Monday, October 12, 2009

A satisfied client

As I continue to learn more about developing my sustainable energy business, a type of business that is new, I am gradually coming to understand some of the ways it can be of service.

About a week ago I went to the home of a woman who is about to have her follow-up energy audit completed. She wanted to make sure that she had covered the bases, and also wanted me to install a fireplace draft stopper. This device alone will likely save her 15 - 25% on her heating bill, and will add to the comfort of her home.

I was saddened when I learned from her that she had purchased a cheaper heat pump that barely met the minimum energy rating required for her energy audit. (In fact the new requirements push many models off of the list.) Had she consulted with me (costing her $25) she could have had a superior product installed for little or no more money than she had paid.

By knowing many who are in the business of installing energy-efficient equipment I know how to find the best value for my clients.

The other benefit for my clients is that if she had had any difficulty with that unit or the company who installed it I could have gone to bat for her. I still can! If companies know that I am looking over their shoulder to see if they do good work and give good value for their customers they are more likely to perform well. I informally call this aspect of my business "an energy insurance program." I increase the likelihood of the client getting good service when it comes to their energy-improving products and services.

Knowing who is good, coupled with accountability in the business world, means that my clients can lower their home or business energy consumption for a reasonable price and have some security in the end-product.

Poorer products and companies will eventually fail; I'd rather that my clients not extend the lives of such!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Saving energy

The heating season has begun. Our furnaces, baseboard heaters, heat pumps and wood stoves are now doing their thing.

What amazes me are the number of people who, when examining how to reduce their ever-increasing energy bills, focus almost solely on reducing the cost of providing the heat, rather than on how to reduce heat losses.

This is a statement about our culture, of course. A culture that fails to appreciate the bigger picture by focusing on individual components (such as heat sources). Yet this narrow focus is the primary cause of most that ails us.
It is a well-known fact that reducing energy usage is usually much cheaper than is changing the heat source. Putting multiple layers of insulation on an electric hot water tank (ideally including some underneath it) makes that tank nearly as efficient as a highly efficient water-on-demand heater. The insulation costs less than $100; a new gas-fired on-demand water heater costs hundreds of dollars.

Examples are unlimited. An inflatable $80 chimney draft stopper can save up to 30% of the cost of heating. Draft-proofing one’s home typically costs less than $100 in materials yet can save both comfort and considerable heating bills. Adding insulation to the hot water lines is an extremely inexpensive method of cutting costs, since water requires a great deal of energy to heat. Changing light bulbs is a well-known example, even though they save very little power in the bigger picture. Replacing (or unplugging) older fridges, drying clothes on a rack or clothesline instead of a mechanical drier, cutting the power at the power-bar to electronics (especially T.V.’s and computers) when not in use, replacing thermostats with EnergyStar rated ones, setting back the heat at night-time (except heat pumps and in-floor systems), wearing more layers and/or getting exercise rather than turning up the heat, and other practises will save hundreds of dollars of energy for very little cost.

Of course some of these mean changing one’s life-style to some degree. This is about as easy as changing a politician’s views on taxation. The difference is that we are in control of ourselves, not others.

By becoming more of a “conserver society” we can make significant differences to the planet and to our own pocket-books. Our grandparents, especially those who are now in their 70’s and up, were raised in this way and so have a great deal of wisdom to share with us.

Perhaps it is time we paid more attention to them.