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Green Homes—Heating and Air Quality
"Green" HVAC technology helps advance comfort in the home.
Where to Start
Today’s HVAC is more than just the equipment that heats, ventilates, and cools our home. It is the intersection of energy efficiency and indoor air quality—that point at which our home concerns can merge or collide, depending on how we address them.
There are many reasons for a home to feel uncomfortable, says David Lee, Director for the Residential Branch-Energy Star New and Existing Homes Program at the Environmental Protection Agency. You can put in an Energy Star-qualified air conditioner but if it is not installed properly or the duct distribution system is incorrectly designed or leaky, your home will still be uncomfortable. The refrigerant charge, the airflow across the coil and whether the air conditionier was sized properly can all play roles.
That’s why it is increasingly important to take a holistic approach when looking at your home’s HVAC. Instead of thinking that the only solution is to replace a furnace or air conditioner, first determine why your home is inefficient.
A no-cost way to get started is through the Energy Star web site. Gather a year’s worth of utility bills, click on the site’s Energy Star Home Advisor, and answer a few questions about your home mechanicals. You’ll get some recommendations to consider. Next, go to the Home Energy Yardstick, enter some basic data, and see how your home stacks up with other U.S. homes, your pollution output, and other possible improvements. Then, read the information on the site to get an understanding of what’s happening in this field.
Next, consider more specific advice for your home. A trained inspector could provide an energy audit. There are several state programs that certify inspectors and many of them are affiliated with Home Performance with Energy Star, the program from the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy. Ask a potential inspector what is included in an evaluation, what tests are conducted and if recommendations are by priority and might include any cost-benefit analysis.
A Standard for Audits
Currently each home energy audit varies depending on the inspector. One might provide a blower door test and check insulation while another might inspect ductwork, use an infrared camera and check your faucets for leaks.
But that is changing. Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET)—an industry not-for-profit membership corporation headquartered in Oceanside, Calif., and national standards making body for building energy-efficiency rating systems—has proposed a national framework for the home energy audit process, according to Kelly Parker, a past president of RESNET, president of Guaranteed Watt Saver Systems Inc. in Oklahoma City, a professional engineer in 14 states and a LEED-accredited professional.
Parker says RESNET, working with the EPA and DOE, has proposed a standard that is currently undergoing review that offers three audit levels. A basic audit survey could be performed either free online, as with the Energy Star yardstick, or with an in-home survey. Its intent would be to refer homeowners to the next level if it’s determined that a home needs further analysis and the homeowner wants to invest in improvements. The second audit level would be a diagnostic audit costing between $300 to $650 that would include the audit survey and specific performance testing, such as blower door and duct leakage. The third level would be a comprehensive home energy audit that would include specific Home Energy Rating (HERS®) evaluation, diagnosis and proposed treatment, costing between $500 to $900. It could also include calculated energy and environmental savings with recommended improvements.
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