What is Home Performance with Energy Star? A Case Study

Judy Street used to have a problem. Her home electric bills were through the roof and she couldn’t figure out why her electric bills were sometimes over $500 per month. She turned to AlabamaWISE to find a home performance contractor and now she is saving hundreds of dollars on electric costs. “The bill we received from Huntsville. utilities this month was $156 lower than the same month last year! We were very pleased.”

Judy’s story illustrates how taking a “whole house” approach to home improvement delivers improved comfort and lower utility bills by reducing energy waste. Even though Alabama has some of the lowest electric rates in the US, the average home uses 30% more energy, most of it wasted because of the way homes are built.

Judy Street walks through her home with energy advisor, Gary from Synergy, left, and AlabamaWISE program manager, Daniel, far right, as they discuss where energy is wasted.

She met with a participating AlabamaWISE contractor for an energy assessment. “Gary from Synergy taught me more about energy consumption during that 2 to 3 hour inspection than anyone in the past. I sure with other contractors had given me the suggestions I needed to help save money and conserve energy.”

AlabamaWISE is a Home Performance with Energy Star program managed by the non-profit Nexus Energy Center. The program’s goal is to empower Alabama families to take control of energy costs by connecting them with trained and certified home improvement contractors like Synergy Airflow and Ventilation.

Participating AlabamaWISE contractors are certified by the Building Performance Institute through testing and continuing education on building science, which means they understand the relationship between all energy related components of a home. Traditional home improvement contractors operate in the silo of their specific trade. For example, most heating and air conditioning contractors are not likely to recommend adding insulation or air sealing.

Gary from Synergy checked the walls, attic and under-floor insulation levels. Then he set up a “blower door” to identify air leaks in the walls, floors and ceilings. Adding insulation, sealing air leaks, improving duct systems and properly sizing the heating and air condition equipment can save families thousands of dollars over the 10-year average life of the heating and air conditioning unit.

A key recommendation was a change to the home’s insulation. The heating and cooling system is located in the attic where ducts carry the conditioned air to outlets for each room. The fiberglass attic insulation was located on the attic floor, between the living space and the heating and cooling equipment. In effect, the entire heating and cooling system was located outdoors. Worse yet, during summer months the attic temperature can go above 140 degrees, driving major energy loss from the system.

After moving insulation from attic floor to roofline, Gary and Daniel show the summer attic temperature is much cooler. Spray foam was used to insulate the attic.

The solution was to bring the heating and cooling system inside of the conditioned space by moving the insulation out to the roof line, known as attic encapsulation. Now the attic is part of the conditioned space with a temperature close to the rest of the home’s interior rooms to save lots of energy while also improving the system performance and overall efficiency. That’s what home performance is all about.

Synergy upgraded the heating and cooling system with a new Energy Star rated heat pump. They used a system sizing calculation called Manual J to properly size the new heat pump. For years, heating and cooling contractors have sized new equipment using “rules of thumb”. Home performance contractors, as their name implies, care about “right sizing” heating and cooling equipment so it matches the home size and thermal loads. Synergy’s motto sums up the home performance mindset: “We Test, Others Guess”.

AlabamWISE is the place to find home performance contractors like Synergy. The program also offers incentives, low rate financing and quality assurance to help grow the market and create jobs.

Judy Street with the AlabamaWISE team, Daniel Tait and Megan McFerran after the home performance improvement.