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How to Improve Your Home's Energy Efficiency: An Interview with Steve Wisniewski of Optimized Energy & Facilities Consulting

By Steve Wisniewski

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

OEFC provides a range of services to homeowners, architects, designers and contractors, including energy calculations, HVAC/electrical/plumbing design, rebate assistance and green building design. Our firm serves the commercial markets as well as residential markets, and our primary service to the residential market is to provide Title 24 energy calculations and reports, commonly referred to as energy calcs.

Can you talk briefly about what Title 24 Energy Calculations and Reports, or energy calcs, are?

The California Energy Code (often referred to as Title 24) sets minimum standards for energy-efficient design and construction of practically all buildings in the state, both new construction and additions/alterations. Title 24 documentation is required to be included with building plans when applying for a building permit. In addition, many rebate programs are keyed to Title 24 compliance. For example, utility incentives are often available for projects which can be shown to exceed Title 24 minimum standards by a compliance margin of at least 10% or 15% (depending on the utility). Some clients are strictly interested in minimum compliance for their building permit, while others are interested in an increased compliance margin in order to qualify for incentive funding.

What should people who are building a new house or having construction on their home know about them?

If your goal is to exceed Title 24 by at least 10%, 15%, or more, then it is important to get us involved early in the design process. The energy code is updated approximately every three years, and compliance becomes more challenging with each update. Achieving an increased compliance margin often requires us to suggest a menu of energy efficiency measures (EEMs), and the earlier this occurs in your design process the better, to minimize rework by your architect or designer.

What are some steps that a homeowner can take to help diagnose some of their current energy use?

Many utilities offer online self-service energy audits for homeowners in their territory. If your utility provides this service, then we recommend this as a first step. Next, consider how many electric motors you have running in your home (well pumps, pool pumps, refrigerator compressors, air conditioning compressors/fans, etc.). These motors typically use the most energy in a home. If your air conditioner seems to run excessively, then you may have a problem with the unit (e.g., low refrigerant charge), or you may have leaky ductwork, which can occur in old or new homes.

What are some of the most common energy-related issues that you've seen in Northern California homes?

Leaky ductwork is common in old and new homes. Low-efficient windows in older homes.

Are there any simple fixes that people can use to start saving money on their utility bills? What are the more long-term fixes that a professional contractor can help them with?

Simple fixes start with increased awareness of what is using electricity, and of course turning things off whenever possible. Replacing incandescent lighting with either fluorescent or LED lighting is relatively simple, as well adding occupancy sensors where it makes sense to you. Also be sure to regularly change the filter on your air conditioner (a dirty filter makes the unit work harder), and clean the coils on the back of your refrigerator. If you are considering new appliances, then look for the energy star label and be sure to apply for rebates when available. Also consider adding carefully placed shade trees around your home. Some utilities offer trees to customers at no extra charge. Professional contractors can of course help in a number of ways, such as:

- New efficient windows
- Whole-house fans
- New air conditioner
- New air conditioning ductwork with increased insulation, sealed and tested for leaks
- Additional attic insulation
- Radiant barrier roof sheathing for new homes, or in some cases when re-roofing an existing home

Do you have a quick energy-efficiency tip or anything you think homeowners should know?

Walk through your home, look for anything with lights and listen for anything humming. Then consider whether you can turn that device off.

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

By email: info@oefcinc.com, or phone: (916) 626-5518.

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