooks, but also their energy.

Mike Uniacke, owner of Advanced Insulation Inc., said firsthand experience and independent research have shown the majority of homeowners throughout Arizona could reduce their utility bills between 15 and 30 percent by implementing basic energy conservation strategies.

“Our job, to a certain extent, is to lessen the use and dependence of air conditioning,” Uniacke said while conducting a home audit Wednesday afternoon at the home of Sun Citian Harry Phillips. “You could say comfort and efficiency go hand in hand. We try to educate consumers on that.”

Uniacke said most homes in Arizona, including ones recently constructed, are not outfitted to maximize energy efficiency and comfort.

With the trend to “go green,” Uniacke said it has been easier for homeowners to justify the cost of a state-of-the-art audit.

Since March 2010, about 3,000 homeowners have taken advantage of Arizona Public Service’s home energy audit that aims to create energy savings for qualified customers and helps improve the comfort of their homes in both the short and long term, said Gavin Hastings, APS senior program coordinator.

Homeowners can take advantage of the APS Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program with new duct sealing and insulation, as well as heavily reduced prices for shade screens and qualified HVAC equipment from rebates offered through the federal program.

“APS is committed to a sustainable future,” said Hastings, noting the company sees a long-term benefit by not having to construct additional power stations in parts of the Valley when new homes are built. “We’re improving overall comfort and durability of a home, which could positively affect its resale value.”

Uniacke said the $99 program not only saves homeowners hundreds of dollars for retrofit services that usually cost double or triple that price, but also upward of 30 percent on future energy bills.

The fee also includes the installation of 10 compact fluorescent lamp bulbs, three faucet aerators and one low flow shower head. If a customer implements all these energy-saving improvements, they would be eligible for rebates up to $1,000.

Phillips said lowering his utility bill and knowing the home audit will pay big dividends down the road is worthwhile.

“These improvements essentially pay for themselves twice,” he said. “There is quite a lot of upside with this program.”

In addition to APS’s involvement, Hastings said the public utility also contracts with 75 privately-owned home inspection companies, including Advanced Installation, whose employees conduct the bulk of all business.

Phillips, who may rent out one of the Sun City homes undergoing the audit Wednesday afternoon, discovered there were numerous energy inefficiency issues when Uniacke and home auditor Charles Russell of Advanced Insulation performed their inspection.

With various tools, including an infrared camera, Uniacke and Russell found numerous “hotspots” and 10 to 40 percent air leakage in parts of Phillips’ 1,980-square-foot home, which was built in 1978. The temperature in Phillips’ attic alone was 105 degrees in just the first week of May.

“Three to six percent is a good figure,” Uniacke explained of air leakage. “We’re finding anywhere from twice those numbers in the homes we visit, and Sun City has been on the higher end.”

Uniacke said the majority of issues that come up in home audits in the Sun Cities include air quality issues in the home. In addition, many homeowners choose to convert garages or carports into bedrooms, and problems with proper insulation ensue.

“There’s not a lot of quality control in Sun City,” he said. “You could say comfort and efficiency go hand in hand.”

Uniacke said the weatherization of a home is not just to make it more energy efficient, but also to prevent potential carbon monoxide leaks or backdrafting, a potentially hazardous condition in which exhaust from combustion appliances does not properly exit the home. This can be due to a number of factors, including a blocked flue or pressure difference within the home.

Uniacke has been told Salt River Project customers will have a similar program roll out sometime this summer.

Visit www.aps.com/checkup for program information. Advanced Insulation can be reached at 623-939-3329 or www.advancedinsulationinc.com.

Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or zcolick@yourwestvalley.com.

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