Energy Upgrade California—Up Close and Personal


Our furnace is approaching 25 years old and we have no cooling capabilities, so my wife Michele and I are looking into buying some new equipment before the temperature climbs this summer. I am especially interested in installing a mini-split heat pump, which would allow us to get rid of the ductwork and furnace in our unconditioned attic. But the initial expense may be a hindrance.

We knew that the Energy Upgrade California (EUC) incentives for retrofitting our home would not be around forever, so I contacted the EUC folks and picked an HVAC contractor, Stewart Heating and Air. I had met Bill Stewart, an icon of the HVAC and energy efficiency world of the Bay Area, at an EUC intro meeting at our local library three years ago. Bill’s company was getting customers $4,000 back for $8,000 of work through the rebates offered through the EUC program. Scott Mellburg of BayREN is our EUC advisor and is standing by to help us through the process and meet with us and our contractor any time we think it will be helpful.

Basically there are two ways to get the rebates. First, you can choose from a set of measures from a list that includes air sealing, adding insulation, and other retrofits. The measures you choose determine the amount of the rebate. Second, you can drop your energy use, according to modeling, by 10% for a $1,000 rebate, up to 45% for a $4,500 rebate (Advanced Home Uprgade). The cost of the audit, $300, will be reimbursed as long as work is completed through the Advanced Home Upgrade program. Michele and I are leaning towards the advanced option, even though we had air sealing done and insulation added to our attic several years ago, and it may be difficult to reach that 45% energy savings. 

This morning Rich Cunningham from Energuy (see photo), a third party auditor, came to do the energy audit. He performed the usual blower door and duct leakage measurements, took some electric plates off the outside walls to confirm that the walls have no insulation, did a number of safety checks including measuring CO levels, and looked at the crawlspace, among other things. Instead of depressurizing the house, Rich pressurized it to do the leakage testing.

Michele and I were working last night to clean out our fireplace, and I was pumping caulk into the space between the walls and the floor near the fireplace. Last time we had a blower door test done, the house was depressurized and we had some black soot spewing into our living room. No problem this time, with the pressure aimed out of the house and not into it. Rich explained that for some customers, feeling the air rushing into the depressurized home is a direct learning experience. The last time we had work done on the house, we could feel the air rushing in through the unsealed can lights all over the house. But we were sold on air sealing already and didn’t need the dramatic demonstration for a second time. In fact, our house may now be a little cleaner than it was last night after being pressurized.

Rich also pressurized the whole house, not just the ducts, to 25 Pa before doing the duct leakage testing. This is called “testing leaks to the outside”. In a week we will sit down with someone from Stewart Heating and Air to discuss the results of our audit, possible measures to install, and possible rebate amounts. Rich will come back after to do the test-out.

Here are the numbers so far (stay tuned for more):

Table 1. Air Leakage Tests (CMF @ 50PA)

Sept 2007 test in air leakage

Sept 2007 test-out air leakage

April 2014 test-in air leakage

April 2014 test-out air leakage

2,484

1,409

1,850

     ?


Table 2. Duct Leakage Tests (%)

Sept 2007 test-in duct leakage

Sept 2007 test-out duct leakage

April 2014 test-in duct leakage

April 2014 test-out duct leakage

33%

7%

22%

     ?

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Comment by Glen Gallo on April 14, 2014 at 7:56am

It is curious to see a 15% difference in the duct test from the test out of 2007 to the current test in. If I had numbers like that I would question one of the tests or method of work performed in 2007. Assuming you had no work done to duct work or the system since the 2007 test out  a 15% change is huge. 

Comment by Nate Adams on April 14, 2014 at 7:50am

I look forward to hearing more about the inside of the program!

The big question that came to mind for me is why do you have to spend so much time and energy figuring out what the program will pay for, then letting that drive your decision? Why can't you figure out what the best fit is, and get a rebate for that? Wouldn't it be better to pay for the Negawatt, which is what the utilities already want?

It sounds like an awful big headache and an awful lot of up front work to essentially figure out how to game the system. 

Now that I'm essentially outside my rebate system, I see it with different eyes, and it's not a good view in many ways. It pushed me towards small jobs and running my butt off all the time, plus mediocre results. I couldn't see it before, but I sure can now. What could you see if you didn't have EU CA? What would you do differently on your project?

Those are my thoughts, Jim, for what it's worth. What are yours?

Comment by Ed Minch on April 14, 2014 at 7:14am

What sort of energy bill do you have now, what is  your target bill, and what will it cost to get there both before and after rebates?  How big is the house?  How many DD both winter and summer do you have to deal with? In your climate, what is the wall insulation of choice?  Will you condition the crawl?  Do you have any ducts outside the envelope?

So interesting to see the difference in BD and duct tests from 2007 to 2014 - a big part of this is the accuracy of the equipment which BPI does not check.  RESNET requires a gauge check and an overall check with tolerances. These are easy to do and all should do at least the gauge check frequently (monthly?). 

Good luck with the retrofit.

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