GreenHomes America SVP Michael Rogers Discusses Homeowners' Energy Efficiency Problems
RWFD: The U.S. Government has really stepped up its efforts to encourage and support homeowners in improving the energy efficiency of their homes. Can you tell me about the current Federal Tax Credit and how GreenHomes America helps homeowners take advantage of these energy rebates?
MR: Currently, there is a federal tax credit of up to $500 for a variety of measures such as efficient heating and cooling systems, insulation and windows. Some states and utilities offer additional rebates or loans. We feel it is part of our job to help homeowners navigate the options and take advantage of the incentives that make the most sense for them. We provide the options and information on the front end, and to the extent possible, facilitate any necessary paperwork. We can’t prepare your tax returns for you, but we do provide end-of-the-year reminders on work that you’ve done that meets the tax credit criteria to make sure you don’t miss the chance to claim any credits you’re eligible for.
RWFD: What are some of the most common energy efficiency household problems that you see?
MR: There are a myriad of energy-related problems in homes. Some of the typical include: drafts, rooms that are too hot or too cold, high energy bills, mold/mildew problems, odors that linger, ice-damming in the North, and stinky crawlspaces in the Southeast. And very disconcerting, in more than 20% of the homes we visit, there is some sort of safety issue with combustion equipment, carbon monoxide, or gas leaks.
The most significant causes of these problems we encounter are typically air-leakage, poor insulation, duct leakage, and poorly maintained or improperly vented equipment. Of course, there are also frequently opportunities to upgrade from inefficient furnaces and air-conditioners and sometimes replacement windows and doors can help.
RWFD: I know GreenHomes America provides a comprehensive range of services to help homeowners improve the energy efficiency of the entire home. In looking at inefficient windows in particular, what are some of the problems inefficient windows present and what can homeowners do to improve the efficiency of their home windows, short of replacing them?
MR: Inefficient windows can present big comfort problems: drafts—due to leaks from around the windows, condensation issues and the mold and maintenance problems condensation can lead to, not to mention energy loss. Efficiency aside, pre-1978 windows can also present issues with lead paint, and the dust created by opening and closing old lead-painted windows can be a real health problem, especially for children. And it can be difficult to simply open and shut old windows.
There are several things a homeowner can do. Weather stripping and air sealing can be a big help. Weather stripping is usually applied around the movable, operable portions of the window. If it’s a crank-out window, an awning window or casement, those can be quite easy to either install or fix weather stripping because you can just open the window and its easy access to the entire surface. When you get into double-hung windows, which are probably the most common, it gets a little more complicated because to do the job properly, you have to remove the sashes. That means removing the stops, the trim pieces that hold the sash in place, so you can pull the window out and lay it flat so you have access to the surface where you’ll want to apply weather stripping.
RWFD: If a homeowner does decide to replace the windows in their home with energy efficient windows, what sort of benefits can they expect?
MR: There are a whole host of benefits. For example, it’s much more comfortable to stand or sit next to an energy-efficient window. In the winter, the surface of a high-performance window will be warmer and your body will be able to sense that difference in temperature. The opposite is true in the summertime: low E coatings block the sun’s rays -- keeping the heat out and keeping you cool inside.
Coatings on good energy-efficient windows can also block UV rays so things like your furniture, carpets, upholstery, drapes, and clothing don’t fade as much as they do with old inefficient windows.
And of course, new windows can save energy. But be careful here. Many of the claims about savings from replacement windows are over-hyped and rely on misleading headlines and fine print. For example, in an average home in the winter, only 10-20% of the heat might be lost through the windows. And yet you’ll see claims that state you can save 50% by replacing you windows. Sorry, for most homes that just isn’t remotely possible. And if the contractor installing the replacement windows doesn’t pay attention to proper installation by sealing gaps not just at the window, but around the framing, you won’t see much in energy savings at all.
For comfort and a fresh new look, replacement windows make a lot of sense. If you’re replacing windows, it makes sense to install an efficient one. And for some homes, windows really are the weak point in an otherwise efficient home.
RWFD: When hiring a window contractor, what are things a homeowner should watch out for?
MR: First and foremost, make sure the new window is installed properly, that is, that it’s plum and level and square so that it can actually operate properly. If it’s out of plum or it gets out of square, you’re not going to be able to raise and lower the window and it won’t shut properly.
Another common problem to avoid is improper window selection. When choosing the right window, Energy Star is an absolute must; you have to insist on that. Again, the incremental cost for an Energy Star window is very small compared with the overall cost of the project you’re doing. Also, I would ask your window contractor what they are going to do while they have that window opening wide open before they put the new window in place. Are they going to fill in the gaps that might be present if you have a pulley chase in the old window opening? What are they going to do to help reduce air leakage around the new window? If the contractor can’t answer these questions, look elsewhere.
RWFD: Thank you so much!