Monday, October 31, 2011

The Cost of Vampire Energy - SCARY!!

For our last post in National Energy Awareness Month and in honor of Halloween, let's talk about possibly the easiest way to lower your energy bills.  Unplug your electronics when not in use, and you can stop these gadgets from 'sucking' money out of your wallet!

The term 'vampire energy' applies to any device that is consuming energy while plugged in, but not in active use.  This standby energy drain can account for 5-10% of your annual budget.  Now, it's not practical to stop this from occurring with every electronic and appliance in your home, but there are some big time guzzlers that you can EASILY put a stake into:

  1. Plasma TVs (possibly the Dracula of vampire energy, this device can cost $150+ per year in standby electricity alone!)
  2. DVRs
  3. Powered Subwoofers
  4. Stereo Receivers

And generally speaking, the older the device, the greater the drain.

We hope you enjoyed our month long 'It's EASY Being Green Campaign' and hope you found some fast, easy and cheap ways to lower your energy bills while increasing your indoor air comfort!

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Insulate" Your Wallet Against Rising Energy Costs This Winter

Growing up, we were always told to put on a cap in the winter – we lose most of the heat from our bodies from our heads – same thing with your home. Protecting the top of our homes during the winter is like putting on a warm cap.

Our homes act like a big chimney, the taller the home, the greater movement of air, which is called stack effect. Stack effect occurs when the expensive heated air migrates to the colder air which is located in the attic assembly or outside (high pressure to low pressure). This heated air will find “holes” or pathways to the outside, typically from older style recessed lighting fixtures, construction by-passes, attic and knee-wall access hatches and various other connection pathways between the home and the attic.

Air sealing these areas is very important to reducing the stack effect during the winter….after that, adding additional insulation in the attic will significantly slow down the movement of air. Just because a home has insulation doesn’t necessarily guarantee good building performance. Many homes, specifically newer homes, have plenty of thermal insulation, but contain many construction by-passes and “holes” which allow air to pass directly through the insulation. That insulation turns into a furnace filter and becomes dis-colored over time.

Once the top of the home is addressed, air seal the bottom; air is always proportional in its movement – the amount of air being lost at the top is the same amount of air coming in at the bottom. Therefore, air sealing electrical and plumbing penetrations to the outside significantly reduces infiltration air. Any portion of the basement that is above grade must be air sealed and insulated – don’t worry about those areas below grade. Air sealing the basement not only will reduce energy usage, but will keep all those pesky critters from finding a warm, dry home for the winter.

Remember, address the top and bottom of your home for greater energy saving, comfort and building performance.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Myth: Closing Vents Saves Energy

I've personally performed thousands of energy audits during my time, so I've seen some pretty interesting things people do in their well meaning attempts to save energy. Let me just say that duct tape is not a suitable material for any energy-related home improvement!

A very common activity that seems to make sense on the surface is closing the vents in low-use areas or rooms of the home. People think, ''this will prevent wasted money on heating/cooling this space.' But this logic is wrong, and can wind up costing you.

First, when you close a vent, the air that was directed to it gets stuck. With nowhere to go, it applies backpressure on the unit's fan, causing it to work harder (burn more energy) to do its job. Overtime, this will also cause the fan to wear out quicker.

Second, your HVAC unit will produce the same amount of conditioned air, regardless of how many vents are open/closed (so you are not reducing energy consumption). When you close a vent, you are simply sending more conditioned air into spaces that don't need it - often times, this can even make other rooms UNcomfortable.

Lastly, restricting the flow of conditioned air increases the probability that it will be pushed out through the leaks in your duct work, decreasing your energy efficiency. (Now if you've followed our duct sealing project video on YouTube, this should be less of a concern for you!)

Bottom line, closing your vents can do way more harm than good.

Monday, October 24, 2011

An Energy Audit Can Save Your Life?

People are always surprised when I tell stories about clients who were literally lucky to be alive considering the dangerous conditions I found while conducting their energy audit. With winter approaching (for some of us), instances of these harmful conditions will be on the rise as people pull out the space heaters for added warmth.

Generally speaking there's nothing wrong with space heaters. It's when combustion space heaters combine with the stack effect and back drafting to create 'the perfect storm' inside your home. While you might think all those combustion toxins (such as CO) are safely going outside, your home's depressurization might be pulling them all right back in.

Checkout our latest free whitepaper - Space Heaters, The Stack Effect & Back Drafting: A Potentially Fatal Combination to learn more. While we focus on space heaters for the purpose of this whitepaper, this hazardous condition can occur with any combustion appliance.

Leaky duct work can contribute to the depressurization of your home, so be sure to check out last week's new how-to video for sealing your duct work on Pro Energy's You Tube Channel.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ice Damming/Water Intrusion

With winter just around the corner, so is one of the most frustrating building performance issues a homeowner can face: ice dams and water intrusion. The formation of ice dams can potentially cause major damage to the exterior and interior of the home. I have witnessed many homes with falling gutters and/or ice, damaging windows, landscaping, and even destroying air conditioning units. With ice backing up on the roof, water can then enter the home’s interior, and can destroy dry-wall, lighting fixtures or even cause mold growth. So, how do we reduce/stop this major building performance issue?

First, you must identify the cause. Air always moves from high pressure to low (hot to cold), and during the winter, this means your home loses heat. Heat loss occurs in every home but is more pronounced with taller homes; this known as “the stack effect.” Most ice damming issues are caused by heat loss at the connection between the home and attic assembly through various connection points, such as recessed lighting fixtures, thermal by-passes and poor performing insulation.

To fix, you must understand and identify the pathways between the home and attic first, then air seal those areas and either improve or add additional insulation. Some homes have a heating system located in the attic, which is a major cause for snow melt leading to ice dams. For these homes, installing high efficient foam insulation above the furnace is the only way to address ice formation. Remember, it is important to address the CAUSE: Roofing contractors install ice guards and electrical contractors install gutter cables, but these only address the symptoms. General maintenance is also very important - Keep your gutters clean and free of debris to reduce the water from freezing.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Energy Friendly Lighting Options: CFLs vs LEDs

So we’ve all heard about saving money by using compact florescent lighting (CFLs) instead of the traditional incandescent lighting. CFLs, when first released, were touted as the best thing since sliced bread, but many consumers have been disappointed with their experiences with CFLs and therefore do not consider them as valuable.

When CFLs were initially introduced to the public, they marketed them as lasting 10x longer and using less energy than a regular incandescent bulb. What they don’t include is that those numbers were found under ideal testing conditions (using components that were made to work together). The truth is that residential situations are probably not “ideal,” so while they still use less energy, the difference isn’t as dramatic as the public was led to believe. Other complaints include disappointment with light quality and the presence of mercury.

Light Emitting Diodes, or LED lamps, are the newest technology and have a lot of people in the energy industry excited. While I’m hesitant to say specific statistics (see the above paragraph!), it is safe to say that these are much better than CFLs in almost all categories. They last a significant amount of time longer, use much less energy and contain no hazardous materials. However, price is a major factor still for this new technology: not many people can afford to pay $50 for a lightbulb these days!

So, for the time being, CFLs definitely have their place in mainstream energy efficiency plans. They save energy and save you money if you use them to replace your incandescent lighting, and they even make CFLs with a softer light quality that is more similar to traditional incandescent light. Make sure you continue to be green after the CFL burns out and take used bulbs to be recycled- after trying to be more green and save energy, the last thing you want to do is release mercury into the environment! Plus, virtually all parts of a florescent bulb can be recycled. Many hardware supply stores and other retailers have in-store recycling: go to for a listing of places near you!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Weekend Project: Duct Sealing

The average home has 20-30 square inches of leakage from the duct system alone! Leaky duct systems are one of the top 3 issues our energy consultants routinely uncover in our home energy audit services. Proper sealing can reduce energy usage by as much as 25-35%, while making the home more comfortable.

As part of our "It's Easy Being Green" National Energy Awareness month campaign, we want to show you how easy (and low cost) it can be to use less energy and make your home greener. Sealing the easily accessible portions of your duct work is a cheap and easy weekend project anyone can do. This short video below goes in the field to feature an actual client's home, and walks you through the materials you'll need and the techniques to follow. The family was experiencing severe indoor comfort issues, high energy bills and recurring ice damming, so they called us in to perform an extensive energy audit.

You can also view this video, and many more, on Pro Energy Consultants' YouTube Channel.

If you decide to do the project, we'd love to hear about it and your results! Feel free to comment here, or email us at

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What's A Lumen?

As you’ve probably heard, new energy efficient lighting standards are set to take effect in 2012. As part of this, you’ll no longer buy lights according to how much energy they use (watts), but rather by how bright they are (lumens). Here’s an idea of what lumen to shop for based on the watts you’re used to buying:


40 - - 450

60 - - 800

75 - - 1100

100 - - 1600

The Federal Trade Commission will be using new labels to help you find the right light bulb you’re looking for. They kind of look like nutrition labels.

The new standards will be phased in thru 2014 and will require all light bulbs to use anywhere from 25-80% less energy. You can already buy energy saving CFL, LED and incandescent bulbs today, but these new standards will be applied to all light bulbs.

According to the Department of Energy, the potential energy and money savings is huge. Upgrading 15 inefficient incandescent bulbs in your home could save you about $50 per year. Since most of the bulbs also have longer life spans, you'll continue to save into the future. Nationwide, lighting accounts for about 10% of home electricity use. With new standards, U.S. households could save nearly $6 billion dollars in 2015 alone.

These new standards have stirred up a lot of controversy. Is the government going too far by enforcing these standards? Maybe, maybe not. I can appreciate both sides of the argument. But bottom line, we are smarter about energy now than we were before and we have the technological know-how to make a better light bulb that produces the same light, using less energy. That’s called progress.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Find Energy Rebates

A recent survey of homeowners conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of climate technology company, Emerson, reveals some startling information:

50% made improvements to save energy and money.
71% did NOT take advantage of energy rebates, tax incentives, etc.

There is easy money out there to make your home greener and more energy efficient!

The Department of Energy started a database in 1995 to help consumers learn more about energy rebates.  You can access the database at, and filter by state, technology and type of incentive.

I suggest bookmarking the site - there's tons of great info!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Infrared Technology Behind Audits

The infrared scans we perform as part of our energy audits are by far our customers' favorite part of their assessment. Beyond the obvious 'cool' factor, it allows us to see that which is otherwise invisible - air flow. By interpreting temperature differentials, we can 'see' hot spots, cold spots, hidden moisture and more. It's an amazing technology.

What's infrared got to do with energy? Everything. We simply could not diagnose a property accurately without it, and it helps us better educate clients when we can show them how their home works. Combined with the blower door, which creates airflow for testing purposes, and the building science knowledge of the energy consultant, all the leaky cracks, gaps and cavities become glaringly obvious.

In appreciation of this technology, and to help customers understand how vital infrared is as part of an energy audit, we've created a short, free whitepaper called "How Infrared Works." It contains some photos from actual assessments I've performed over 16+ years and shares a little bit of the clients' stories and findings.

For those befuddled by all the different types of 'energy audits' being offered today, I think this will greatly enhance your understanding of why infrared must be used in any truly professional, comprehensive energy assessment. Plus, the photos and stories will raise your overall awareness and give you some things to think about in your own home.

Many thanks to John Elson and Dave Sorge with Inspect-It 1st Property Inspection for contributing their infrared expertise to the whitepaper!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fast Home Energy Fixes

If you've got just a couple hours on your hands and want to do some general home energy improvements, consider these three easy, low-cost projects that have the potential for big impact:

  1. Seal any gaps between baseboards and hardwood floors with latex caulk.
  2. Check the weather stripping around your doors, and replace if necessary.
  3. Investigate your attic floor for any cracks or gaps and seal them up (doesn't have to be pretty!).

You likely have all the tools necessary for these projects, and the materials can be a quick visit to the local hardware store.  Check these off your list, and you've just become a little greener!

According to the Department of Energy, the ceiling, walls and floors typically account for 31% of an average's home energy loss, and doors usually represent 11% of the total energy 'leak.'

Remember, all month long we're sharing energy saving tips and insights in honor of National Energy Awareness month, and as part of our "It's Easy Being Green" campaign.  Sign up to follow our blog and/or connect with us online to make sure you don't miss anything.  This Friday, we'll be releasing a free whitepaper called 'The Whole House Systems Approach Explained' that is a must-read for any energy conscious homeowner.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Why Your High Efficiency Systems Aren't Working

Here's one I hear ALL the time: "I just installed a new high efficiency (air conditioner, furnace, windows, etc.), but my energy bills are still high and we're still having comfort issues. What's going on?"

First, we can't say enough good things about the Energy Star program and what a great job it's done of educating consumers about the value of high efficiency systems and appliances. That's been a huge step in the right direction.

BUT, the missing piece is, your systems don't interact independently - from each other, or from the shell of the home itself. You almost need to picture your home as a living, breathing thing. It needs to take air in, and it needs to exchange air out; that air needs to circulate; and any deficiencies in one system or area will impact the whole thing.

The number one reason high efficiency heating and air conditioning systems don't perform well is that there are typically leaks somewhere in the home. THE AVERAGE HOME HAS THE EQUIVALENT OF A BASKETBALL SIZED HOLE IN IT, when you add up all the typical air leaks. So, if we're talking about a furnace or boiler, all that nice toasty air it worked to produce is escaping - which means you're still chilly. And, the furnace is working longer and harder than it should - which means your bills are still high.

High efficiency systems are fantastic, but before you make the investment, you gotta find and seal those air leaks!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

National Energy Awareness Month Kickoff!

October is National Energy Awareness Month, and how appropriate that this is the inaugural post of Pro Energy's new blog! All month we are dedicated to raising energy awareness through our 'It's EASY Being Green' campaign.

Our goal and my personal mission this month is to show homeowners that 'going green' is not as difficult, expensive or time consuming as they might think. All the time I talk with people who want to do their part for the environment, but don't know where to start. I always say, it starts at HOME. Our homes guzzle a huge portion of our total domestic energy consumption - so if we all improved a little, we'll accomplish a lot.

In this post I want to start with a very macro topic: Why are our homes typically so energy inefficient? Many reasons, such as:

  • Earlier building codes didn't call for the construction techniques and insulation levels required by today's standards.

  • Builders seeking to maximize profit on new construction.

  • Building envelopes naturally begin to fail and 'leak' over time.

  • DIY repairs by well-meaning weekend warriors can compromise the home's structural integrity.

  • We're simply smarter about how energy 'works' in our properties than we were decades ago.

From historic homes to newly built ones, I've seen conditions that compromise a home's energy efficiency, resulting in high energy bills, indoor comfort issues, and even potential health hazards. These are things we can't see with the naked eye, we just feel the effects (painful utility bills, rooms difficult to heat or cool, recurring property damage like ice dams and water intrusion, dust buildup, etc.). No one is immune.

But, there ARE many things you can do to improve your home's energy efficiency and overall performance. By reading this blog, you're already raising your awareness which is where it all starts. And as we go along, you'll begin to understand how your home truly 'works' and what steps you can take to improve.

This is, after all, the ultimate WIN-WIN. You can help our environment while easing the burden on your wallet and getting more joy out of your home. This is one of the few areas where there truly is no downside!

For more information about the "It's EASY Being Green" campaign, check out Pro Energy Consultants' National Energy Awareness Month information page. You could even win a $200 gift card to do some 'green' shopping!