We understand that oil has been an effective low cost heat source for over a hundred years in the Puget Sound. However, today cleaner and more efficient options, such as natural gas and electricity, are becoming more affordable. Coupled with the rising prices of heating oil – from $2.00 a gallon in 2007 to $4.50 a gallon in 2012 – it is easy to see why homeowners are making financial and environmental choices to switch. In response, many heating oil companies are expanding their service offerings to meet customer needs. For example, Olsen Energy Services, Community Power Works subcontractor, is helping customers install new high efficiency heating systems.
Photo: Old Oil Fuel Truck (Source: http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~dickbolt/SpfldFuelOilTruck.JPG)
Every couple of months following the audit, a researcher called me to see if we had made any of the recommended changes. And every month I reported to her with chagrin that we had not done a single thing. We had not even installed a balloon in the chimney to prevent drafts; a $40 fix that required no construction skills at all! The last time the researcher called, it was to discern the barriers that I was encountering in making the changes and to get some ideas of what I needed in order to maximize my energy audit. I knew exactly what I needed: a referral to a reliable contractor who could provide me an estimate and who was well-versed in home weatherization and other energy savings types of construction.
Apparently I wasn’t the only person to give this feedback to the researcher, because now the home energy audit process for Seattleites is new and improved! And it includes Community Power Works, a partner of the City of Seattle that specializes in helping home and business owners identify areas where they can save energy and then actually implement the ideas!read more
Photo caption: From left to right, Phil Sewell, Carl Stevenson, Steve Thoreson, Michael Adams, and Ryan Garrison (kneeling).
Speaking of HomeRx, the contractor that we featured in our last post about the Adley House, we wanted to tell you a little bit more about them.
“The home felt different immediately and the home owner noticed it as soon as he walked in the front door. The home smelled clean and fresh, the air was the right humidity, the temperature was mild, and the home was quiet. Building science was real. I had believed it, but this was the first time I’d witnessed it firsthand. It really works, and it’s wonderful. I only wish it could be photographed.” ~ Bob Thoreson
First of all, it’s important to note that all of our contractor partners are certified by the Building Performance Institute (BPI), which focuses on helping homeowners achieve energy efficiency through comprehensive evaluations and weatherization plans. In a nutshell, BPI is, as they tell us on their website, “A national standards development and credentialing organization for residential energy efficiency retrofit work.” The BPI standards and certifications are considered to be the highest in the industry. We also require all of our contractors to pay a living wage to all employees, and encourage them to hire from local training providers like Got Green and Seattle Central Community College. In short, they are highly qualified energy and weatherization experts who do great work and take great care of their employees.read more
When Community Power Works asked Rainier Beach resident Tim Aguero why he joined the program, he told us, “I needed to join the green revolution!” By heating his home with oil, Aguero said, he joined millions of people who are too dependent on fossil fuels doing long-term damage to the environment. “If everybody does this, if everybody pumps all of this insulation into their house, and improves their heating system, we can make a huge difference in the environment. I mean, it would be massive.”
The Agueros have two young children, and both work at home. With so much daily activity in their home, the family is seeking a cleaner and less expensive heat source. This was especially true after learning from their Community Power Works Energy Auditor, Tom Balderston of Conservation Services Group, that their energy consumption was 14% higher than the Seattle average, and that their carbon output was over 10 tons a year.
<VIDEO: TIM’S PERSONAL VALUES>
After talking with neighbors and consulting with Community Power Works energy and finance experts, the Agueros decided to have a complete home energy makeover. Tim was delighted to learn that he could donate the oil left in his tank instead of burning it before the project could begin. As it was, the project kicked off on a Thursday morning, replacing the oil furnace with a ducted heat pump. The following Monday and Tuesday, Raatz Construction blew 50 bales of insulation into the previously un-insulated walls, and finished up air sealing, installing an efficient bathroom fan, and plugging holes.read more
Making the switch from oil – the most expensive way to heat your home
Option B could mean installing a high efficiency gas furnace that costs about $5k or a standard gas furnace that is 15% less efficient and costs about $3k.
Option C could mean installing a forced air or ductless heat pump. A forced air unit will be more expensive option ($8k) compared to $4k for the ductless unit. The forced air, however, will heat a larger area of the house than a ductless model. The ductless units are good for heating large open spaces like your living room/kitchen/entry area. Additional indoor units add $1.5k each to the initial $4k.
At current energy prices, a high efficiency gas furnace would cost half as much as an oil furnace and an inverter driven heat pump would cost about a third as much as an oil furnace.
Here are some other things to consider if you are on the fence about switching from oil:
Upfront v. Operating Costs. While the upfront costs of some of these options are significantly higher than others, the added efficiency of these more expensive heaters will pay for themselves over time.read more
Both Ways & CPW for Small Business: A better biscuit and kitchen with a view
When Both Ways Café moved into its space on Genesee near Lake Washington 12 years ago, the place was in pretty rough shape. Owner Dick Wall says, “There was another restaurant in here before us and it was pretty ugly.” Anyone who has been in the space since then can attest that Wall’s investments have paid off in Both Ways current charm and to-die-for biscuits.
But when a convection oven started to fail, putting those biscuits at risk, it was clear that something needed to be done. Long-time customer, and approved Community Power Works Contractor, Jason Lear with Batt + Lear saw this as an opportunity for Wall, and suggested that he look into the Community Power Works for Small Business program. According to Lear, the program offered, “A real cooking benefit by helping to defray costs of the new equipment, a real energy benefit by including efficiency measures for the building, and a real upfront financial benefit by offering incentives and financing to help pay for it.”
It didn’t take much for Wall, already environmentally and commercially savvy, to see the big picture. “The incentives are awesome,” Wall said. “This is a low profit- margin business and we really have to watch all of our expenses, so we appreciate any help that we can get.”
During the upgrade, Both Ways replaced its biscuit oven, converted to innovative, programmable LED lighting, and installed external solar-powered lighting to address safety on the corner during the restaurant’s off-hours after lunch and through the night.read more
When Renee and Alex moved into their 1912 Lakewood-Seward Park craftsman home seven years ago, they knew there was a lot of work to be done. “But we thought it was a happy house,” Renee said, “with great ‘bones’ and in a great location.”
With drafty floors and windows, patchy insulation, and an inefficient oil furnace, an energy upgrade was high on the wish list of home improvements. But with so many considerations involved in completing an upgrade; between finding a good auditor and reliable contractors whose work is guaranteed, it was daunting to start the project. “When I stumbled across the Community Power Works website, I was excited about the chance to do this work in a supported way, with accountability for contractors and auditors around energy saving outcomes,” said Renee.
With the help of Community Power Works’ approved contractors Batt + Lear, Renee and Alex were able to replace their oil furnace with a ductless heat pump, install a heat pump water heater, add insulation to the attic, air seal the floor, install weather stripping and storm windows, and replace single-pane windows with energy efficient ones.
The results? “There is a noticeable difference already in the comfort level of the house – it is warm and not drafty,” said Renee. Even better, the upgrade is projected to reduce energy use by 60%!
“It feels like an investment into the right stuff – investing in systems and approaches that will save money and energy over the long run,” said Renee. “It gives a sense of doing the right thing for our house and the world.”read more
The benefits of an energy audit are numerous. While learning cost-effective ways to reduce your energy consumption and improve your comfort are the primary benefits, many customers have also found that an energy audit uncovers hidden problems about their home that they may never have been addressed otherwise.
Dirt and dust found in the attic of a homeowner.
The Guanlao Family, for example, learned through a $95 audit that they had a mold problem in their home caused by poor ventilation, improper insulation, and a lack of airflow in their attic. Fortunately, Community Power Works helped the family upgrade their home, which offered a quick and affordable solution to the mold problem.
We checked in with the Guanlao family last week. Mr. Guanlao reports that not only have his energy bills been cut in half, his family (and his plants) have experienced numerous health benefits since their upgrade was completed over a year ago. He writes: “I have observed that our house plants are now healthier and have bright leaves. Before our upgrade, during winter they would just die no matter how much I would increase the temperature of our heater. Most importantly, we are not getting sick, which we usually experience at this time of year.”
In addition to finding allergy-inducing mold lurking behind walls, building science experts routinely find other hidden problems during home energy audits that can impact occupants’ health and safely. For example, Community Power Works auditors and contractors are trained extensively through the Building Performance Institute (BPI) to carefully audit the Combustion Appliance Zone of each home they work in. A Combustion Appliance Zone—or CAZ—is an area in your home that contains oil, natural gas, or propane consuming device, such as furnaces, water heaters, gas stoves, and fireplaces.read more
Community Power Works is a Seattle neighborhood-based building retrofit program that will achieve deep energy savings and create green jobs.