Fruits and veggies and a side of dessert

Fruits and veggies and a side of dessert

There’s a saying in the energy efficiency world that you have to eat your energy efficiency fruits and vegetables before you can have your solar dessert. A little over a year ago, homeowners Amanda Slepski and Patti West thought they might not get either. Amanda’s father performed an audit of their Georgetown home and estimated the cost of an upgrade, including energy efficiency improvements and solar panels, at close to $50,000. With the costs seemingly insurmountable, Amanda and Patti placed their green dreams on the shelf.

Months later, the couple received a letter from Community Power Works boasting unprecedented incentives to help homeowners move from oil heat to gas or electric heat.  Amanda says, “With the incentives, rebates, and financing options that were made available through CPW, we were thrilled to be able to do something that seemed impossible just a year before!”

Amanda and Patti worked with Community Power Works contractor Puget Sound Solar to develop a comprehensive scope of work – from the efficiency fruits and veggies to the shiny solar dessert. After decommissioning the home’s oil furnace, converting to electric heat pumps, upgrading the knob and tube wiring, insulating the attic, installing efficient lighting, and adding solar panels, Amanda says, “It was amazing to see how tight we were able to get [the house], and we were surprised by how much solar we could produce. We will be able to pay off the solar panels within five years!” And Amanda’s father shares in their delight. Amanda says, “I think my dad is the most excited. He drives people by the house to point out our solar panels!” read more

What is Home Performance–and Who Does It?

What is Home Performance–and Who Does It?

Marketing people love the word “performance.” It just screams better. It’s sort of like a nacho chip-maker using the word “Xtreme” to describe the flavor of their chips. It elicits instant curiosity to experience an Xtreme flavor—or in this case home performance. But, what is home performance exactly?

Home performance is the idea that taking a “whole house” approach to an energy upgrade will be better than just buying and installing parts individually. But, does this holistic approach really make it better?  Or “green?”  These are fair questions to ask about home performance, so let’s take a look at them one at a time.

To put it into perspective, imagine a tree. On your imaginary tree, do you picture roots?  If not, why?  Most likely it’s because you don’t see the roots on most trees, but that doesn’t mean that the roots are not important. The tree is a system. It needs healthy roots, bark, limbs, and leaves in order to grow and be all it can be.

It turns out, a house is a system too, just like a tree. What works in one house may not work in another. Home performance—what Community Power Works is all about—is both art and craft, based on building science, where energy auditors and home performance contractors are trained to think of your house as a dynamic system. Home performance provides a customized solution for every home.

How does home performance make your home “green”?  The goal of home performance is for every house to be comfortable, safe, durable, and energy efficient, and have good indoor air quality. Most green building programs award points for building durability, indoor air quality, health, safety, and energy efficiency. Without building science and performance-built homes, we would have no truly green building programs! read more

Ductless Heating and Cooling Systems: Not Your Father’s Heat Pump!

Ductless Heating and Cooling Systems: Not Your Father’s Heat Pump!

As temperatures have plummeted in Seattle over the last few weeks, you’re probably trying to keep your home comfortable while still maintaining a low electricity bill. Many people are aware that ductless heating and cooling systems (also known as ductless heat pumps) provide heat at a fraction of the cost of baseboard and wall heaters, are highly efficient and are easily installed.

A common myth surrounding ductless systems is that they do not perform well at extreme temperatures. While this myth is true for older “unitary” heat pumps, ductless heating and cooling systems have benefitted from the latest technology advances and are able to operate efficiently at temperatures below freezing. A recently released video from NEEA (the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance) features a contractor in Libby, Montana who has used ductless heating and cooling systems to meet the needs of many homeowners in a town that receives over 55 inches of snow each winter and has temperatures below freezing six months of the year.

Up to $1200 of incentives are available through Community Power Works for ductless systems, so there is no reason not to turn up the heat inside when mother nature turns it down outside. For more information about ductless heating and cooling systems, please visit www.GoingDuctless.com or go to Community Power Works to learn more about incentives.

Aaron Winer is an associate program manager at Fluid Market Strategies, a mission-driven consulting firm that provides management, marketing and education services with an emphasis on efficiency and renewable technology programs, sustainability consulting and carbon management services. Aaron has extensive experience with ductless heating and cooling systems and enjoys sharing his technical knowledge on a regional and national level. read more

HomeRx: Upgrading Homes and Careers

HomeRx: Upgrading Homes and Careers

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

Meet Happy Homeowner: Tim Aguero

Meet Happy Homeowner: Tim Aguero

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

Batt + Lear: Energy efficiency = Remodeling written a different way

Batt + Lear: Energy efficiency = Remodeling written a different way

Jason Lear will tell you, “Home energy efficiency is just remodeling written a different way.” Jason is a home remodeling expert, and a partner in the firm Batt + Lear. He became interested in energy efficiency when one of his neighbors complained to him about being uncomfortable in her home. He realized she would benefit from a whole-home energy assessment as part of a comprehensive remodel. Batt + Lear launched the project, and after the first phase of work was complete, the neighbor was so thrilled about the increased comfort in her home that she began telling her friends. Her enthusiasm about comfort helped Jason realize that energy efficiency is integral to great remodeling. “There was this energy! Excitement! And interest in sharing that made me take pause,” he said. “It was a game-changer.”

The result was the creation of a new division of Batt + Lear focusing specifically on energy efficiency, and eventually becoming the cornerstone of the business. “It turns out all our remodel customers are interested in making their houses more energy efficient. They are also interested in doing a lot of other things to their homes,” Jason said. “Community Power Works offers not only significant cash incentives to help make the energy efficiency priorities financially possible, it also offers a financing option that does not require equity.”

Batt + Lear’s energy efficiency work doesn’t stop at helping Seattle homeowners – the firm is also a participating contractor in the Community Power Works fors Small Business program. They recently completed an upgrade for Both Ways Café, a popular neighborhood café in Lakewood/Seward Park. read more

We’ll Seal Your Drafts While You Do Holiday Crafts

We’ll Seal Your Drafts While You Do Holiday Crafts

Many Seattle residents participate in Community Power Works to minimize their impact on the environment.  It’s true – upgrading your home is one of the best ways to reduce your household’s energy use and environmental footprint. Upgrades also make your home toasty during the winter months, and with Community Power Works, it’s simpler and more affordable than ever.

As a savvy environmentalist, you might be surprised to learn how significantly your holiday shopping affects the environment. The products most of us buy are full of “embodied energy.” A product’s “embodied energy” includes the energy used to extract raw materials, assemble products in a factory, and ship goods hundreds or thousands of miles to your doorstep.  The things we buy (and often throw away shortly thereafter) leave a profound footprint.

Reducing the environmental impact of your holiday gift-giving is easy—and it can be a lot of fun!  Here are a few DIY holiday gifts ideas made by reimagining common household items:

Cowboy cookie mix in a recycled glass jar.

A mitten gift holder made with scrap paper.

Toilet paper art for the home or office!

A picture frame made from recycled magazines.

Lastly, don’t forget that LED holiday lights are a great way to keep your energy costs down without “bah, humbug-ing!” your family’s holiday cheer.

Thanks to the thousands of Seattleites who have participated in Community Power Works this year!  Wishing you and your family a warm holiday season.

Atmosphere: Making the sell with Community Power Works and green weatherization materials

Atmosphere: Making the sell with Community Power Works and green weatherization materials

Scott Finley, President of Community Power Works’ contracting partner Atmosphere, has an impressive resume. He was a founding member of the Indoor Air Investigators Association, a graduate of the American Lung Association Master Home Environmentalist Program, has taught classes for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and was a member of the Seattle Mayor’s Green Building Task Force.

After a quarter century in the building performance industry, Finley knows that motivating homeowners to take action through energy upgrade measures can be difficult.  He says that Community Power Works has given the home performance industry the lift it needs to break through, and earn trust with homeowners.  Finley explains that, “after trying to sell home performance weatherization on the private market for 27 years, it is amazing to see the difference in receptivity now that a City program is recommending it. We now get calls from homeowners ASKING FOR duct sealing or air sealing!”

Finley’s persistence in the science of home performance over the years has gotten him to the right place at the right time, where his company and programs like Community Power Works can team up to make a significant difference for the environment and the health of our communities.   South Park-based Atmosphere, with its team of six employees, walks the talk by specializing in the use of “green” weatherization materials which are made of recycled materials and are low off-gassing. Often, these materials perform better than traditional supplies. One example is damp spray cellulose, which reduces uncontrolled air infiltration and convection up to 50% better than conventional insulation. read more

Meet the Habitat Home Energy Specialist: Charlie Rogers

Meet the Habitat Home Energy Specialist: Charlie Rogers

Now that you’ve had an opportunity to meet homeowner Allyson Adley and her contractor, Bob Thoreson, from Home Rx, let’s get acquainted with Charlie Rogers of Habitat Home Energy Specialist, the guy who got the whole process started for the Adleys with a home energy audit. The audit is the first step in the CPW process and really the keystone to the CPW program.

The first time we met Allyson, she told us, “Our auditor Charlie could not have been more ethical.” We heard this sentiment over and over again as we met more of Charlie’s customers. More than one other customer said about Charlie, “He found things that our home inspector missed when we bought the house.” In short, Charlie is a rock star in the building science industry.

Charlie is in this business because he, too, has a passion for the long-term health of our planet and because “Conservation is smart!” He has earned a 5-star rating from customer reviews on Yelp as well as dozens of “A” ratings on Angie’s list. And we are darn lucky to have him as a CPW home energy expert.

Charlie sees it as his primary role to inform and guide homeowners through a comprehensive 2-hour top-to-bottom diagnostic of their home energy use, and then propose solutions that can lead to greater energy efficiency. The assessment includes:

  • An analysis of your utility bills
  • Inspections of your attic, basement, crawlspaces, water heater, and pipe insulation
  • A blower door test to check for leaks
  • Infrared imagery to locate hot and cold spots,

For a comprehensive description of these tests and others included in Charlie’s evaluation, visit the Habitat Home Energy Specialist site

The result of the audit is a 20-page report—a guide to the secrets your home won’t tell you—including photo documentation and a blueprint of upgrade options. The report provides details about trouble areas and proposes itemized solutions complete with estimated costs and savings. Charlie will also help you to decide which measures make sense based on your lifestyle, and he can help you understand the basics of which incentives and rebates may apply to your projects. If you want, Charlie will also recommend contractors that he thinks might be a good fit for your project. read more

Energy savings tips from the pros

Energy savings tips from the pros

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), residential energy accounted for 22% of all energy used in the United States in 2011. Although home energy upgrade programs like Community Power Works make a tangible impact, the approaching cold season and its high energy costs require homeowners to be especially vigilant. We thought we would pass along some of our favorite energy saving tips and resources from the pros at Renewable Planet, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ENERGY STAR.

Renewable Planet recommends attaching dimmer switches to interior lights, as well as using electricity monitors to keep track of power consumption. Additionally, they recommend using your dishwasher at off-peak hours and letting your dishes air dry instead of using the heat dry option on your dishwasher.

ENERGY STAR provides an interactive tool which takes you room by room to uncover energy-saving opportunities in the home. Some often overlooked opportunities include ENERGY STAR outdoor fixtures that save energy through advanced CFL technology, motion sensors, or a photocell that turns the light on only when someone is present. Additionally, with consumer electronics accounting for 15% of household electricity use, consumers should be on the lookout for ENERGY STAR labels on items like TV/DVD combos that help save energy when turned off.

Another handy tip from ENERGY STAR for home or office (better yet, for home office!), is to use a power strip as a central “turn off” point for electronics, video games, and computers. Electronics can still contribute to the total household energy use even when they are in low power or “off” mode. Also, consider installing a programmable thermostat which adjusts to preset temperatures throughout the day and night. Check out the Guidelines for Proper Use of Programmable Thermostats to maximize your savings. read more

Community Power Works is a Seattle neighborhood-based building retrofit program that will achieve deep energy savings and create green jobs.