Invest in Energy Efficient Building Improvements for 2014 (Guest Blog by Rob Hosken of Building Performance Architecture)

Invest in Energy Efficient Building Improvements for 2014Happy New Year! This is the time of year when, unless we’re doing something active outdoors, we need to be indoors to be comfortable. We want our homes and workplaces to be comfortable, and we don’t want to spend huge sums of money for that comfort.

That’s where energy efficiency pays a key role. Energy efficiency gives us the ability to have comfortable buildings at a reasonable cost, and allows us to be “green” as well; creating less pollution in the process of staying comfortable.

But, there’s also something else people think about a lot at this time of the year: Money. How did we wrap up last year’s budget? How can I do better this year? What can I do with some of my money to reduce my tax burden and electricity bills? One of the best answers to the last two of those questions is, “Invest in energy efficiency!”

Instead of thinking of it as a “New Year’s Resolution” we can ignore in a few weeks, let’s consider energy efficiency as an investment in building improvements. We are entering an era when the unique investment potential of energy efficiency is catching on in a big way, and large amounts of capital are beginning to flow into the energy efficiency space.

For instance, over the past several years, the Pennsylvania Treasury Department has been funding home energy efficiency loans, through the Keystone Home Energy Loan Program (“Keystone HELP”). Loans made through this program have a very low default rate, because the financial benefits of energy efficiency make it easier for borrowers to repay the loans. Because of the high quality of these loans, in early 2013, private investors purchased a bundle of almost 4,700 Keystone HELP loans, with an estimated value of $31.3 million.

Businesses are also realizing that energy efficiency can boost their bottom line. The Geisinger Health System, based in Danville, PA, has a facilities manager who has achieved financial returns of 30 percent per year via energy efficiency projects and smart power purchasing strategies. With the profit margin on medical services nowhere near that level, the hospital system has been reinvesting a portion of its annual energy cost savings into new efficiency projects. Over time, Geisinger has achieved an enviable degree of financial stability, and has become one of the greenest hospital systems in the country.

Most methods of improving building energy efficiency are well-known, although the key to financial success is knowing which solutions are best for each situation, and knowing how to optimize the solution for the best results in each building.

Here are some key principles to making your home and workplace more energy efficient:

1)    In a four-season climate, for single family homes and other small or low-occupancy buildings, heating efficiency and insulation are important in the overall energy use picture. For larger or higher-occupancy buildings, however, cooling efficiency and reductions in internal electric power use take higher-priority.

2)    Air sealing is important for all types of buildings, from small homes to high-rise structures. The phrase “buildings need to breathe” is true in some ways, but it does not mean that you should let air leak through the walls during heating or cooling seasons.

3)    After buildings are air-sealed (saving heating and cooling costs), it is important to make sure there is enough fresh air for building occupants. In many buildings, one of the most efficient ways to do this is with an energy recovery ventilator, which exchanges heat & moisture between outgoing exhaust air and incoming fresh air, so that the incoming fresh air will be closer to the desired indoor temperature & humidity levels, and less heating or cooling is required to condition the incoming fresh air.

4)    The best time to install high-performance windows and doors is when the building is first being built. In renovation projects, energy-efficient doors and windows usually only pay for themselves in energy savings if the original windows and doors were very leaky, with low-performing glass as well. But, if improving comfort or efficiency is more important than financial return on investment, there is still a place for window and door replacement.

Other things to check out:

  • LED lighting – more efficient and bulbs last longer than compact fluorescents
  • ENERGY STAR qualified appliances, heating equipment, cooling equipment, and water heaters.
  • Plumbing drain heat recovery – use heat from water going down the drain stack to pre-heat water going to the water heater.

To help implement energy efficient building improvements for your home or workplace, there are a number of funding and financial incentive programs. One good place to look for financial incentives is your local utility company – they may have energy efficiency incentives that cover a variety of energy efficient technologies.

Another great resource for energy efficiency finance information is the U.S. Department of Energy’s online Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (www.dsireusa.org). In addition to a comprehensive listing of programs in all states, DSIRE has information on Federal Energy Efficiency incentives.

As good financing terms and incentives for energy efficiency become more readily available, improving building energy efficiency will become an obvious choice due to its affordability. That will enable people and businesses to put more resources into energy efficiency efforts, so they will achieve better results for their bottom line, for comfort and health, and for the planet.

Rob Hosken is a registered architect, building energy efficiency consultant, and the owner of a firm called Building Performance Architecture.  With firsthand knowledge of energy efficiency’s potential, Mr. Hosken has tirelessly promoted building energy efficiency, both in his professional work and in his service on the board of directors of the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund.