Even if you don’t specialize in energy upgrades, many common remodeling projects provide an excellent opportunity to improve efficiency, benefit client comfort and health, and reduce utility bills. True, there is a learning curve for you, but the new skills involved may be the easiest to handle, either by making new hires, training existing team members, or hiring subcontractors. A bigger challenge can be client disinterest — granite counters are sexier than insulation.
Cost is a factor, too, but some upgrades are cost-neutral, particularly as part of a larger project. For example, if the job includes replacing or extending the HVAC system, a Manual J analysis may show that energy improvements — insulation, air sealing, duct sealing — will enable you to install smaller equipment or handle an additional load with existing equipment. The savings will offset some or all of the cost of the improvements. More importantly, your clients will enjoy a more comfortable, efficient home that costs less to operate over the life of the house.
Hot water presents another opportunity. A common complaint is that it takes too long for water at the faucet or shower to get hot. Most people think the problem is the heater, when it’s really the distance between the heater and fixtures. Insulating exposed hot water lines will help, but if you’re replacing or relocating the heater or the fixtures, consider moving them closer to each other or installing a demand pump to deliver hot water to the fixture faster. While you’re at it, consider using WaterSense-approved fixtures and fittings. You can now get shower heads that feel like real showers but use less than 1.75 gallons per minute, toilets that really work using less than 1.28 gallons per flush, and lavatory faucets and aerators that no one will notice are using only a half-gallon per minute.
Do No Harm
In a leaky, inefficient house, venting combustion by-products, such as carbon monoxide, isn’t much of a problem, because makeup air is readily available. But when you tighten up a house, it can stop venting properly and backdraft toxic fumes into the home. Even when you don’t do any air sealing work, adding a large rangehood or reworking an HVAC system can create pressure imbalances that cause backdrafting.
You should never intentionally allow a house to be leaky just to be safe. Instead, have a qualified professional perform a combustion safety test to make sure that you haven’t created new problems. Making sure that the air inside the homes you work on is healthy and safe is the final step in any home performance project.
—Carl Seville is a leading authority on single and multifamily green remodeling and certification. He is co-author of Green Building: Principles and Practices in Residential Construction.sevilleconsulting.com