Real Estate

Three options instead of three wishes

Home Efficiency Genie program helps residents go deeper with energy savings

Residents don't need to rub a magic lamp to save energy at home, but they can still turn to a genie — the Home Efficiency Genie. This program provides residents with free expert advice, discounted home assessments and a resource for how to move forward with energy-efficiency projects.

The Home Efficiency Genie Program launched on July 1 by the City of Palo Alto Utilities department (CPAU) and CLEAResult, a company that specializes in energy efficiency consulting and energy program management. Since its start in Palo Alto, CLEAResult staff have served 140 customers as of Nov. 11, according to Jeff Strauss, CLEAResult program manager.

"Palo Alto was looking for something a little more technical," he said. "This will be more of a whole-home approach, incorporating diagnostic testing."

Through the program that is subsidized by the city ($900,000 over the three-year contract), CLEAResult offers locals three options: free energy advising and utility bill analysis; a $99, basic in-home efficiency assessments or a $149, comprehensive assessment. The free options includes an over-the-phone review of utility bills and a look of use rates over time for water, gas and electric services. By evaluating these, the energy adviser can help the homeowner prioritize efficiency improvements, find contractors, evaluate contractor bids, and answer any questions. The basic in-home assessment includes free efficiency items, such as high-efficiency showerheads and faucet aerators, overview of consumption patterns, and assessments of the HVAC system, insulation, lighting, windows and more using a pressure test to measure draftiness. The comprehensive option includes the basic features plus a diagnostic duct leakage test, infrared camera scan and energy software modeling. Regardless of service level, homeowners will get to work one-on-one with an energy adviser throughout their upgrade process, Strauss said. To learn more about the program, homeowners can visit efficiencygenie.com.

So far, Strauss said, the in-home assessments have been the most popular, with 46 completed assessments, nine scheduled assessments and numerous utility bill reviews and phone consultations.

Jack Sack, a resident of Barron Park, was one of the first Home Efficiency Genie Program participant and sought the service because he wanted to make home-efficiency updates based on measurements. He had already done small energy improvements himself, such as change lightbulbs, but wanted to do more. That's when he enrolled in the basic in-home assessment, which included the blower door test.

After working with the technician and energy adviser through the audit, Sack received a 45-page report that detailed every inch of his home. The report listed improvements from sealing duct work to upgrading the heating system.

With the report in hand, Sack weighed the different options with the energy adviser who then connected him with pre-qualified contractors who could do the work — all of which is included in the $99 program option.

"It just made it so easy for me," Sack said. "I can't believe the benefits you get from it."

When interviewed a few weeks ago, Sack was in the final bidding stages for about four energy-efficient updates. In his home, he and his spouse decided to switch their heating system to a gas-only, heat pump-only or hybrid option. This move made sense because their current furnace was reaching the end of its lifespan and it was only 72 percent efficient, Sack said. In addition, they are going to have the duct work replaced, update the attic and floor insulation, and seal voids in the ceiling and floor.

"These are 20-year decisions you are making," he said. "If you haven't done anything in 20 years, there's a lot you can probably do."

Throughout the process, Sack worked with CLEAResult technician Tony Jung and energy adviser Scott Mellberg to find options that worked best for his goals and budget. And as a Palo Alto native who has lived here his whole life, and now resides in the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, Mellberg said he understands local concerns and conditions.

"A single solution won't solve all the problems," Mellberg said. "We take the time to explore their comfort and efficiency concerns."

For CPAU, the Home Efficiency Genie program fit with its continued efforts to save energy at home.

"For 20 years or so, that city has offered audits," said Lacey Lutes, CPAU program manager. "We heard from our residents that they were interested in going deeper."

Lutes said this program really walks residents through energy-saving improvements and that feedback has been positive so far. Plus, this program fits in with the city's overall energy goals and its participation in the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition.

"We are engaging our residents to drive energy savings," said Catherine Elvert, CPAU communications manager. "Home Efficiency Genie should be a really great program to catapult those savings."

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