Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Local experts weigh in on energy efficiency

2nd Energy Town Hall focuses on home and business improvements

Express Staff Writer

    A home built now is probably 15 percent more energy efficient than one built three years ago, which was about 15 percent more efficient than one built three years before that—so said Sharon Patterson Grant, a local green building consultant, at the second Energy Town Hall on Wednesday.
    Grant was one of several panelists sharing energy-saving building strategies at the meeting in Ketchum hosted by the Ketchum Energy Advisory Committee.
    She said a recent statewide survey showed that 88 percent of Idahoans believe energy-efficient homes have a higher resale value. With one of the lowest energy costs in the nation, Idaho residents should increase energy efficiency and sustainable practices before energy prices jump, she said.
    “Look at your most significant cost—that’s probably your more significant opportunity,” she said, citing a decrease in LED light bulb prices over the past few years.
While sustainable energy options tend to be more costly, there are returns in the form of saved monthly bills and sometimes government reimbursements.

Saving money and saving the planet are now the same thing.”
Billy Mann
Sagebrush Solar

     Efficient building practices and maintenance can also reduce energy use and costs without a fiscal impact as well, according to John Reuter of John Reuter Greenworks, a local energy auditor who conducts home inspections to gauge the building’s “tightness.”
Air infiltration is a common energy bandit, Reuter said, and can be inexpensive to seal, if a homeowner targets “the most obvious leaks.” For commercial buildings, he checks daily data to see when utility use spikes.
    Solar is another efficiency boon for the valley, according to Billy Mann of Sagebrush Solar. To date, Sagebrush Solar has installed 60 systems locally, which generate about 2.3 megawatt hours of power annually. With a myriad of alternative energy options available, Mann said, building owners can determine their best options, including location and orientation of the home and specific energy demands and costs.
    For an $18,000 initial investment into a solar hot water and heating system, an owner could get $7,300 back in incentives over the following year. Factoring in $60 per year in operating and maintenance costs, the cumulative system cost over the 25-year life of the system would total just over $12,000. While other homeowners on the regular grid see rising energy costs over time, a solar thermal system user would see more savings as the years go by, Mann said. The owner could save nearly $50,000 during the 25-year life of the system.
    “Saving money and saving the planet are now the same thing,” he said, adding that more renewable resources in the valley could combat the $80 million spent annually for electricity, natural gas and propane.
    Tim Cron and Rebecca Bundy shared local examples of implementing solar heating and photovoltaic systems. Cron replaced an antiquated propane system with solar thermal technology several years ago after buying the 1931-vintage Sawtooth Hotel in Stanley.
    Cron said he embarked on the project at the start of the government stimulus package. He was able to garner a federal grant for rural small businesses for a 25 percent return on his project.
    Bundy, a trained architect and city planner for the city of Ketchum, designed a passive solar home for her family in Hulen Meadows almost 15 years ago. Passive solar home designs feature floors, windows and walls that repel heat in the summer and hold heat in the winter. Large overhangs are features of most passive solar homes, Bundy said, as well as stone fireplaces and strategic window placement. She said passive solar advising and construction have become much easier since she constructed her home. Since moving into a duplex in Ketchum, Bundy has enlisted Reuter to tighten up her home and prevent heat leaks.
    Even upgrading appliances makes a huge difference in cost and output, Bundy said. When her washing machine unexpectedly broke, she plugged in an old top-loading machine and their electric costs went up by $30 a month.
    “Information empowers,” said Aimee Christensen, panel moderator and CEO of energy consulting group Christensen Global Strategies. “You can work with these experts to help identify where the opportunities are, but you can undertake a lot of the improvements yourself.”

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