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Energy-Efficient Upgrades for Your Home: An Interview with Brian Gitt of BKi

By Brian Gitt

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

BKi provides innovative, practical solutions that help clients move transformative energy and environmental technologies into the mainstream. We uphold a 30-year tradition of pioneering work in energy and water efficiency programs and cleaner transportation and energy supply.

We have delivered hundreds of successful projects tailored to the distinctive needs of government and utility clients, private companies, and collaborative research and development organizations. Together, we shape a future of energy and water sustainability. Our work relating to energy efficiency in homes, currently focuses on leading the development of innovations in software, finance, and business models to bring these programs to scale.

Can you briefly explain the difference that having a more energy-efficient home can make?

Energy efficiency upgrades can save 10%-40% on your utility bills (depending on customer preferred upgrades), improve comfort and indoor air quality, while reducing unwanted noise entering your home. In addition, they benefit the community by reducing air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels at power plants.

What are some of the most popular energy-efficient upgrades that homeowners in Bay Area are having installed?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 9% of American homeowners and 14% of Bay Area homeowners perform an energy efficiency improvement project to their home every year. Home energy upgrades typically fall into two major categories: low-cost DIY projects, and larger-investment whole-house upgrades performed by a contractor.

    Popular low-cost improvements include:
  • Replacing incandescent bulbs with low-wattage CFL or LED bulbs
  • When buying a new appliance (like a refrigerator or dishwasher), selecting an ENERGY STAR model instead of an inefficient model
  • Swapping old showerheads with high-pressure low-flow showerheads
  • Installing DIY window film to block heat gain in the summer and block heat loss in the winter
  • Plugging devices with high stand-by loads (like DVRs, game consoles, and laptops) into a Smart Strip that cuts all power to these devices when they're not in use

    Based on our experience implementing whole-house upgrade rebate programs in California, the most common measures are:
  • Attic insulation upgrade
  • HVAC (furnace and/or air conditioner) replacement and downsizing
  • Duct sealing, insulation, or replacement
  • Window replacement

What are the best renewable energy options to help homeowners save money in the long-run?

Rooftop solar is the most popular cost effective renewable energy option for homeowners. Solar has experienced explosive growth over the past few years, which has resulted in a dramatic reduction in cost. Over 30,0000 residential solar projects totaling over $1 billion in project costs have been installed and received solar rebates in the Bay Area since 2007.

Residential solar installation costs have been steadily decreasing over the past few years, from about $7/watt in 2010 to under $5/watt in 2014. New innovative financing and lease programs have fueled much of the growth.

Solar leasing firms offer customers a way to take advantage of rooftop solar without many of the burdens associated with financing and owning the panels. In a solar lease or "power purchase agreement," homeowners can have solar panels installed for no upfront costs. Increase in leasing is in part a result of declining up-front incentives like the California Solar Initiative rebate.

The number of rebated residential solar installations increased steadily from 2007 to 2013, including almost 32,000 new installations in 2013 alone throughout the entire state.

What is one of the easiest ways that Bay Area homeowners can start saving on energy?

The majority of electricity used in Bay Area homes isn't for heating and cooling; instead, it's used to run our light bulbs, appliances, and electronic gizmos. Many homeowners don't realize that a lot of electric devices use energy, even when they're not on.

In standby mode, a DVR uses 30-60 watts; a Playstation 4 uses 8 watts in standby mode. Put together, these "vampire" loads average 240 watts among Bay Area homes, the equivalent of leaving 18 CFL light bulbs on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

A quick and easy solution to these vampire loads is Smart Strips, a power strip with seven outlets that automatically switches off the other devices when the "master" device is turned off. Reducing vampire loads from 200 watts to 1 watt, 8 hours a day, and 365 days a year will save $104 a year in electricity costs. That means a $25 Smart Strip will pay for itself within 3 months.

Do you have any advice for people who are interested in energy-efficient upgrades but have a limited budget?

    Some of the easiest ways to lower your energy bills don't cost anything at all. No-cost behavior changes that can have a huge impact on energy use include:
  • Setting your thermostat to 68 F in the winter and 76 F in the summer
  • If you have a programmable thermostat, program it to NOT heat or cool the home when you're not home. Program the heater or cooler to kick on about 30 minutes before you get home
  • Wash your laundry in cold water except for stubborn stains
  • Turn your water heater to 120 F
  • Ditch the extra freezer or fridge in your garage. Electricity in California is expensive, and the money you save by buying a year's worth of pork ribs and storing it in the garage freezer will be more than offset by the extra cost to run that appliance 24/7.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your company?

We are developing a new free innovative software tool that provides customized recommendations, tips, and information to help homeowners make smart informed decisions on where to invest in energy and water efficiency improvements. It is scheduled to be available in Fall 2015. Your readers can send their email address to if they would like to be notified when it is available.

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emmhasmith Smith

Thanks for sharing.I found a lot of interesting information here. A really good post, very thankful and hopeful that you will write many more

... More

emmhasmith Smith

a lot of interesting information here. A really good post, very thankful and hopeful that you will write many more posts like this one.

Show Less Reply

emmhasmith Smith

Thanks for sharing.I found a lot of interesting information here. A really good post, very thankful and hopeful that you will write many more

... More

About The Author

Brian Gitt is President and CEO at BKi.

Phone: 510-444-8707

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