Michigan homeowners improve on energy efficiency

Jan 3, 2012

by Tanya Ott for The Environment Report

It’s cold outside… and maybe inside, if your house isn’t properly insulated. Home energy efficiency is a big issue and a new study gives Michigan kudos for making it a priority.

Randy Rice has lived in his Southgate, Michigan house for 13 years. He’s lived there – and often shivers there…

“Certainly believe that the air was leaking upstairs. We could feel some breezes. I just saw dollars flying out the window.”

Rice replaced the windows five years ago and it helped… but he still worries about leaks around the windows. So he called in...

“Amanda Godward, with Ecotelligent Homes. I’m the owner and energy auditor.”

Godward’s first step is to interview customers like Randy Rice. She takes house measurements, checks out insulations in the attic and windows. Then…. she goes all high tech with the “thermal infrared scan.”

“We use this to find flaws in the insulation, in the walls, without having to do any destructive testing.”

She turns on a fan that pulls all of the air out of the room. It creates a vacuum so cold air from the outside is pulled inside. She can see, on a scanner, all the little cracks and holes where air is sneaking in.

“… Around windows, around light fixtures. And by not sealing those air leaks you’re allowing your house to have drafts, which causes it to be uncomfortable, but also letting the air that you paid to heat in the winter time literally fly out through those leaks.”

Godward did an initial energy audit on Randy Rice’s home a while back. She suggested changes like heavier insulation in the attic, caulking light fixtures and windows, and replacing weather stripping. She’s back at the house today to see if it made a difference.

“Yellow is hot and purple is cold so we’re looking for areas that are purple because that’s where the cold air from outside is being drawn into the warm house.”

When all’s said and done, Godward announces that the air leakage is reduced by 15 percent. For Randy Rice – that translates to about $150 in savings each year.

“In four and a half years I should actually be saving money and able to pay off what I’ve invested today.”

Efforts like this by homeowners and other measures snagged Michigan top honors as most improved state on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy scorecard for 2011. Michigan jumped 10 spots in the rankings. Michael Shiortino is the council’s senior research analyst.

“Like any investment there’s an upfront cost and consumers basically have to weigh what types of investments they want to make. Insulation is an investment. You’re going to get the payback though. And I think what energy efficiency has proven is it’s a very reliable payback. You’re going to get your payback after a certain length of time.”

Sciortino also points to a 2008 Michigan law that requires utilities to meet an energy efficiency savings goal of one percent of their total sales per year. The Michigan Public Service Commission estimates that for every dollar utility companies spend on energy efficiency programs, customers save three dollars in avoided energy costs.

You can save too. Energy auditor Amanda Godward says the easiest fixes include caulking windows, putting those little foam gaskets around your electrical outlets and switching to compact fluorescent lights. That, alone, can save up to $250 a year.

Special thanks to Meg Cramer for her help with this story.