I had my follow-up energy audit for the Home Energy Rebate Program yesterday!! There are still some loose ends on the project – the south pop-out of the building needs some siding still, all the siding needs to be carefully caulked and repainted (touch up at least) phone and cable wires need to be rerouted and stapled down over the siding, there is a bit more stuccoing of the foundation insulation to do (a second coat in some places and corner touch ups and the north side), and cedar trim needs to be protected with stain or linseed oil or something! Also, windows and doors need to be trimmed out and the north wall inside my apartment where windows were taken out needs to be vapor barriered and sheetrocked.
But – all the energy improvement parts of things were done – 4 new heat-mirror (two glass panes with a heat-mirror film in between, to create two air cavities) fiberglass-frame windows in place, windows all caulked and foamed, 4 inches of blueboard over the entire outside of the house including to 4′ below ground and 4′ out at the base, R-13 fiberglass insulation added to the attic (on top of a foot that was already there), and put in the north wall cavities where windows were removed.
So I now have approximately R-30 walls and R-50 ceiling. That along with the results of the blower door test (I don’t have that number in front of me) puts us at an energy star rating for the ecoplex of 5 star!! The dilemma is that I still have about 3 weeks until all of my paperwork is due, and apparently if I could find and seal the equivalent of about 35 square inches of gaps I’d have a 5 star plus building – which is mighty tempting for the bragging rights! But I’ve sealed a lot of the easy to find places, and I would have to find a time to fit work around my and my tenants schedules, so I probably will hold off and do that work later on my own time (and it may be very difficult to find enough gaps to seal).
So, what about money? I have spent roughly $30,000 on the project. At this point I qualify for $8,500 back from the state rebate program (I would qualify for the maximum $10,000 if I could get it to 5 star plus). It remains to be seen what my real natural gas savings will be, I will report after this heating season. For a 15 year payback on the net $21,500 they’d have to be $1,433 a year, which is going to be kinda tough – I don’t think it’ll be there this year. Over the lifetime of the improvements (40 years? How long does well protected blueboard last?) it’ll pencil out for sure, and given that natural gas prices will undoubtedly go up over time, and probably by a lot, maybe I will get payback in a reasonable timeframe. Obviously, with the average homeowner or commercial building owner looking for more of a 3.5 year payback, envelope improvements of this magnitude are tough! And that’s just monetarily – there are also significant disruptions to business/life/sanity for all involved as well as the time spent researching options and figuring out implementation of measures (even with a good energy audit). So it is no wonder that more people don’t go to this level. But this is the level we need to go to if we are going to approach sustainability, reduce our carbon emissions to saner levels, and live within our energy means. SO that means even more incentive and barrier reduction. Two things that could seriously help get us in the right direction would be enforced codes that require buildings to be highly energy efficient, both at the time they are built and then also if they change hands or get remodeled, and a financing mechanism that ties repayment of improvements to the building and not the owner (either through utility payments or tax payments) so that the cost and benefit of the improvement gets passed along.
So all this theoretical mumbo-jumbo and starriness aside – what has this done for us? I can tell you that the house is feeling very comfortable. It is getting to 25F at night and a bit above 30F during the day, and I have not yet turned on the heat. My apartment is staying at 64 to 66F at all times, and feels very comfortable – no chilly walls and windows sucking the heat radiatively away from me. It feels more like 68 to 70 F in a less well insulated home. The upstairs tenants get almost too-good solar gain, and all the heat from below and from the boiler chimney, so they actually have had heat off and windows open during the day. The downstairs tenant just moved in. I had the heat off while the unit was empty for a couple of days, and when they moved in it was 61F in there, but felt comfortable to them. I’m sure they have turned the heat on since, and I am probably getting the benefit of that coming up through the building. Also, the new windows are accumulating almost no condensation, where the old double pane windows have a fair amount of moisture condensing on them. What is the value of this added comfort and healthiness (less condensation = less mold)? Priceless!