By Kristi Kates
Home energy auditor John R. Plichta probably seems to many of his colleagues and acquaintances like a long-time Michigan guy. But the owner of of J.R. Construction Building and Design in Petoskey actually began his career in California, after attending Central Michigan University for Science, Business Administration, and Industrial Technology.
After my time at CMU, I moved to Northern California and began implementing a variety of alternative energy systems to my clients, Plichta says. Our company installed small hydro-electric systems, photovoltaic electrical panels, 12-volt home wiring, battery backup and inverters, hot water jackets in wood stoves to supplement domestic hot water and solar roof top panels and coils for hot water as well.
In California, Plichta explains, conservation of water and energy were not electives, but were mandatory processes to help a region suffering from a seven-year drought.
So many of the recommendations we make in our audits today are fundamentals I learned as a way of life, Plichta says.
By todays audits, Plichta means his work in Northern Michigan as a home energy auditor. After moving from California to Northern Michigan, he received his designation as a Green Certified Professional from NAHB (the National Association of Home Builders), and began applying his skills to constructing Green Certified Homes.
During the construction of these homes, we have found those aspects that truly make a difference when an energy audit is performed, and what will adversely affect energy cost and indoor air quality, he explains.
ALL ABOUT THE AUDIT
So just how does a home energy audit work?
We first meet with the home owner to ask if they have any specific concerns, Plichta says. Many times this may indicate an area we may want to address, especially if it is a health and safety issue. We then do a work sheet of the entire building, documenting wall types, foundations, windows (size and location), overhangs, insulation values, the homes square and cubic footage and mechanical systems. We then perform what is called a Blower Door Test where we reduce the pressure in the home via a large fan and take a series of readings to establish the CFM (cubic feet per minute) of air flow.This gives us the amount of air infiltration a particular home may have.
Beyond that, there are several other components that must be investigated to get a full picture of a homes energy use - or disuse.
At the same time, we will do IR (Infra Red Imaging) with a camera to determine the source of the air infiltration, Plichta continues. Air infiltration will account for 30% of your heating cost. We also perform a CAZ (Combustion Appliance Zone) test to check for carbon monoxide and/or gas leaks and backdrafting - these are vital to the health and well being of the occupants.
After compiling this information, we enter the data into a Rem Rate computer program that will gives us statistics of the home in its present condition and that if certain improvements are made, this is where we now are able to present the owner with choices and how those choices will affect their energy cost, the comfort of their home, and, in many cases, the quality of the indoor air.
UP NORTH CHALLENGES
While homes everywhere need to be concerned about efficient energy, from heating to airflow, homes in Northern Michigan, Plichta explains, have special concerns that are all their own, due to the areas harsh seasonal changes.
Due to the large swings in weather - extreme cold and dry winters versus warm, humid summers - it is very important that we keep wall cavities neutral, Plichta explains, what I mean by that is that the amount of water vapor that enters on one side of the wall has the equal amount of drying available on the other - or, in other words, that we do not trap water vapor in our walls, thus producing opportunities for mold growth and decay.
Something else of note for Northern Michigan residents is the areas slower acceptance (compared to a place like California) in using wider forms of alternative energy. But while solar panels and windmills are finally slowly appearing on our landscape, Plichta says its best to start by taking the home systems that we already have, and making them run as smoothly as possibly.
Alternative energy is evolving to become more efficient and affordable, Plichta says, but to install a system right now given the present rate of return on the cost of these systems doesnt pencil out near as much as remaking our present homes tighter and more efficient. It is always better to conserve than splurge. The Green home that we built is 1,900 square feet, and its annual fuel bill for heat, air conditioning, and domestic hot water is $24.00 a month.
The keys, Plichta explains, are reducing air infiltration and retrofitting the home to the standards of a HERS (a Home Energy Rating System that measures how efficiently a home performs) rating of 80 or less - good for the house itself, and good for our planet, too.
The more efficient you make the home, then that much more will solar and wind make a significant impact in your energy usage. I will be installing photovoltaic shingles in the near future on homes, because reducing our energy dependency is the right thing to do - and when we can reduce the traditional energy sources, we can reduce the amount of emissions into our environment.
John R. Plichtas J.R. Construction Building and Design may be contacted at 231-347-6503.
John Plichtas Top Suggestions for Saving Home Energy
1. Reduce Air Infiltration - use weather stripping, caulk, sealing, air and vapor barriers.
2. Improve the quality of insulation values in the home
3. Improve the efficiency of your furnace, water heater, and appliances
4. Change out inefficient equipment such as furnaces, lights, refrigerators, and entrance doors