2014 December Newsletter

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A message from David Wilson, Director of Utah Energy Conservation Coalition:

Let me preface this article with this disclaimer – This is NOT your normal Energy Efficiency centric article. Now with that out of the way, let me share with you some thoughts related to this magical season of the year.

For many of us in Utah this time of year (i.e. the “HOLIDAY” Season) is one of great excitement as well as trepidation. It’s a chance for each of us, no matter what our religious beliefs and traditions may be to relish a time of sharing, celebration, giving, and oh so many traditions – too many to count. It’s a magical time for young and old.  It’s also a time of sadness that many people feel and experience.

For many this is one of the busiest times of the year. This could be due to employment, family responsibilities, church duties, and all things in-between. For some reason that I cannot fully comprehend, we as humans have a tendency to place an absurd amount of expectations on ourselves, and then with this overload of expectations – we find out we just can’t deliver on all of them. These expectations turn into disappointments and then we begin a downward spiral that can be devastating for many.

This just doesn’t have to happen!!

A simple way to approach and (IMHO) better address our expectations is to change our way of thinking and to not dwell solely on consumption (volume living – more, and more – bigger is better), but on making these holidays a time of genuine friendship, finding joy in the moment,  and building (as well as maintaining) meaningful connections with those around us. We should tell the people we love exactly how we feel. We should stop (or at least reduce in size) the endless commercialization pressure(s) to meet these excessive expectations and learn to enjoy the moment. I know, it’s easier said than done, but it is oh so worth it!! We should strive to be optimistic and work to build up our emotional reserves in all that we do.

With all this in mind, it is the wish of the Utah Energy Conservation Coalition as well as my personal wish to all of those who are taking the time to read this e-newsletter – please work to simplify these holidays. Simplification is all I ask. All we ask is:

  • Work to make the holidays about people not things.
  • Build your holiday expectations to be in-line with your abilities – be realistic regarding wants & needs.
  • As individuals and families — work to recognize that your time together, even if it’s a quick pizza time, is far more meaningful than endless shopping and running around.
  • If you have the means to do so – be willing to share your abundance with others as you see fit. Give of yourself.
  • Relish the moments with family and friends. Remember that you are NOT alone.
  • It it’s to be – It’s up to me. You are great.

From myself and all of us at the Utah Energy Conservation Coalition & Energy Rated Homes of Utah, we wish each of you individually and collectively a wonderful holiday season.

David A. Wilson
Executive Officer

Evaluating Combustion Air

December 11th, 2014 by John Krigger

I had to rewrite the procedure for evaluating combustion air in our field guides so I posted it as a blog.  Would appreciate your feedback . . .

Unnecessary Holes in the Building
Contractors often cut combustion-air holes in ceilings, floors, walls, and doors without knowing whether the combustion appliance zone (CAZ) needs additional air. These new openings can lead to unintended consequences like pressurizing or depressurizing the CAZ or admitting cold drafts.
Combustion Air Evaluation
The best way to evaluate the combustion air is with an electronic combustion analysis of the building’s combustion appliances. During worst-case testing, the combustion analyzer measures both CO and oxygen (O2). The O2 is an indicator of excess combustion air.

  1. Sample undiluted flue gases as they leave the appliance’s heat exchanger during worst-case conditions.
  2. If the  reading from the combustion analyzer is more than 5% with minimal CO, this indicates that an adequate amount of combustion air is available.
  3. If the O2 reading from the combustion analyzer is between 0% and 5%, this indicates that combustion air is inadequate. We would expect significant CO with this O2 reading

At 5% or more of flue-gas oxygen, additional indoor or outdoor combustion air is usually unnecessary. If the O2 is between 0% and 5%, open a nearby window or door a little. If the O2 level rises to an acceptable level, install a combustion air supply from one of these areas.

  • Another indoor space
  • A ventilated intermediate zone, such as a ventilated attic or ventilated crawl space.
  • Outdoors


Due to the number of comments given, we are unable to post them here.  However, there are very good comments and replies given, and we suggest that everyone follow this link to read them.

Don’t Delay!  CAZ Deadline this month!

Remember that the CAZ testing deadline is December 31, 2014.  If raters have not taken the tests by this date, they will be suspended by their Rating Quality Assurance Providers.  Raters will remain under suspension until the tests are taken and scores reported to their providers.

‘Tis the Season for Giving!

Please assist Utah Energy Conservation Coalition in continuing its work in promoting energy efficiency in the housing community.  You can help, simply by doing what you normally do, at no cost to you or your cause.The optional iGive Button is a simple web browser app, easy to install and uninstall. It automatically activates at participating stores.

Don’t want the Button or an app? Just start your shopping trips by going to iGive.com.

Shop normally (no special codes, no special anything) at any of about 1,500 stores. The Button is working in the background to let them know you’re helping when you shop.

We appreciate your support!

Five Ways to Insulate Your Windows This Winter:

While looking into the best way to insulate our drafty windows this winter (apart from replacing them), we put together this mini-guide of solutions we found so far, including the pros and cons of everything from layered curtains to shrink-wrap film.

1. Rubber Weather Sealing: You can buy strips of self-stick rubber weather sealing at a hardware store or online. Cut long strips down to fit your window dimensions, then peel and stick to the frame to close any gaps and keep out drafts.
Pros: Cheap, effective, minimal alterations to appearance of windows.
Cons: When you peel away the rubber strips, they can damage paint or leave a sticky residue.
2. Window Insulation Film: You can buy window insulation kits from a hardware store or online. Kits usually include plastic shrink film that is applied to the indoor window frame with double-stick tape, then heated with a hair dryer to shrink the film and remove any wrinkles.
Pros: Cheap and effective.
Cons: Gives windows a cloudy, shrink-wrapped look.
3. Cellular Shades: Cellular Shades insulate while still letting in light through the windows. They can be ordered and custom cut from home and design centers. We found a good set of step-by-step instructions for installation here.
Pros: They let in light and can be custom-fitted for doors and windows.
Cons: They can be expensive and may not insulate as much as heavier curtains.
4. Layered Curtains: Use heavy fabrics or layered curtains over the windows to keep out drafts.
Pros: Looks good, can be matched to your home decor.
Cons: Curtains can be expensive and heavy drapes can block out light.
5. Draft Snakes: Draft snakes are fabric tubes placed on a window sill or under a door to prevent cold air from creeping in. You can make one by sewing a tube of fabric to fit the width of your window and filling it with dried rice.
Pros: Cheap, easy to make as a DIY project.
Cons: It only insulates the window sill, not the glass or frame.

Want to save big this holiday season? Winterize your home the right way

By Jeff Wuorio
For Deseret News National

Mention winterizing a house to most homeowners and the knee jerk responses are bound to begin flying: Time consuming, expensive, unnecessary.
Tackling the last comment first, it’s true that energy takes a smaller bite out of most homeowners’ budgets than it used to. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, energy now accounts for about 5 percent of disposable income, down from a high of 8 percent in the 1960s.
And a homeowner’s energy bill could be even less.
“Very few houses these days are as energy-efficient as they could be,” says TV home improvement expert Danny Lipford.
Nor does making your home as energy smart as possible mandate blocking out weeks free time or a carte blanche budget. Buttoning up your home for the winter can be relatively quick and inexpensive if you know where to put both your efforts and cash to the best use.

Watch your behavior
One first step is identifying where winterizing a home won’t necessarily involve a single penny, just changing some bad habits and behavior, says Lipford.
Start with the curtains, blinds and other window coverings in your house. Keep them open during daylight hours to let in natural light and heat and closed when the sun goes down to retain that heat.
In many households, only one person — usually a parent — is allowed to touch the thermostat. That tyranny can pay off if the thermostat handler uses a light touch. Setting a home thermostat to 68 degrees during daylight hours and lowering it while you’re asleep or away can produce big-time savings. The federal Department of Energy estimates turning a thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours can trim as much as 15 percent off heating bills — a savings of as much as 1 percent for each degree over an eight-hour period.
If manually regulating the thermostat is too much bother, a programmable thermostat may be the answer, allowing homeowners to program the temperature for certain times of the day. Prices start at anywhere from $25 and up depending on the sophistication of the device and whether it needs professional installation.

Little payout, big payback
Even for those home energy improvements that cost something, the initial expense can be as little as a flashlight or a stick of incense.
Those tools can be used, as Lipford notes, to identify cracks, tiny openings and other hard-to-see breaches that can be major energy loss culprits. Have a friend or family member go outside in the evening and shine a flashlight along the perimeters of doors and windows. To accomplish roughly the same job in the home’s interior, light a stick of incense and watch for a change in the smoke flow that can indicate a leak.
Once problems have been identified, inexpensive caulking can shore up your house’s overall seal.
“They even have outside caulk now that can match the color of your house,” Lipford says. “By doing this, when you close a window or a door, you know they’re truly closed.”
Give some thought as well to what window treatments you have in place. Jay Fayloga, general manager of Decorview, a designer of custom window coverings, says cellular or honeycomb patterned shades are less expensive than wooden shades and more effective in retaining heat.
As for the windows themselves, replacing old and leaky windows can be expensive. As a cost-effective stopgap, consider the plastic window sealant kits available at hardware stores and home improvement warehouses.
If adding plastic sheeting to windows isn’t aesthetically pleasing (even though, when properly applied, the plastic is virtually invisible), consider just windows in bedrooms and upstairs rooms that are less noticeable.
Another sneaky energy loss source comes via electrical outlets and light switch plates on exterior facing walls. The solution is gasket covers that add an extra layer of seal inside the plate. The price for a package of 16 outlet gaskets and eight switch gaskets on Amazon — $7.75.
One last budget conscious step is checking the furnace air filters. Old or clogged filters can strain a furnace’s performance and burn up more fuel in the process. Some filters may be need to be replaced. However, as experts at the home improvement franchise Mr. Handyman note, metal filters can often be washed off and put back into place at no cost.
No time at all
For some homeowners, the time it might take to study their entire home and catalog potential projects is a stumbling block. No problem: have a pro do the initial legwork of identifying energy issues and fixes. As the national consumer organization Angie’s List points out, many utility companies offer these free of charge. Angie’s List also offers suggestions on cost conscious winterization.
Keep in mind that many of these tips also provide benefits once Old Man Winter goes back on hiatus. Sealing leaks and ensuring energy efficiency can not only trim your heating costs in the cold months, but can also hold down cooling costs in the heat of the summer.
Lastly, don’t take on every project before the cold weather sets in. Even a few upgrades and fixes now, leaving the rest for next year, can provide savings that make the time spent worthwhile.
“We all feel good when we know we’re doing something smart,” says Lipford.

The tax credit question
One last winterization issue remains as uncertain as the weather itself.
Until the end of 2013, home energy improvements paid off in more ways than lower energy bills. Looking to spur energy efficiency, the federal government offered a number of tax credits for a variety of energy upgrades, from home improvements to the purchase of energy stingy appliances.
Those perks lapsed at the end of 2013 and have yet to be renewed. However, they are included in the so-called “tax extenders” package that may be considered by the lame duck Congress before the end of the year. The caveat is that the package — which takes in more than 50 tax measures — has been languishing in Congress for months and passage remains uncertain — be it before year’s end or in 2015.
Homeowners whose focus is primarily on energy savings can certainly go ahead with plans to upgrade, no matter the fate of the extenders bill. On the other hand, if the appeal of tax credits, which could be worth up to thousands of dollars, is a tipping point, consider holding off, at least for now.
“The best bet is to wait and see if Congress takes action this year,” says Tom Wheelwright, CEO of the Phoenix-based tax firm ProVision. “Worst case is that they take action in January and people do their home energy improvements in 2015.”


ENERGY STAR has three new marketing tools to help differentiate your ENERGY STAR certified homes and capture homebuyer’s attention:

Learn more about how you can incorporate each of these new tools and resources into your marketing strategy in the information below.

Sales Training Kit
Use this customizable training kit to prepare your sales staff to communicate the value of ENERGY STAR to perspective homebuyers. By participating in the 2-hour training, sales staff can learn and apply customized value propositions to various client profiles to ultimately sell more ENERGY STAR certified homes. You can access the Sales Training Kit by logging into your My ENERGY STAR Account at www.energystar.gov/mesa.

Co-brandable Yard Signs
As an ENERGY STAR Partner, you can download and customize free yard sign templates created by ENERGY STAR for use on lots for sale, model homes, and directional signage. They have also made the ENERGY STAR Linkage Phrase logo available as an “add-on” feature that partners may place on any yard sign to promote ENERGY STAR certified homes.

Please visit www.energystar.gov/mesa to download these yard sign templates, as well as add-on elements, and follow the instructions provided for co-branding. When using the ENERGY STAR name or logo in any promotional materials, partners are responsible for adhering to the ENERGY STAR brand guidelines (www.energystar.gov/brandbook).

Are you looking for an interesting and yet simple way to communicate the many benefits of living in an ENERGY STAR certified new home? Embed our new infographic on your website by simply copying the code at the bottom of the page featuring the graphic. They’ve also taken individual sections of the infographic and made them available for download here for use on social media or other outreach materials.

ENERGY STAR encourages you to use these new materials, along with the other free resources available at www.energystar.gov/newhomesmarketing, in order to help consumers understand the big message behind the little label: Better is Better. If you have any questions, please email them at energystarhomes@energystar.gov.


House Approves Tax Extenders Bill

Posted Dec. 4, 2014

By a wide bipartisan 378-46 margin, the House last night approved H.R. 5771, the Tax Increase Prevention Act, which will renew scores of temporary tax provisions known as “tax extenders” that expired this year, including several of interest to the housing community. The one-year retroactive renewal is through 2014 and dates back to Jan. 1.
NAHB is disappointed that a longer term deal was not reached, but the political situation and the calendar have forced Congress into a one-year deal everyone hoped to avoid.
Just one week ago, Congress was headed to a bipartisan, bicameral deal which would have extended all of the expired provisions for two years through 2015. The agreement also would have also made a handful of extenders, such as the research and development tax credit, permanent.
Just hours after word of the agreement leaked out, the White House scuttled the deal by announcing the President would veto any bill that contained these permanent provisions.
In a letter to the House prior to the bill’s passage, NAHB urged lawmakers to support the legislation. We also expressed concern that these short-term tax bills create difficulties for our members by denying builders the certainty needed to finance complex projects and called on Congress to act quickly on a longer-term deal in early 2015
Key provisions in the tax extenders package for 2014 (retroactive to Jan. 1) include:

  • Section 45L Tax Credit for Energy Efficient New Homes. Provides builders a $2,000 tax credit for exceeding energy standards by 50%. The base energy code is the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code plus supplements. Section 45L is expected to save home builders $267 million in taxes for 2014 construction activity.
  • Fixed Credit Rate for 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credit projects. The bill will renew the 9% fixed rate, but only for 2014 allocations.
  • Section 25C Tax Credit for Qualified Energy Efficiency Improvements. This is a credit worth up to $500 (subject to a $500 lifetime cap), with lower caps for certain products like windows, for consumers to install qualified energy efficient upgrades. Remodelers often leverage 25C tax credits when working with clients. Section 25C is expected to save home owners who remodel $832 million in taxes for 2014 improvements.
  • Section 179D Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Deduction. Provides a deduction up to $1.80 per square foot for commercial buildings, including multifamily buildings built under the commercial code, that exceed specific energy efficiency minimums.
  • Section 163 Deduction for Private Mortgage Insurance. Allows taxpayers, subject to an income cap, to deduct premiums paid for private mortgage insurance. The deduction for PMI is expected to save home owners $919 million for tax year 2014.
  • Bonus Depreciation. Extends the 50% bonus depreciation.
  • Section 179 Expensing. Increases the maximum expensing amount to $500,000 for qualified property on up to $2 million in property placed in service.
  • Short-sale mortgage debt forgiveness. The provision would extend through 2014 the exclusion from gross income of a discharge of qualified principal residence indebtedness due to a short sale.

The Senate is expected to take up and pass H.R. 5771 next week.

Americans could save a fortune this winter — if they only understood their thermostats

By Chris Mooney
Published by the Washington Post

As Americans experience the start of winter — in some cases, an extreme winter — it’s time to get out the sidewalk salt and clean the furnace. And, usually, to turn up the heat. However, too few of us realize just how much energy and money we’re wasting by using that terrifying and confusing device on the wall — the thermostat — in a just plain incorrect or flawed way.

Residential thermostats account for a staggering nine percent of all U.S. energy use. No wonder that according to the Department of Energy, leaving your thermostat set too high can lead to a much higher power bill — and conversely, setting it back when you’re away or asleep can lead to major savings. “You can save 5 percent to 15 percent a year on your heating bill — a savings of as much as 1 percent for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long,” reports the agency.

Given figures like these, energy gurus have long offered some seemingly simple advice: Get yourself a programmable thermostat, which lets you enter multiple timed heat settings, and so ought to make lowering your thermostat at the right time a cinch. It sounds like an energy saving dream — right?

Wrong. Much research suggests that many people just don’t understand how to use their thermostats — programmable or otherwise. Indeed, it has been estimated that only about 30 percent of homes actually have thermostats that can be programmed, despite the fact that this technology has been around for more than three decades. “Residential energy use (and savings) still depends largely on the settings of manual thermostats by the owners,” notes a recent study.

And even among the programmable thermostat owners, there’s reason to think that many or even most people aren’t using them correctly. A 2003 study conducted by thermostat-maker Carrier found that just 47 percent of programmable thermostats were actually in the “program” mode — in which, you know, they can actually be programmed.

Fifty three percent were in “hold” mode, which “functionally transforms the programmable thermostat into a manual thermostat.” The situation is so bad that in 2009, the EPA’s EnergyStar program suspended its program for programmable thermostats, noting that “while EPA recognizes the potential for programmable thermostats to save significant amounts of energy, there continue to be questions concerning the net energy savings and environmental benefits” that consumers were achieving with them.

So why can’t we do better in a realm that promises vast energy savings if we get it right? The question is particularly pointed now as new smart thermostat technologies are abounding and utility companies seek to communicate with these advanced devices to regulate energy use at times of peak demand.

The three problems with thermostats
There are three key overlapping problems here — some of which involve thermostats and some of which involve humans.

1) There are problems with some thermostats themselves. One ergonomic study found that for the toughest-to-use programmable thermostat sampled, more than half of people could not figure out how to even put it in “heat” mode. Actually programming these devices was, obviously, a much higher bar — and here, thermostat jargon posed a large problem. “In general, subjects were confused regarding the terms/functions temporary override, timed hold, permanent hold, permanent override, away and vacation,” noted the study.

“I’ve been studying thermostats for 10 years, or more, and there are still thermostats that floor me,” says Therese Peffer, one of the study authors and a researcher at the California Institute for Energy and Environment at the University of California Berkeley. “It still takes me time to figure out ‘What the heck does that mean?'”

2) We didn’t choose them. Many people don’t go out and choose their thermostats because they actually like the product — it’s grandfathered into their lives when they move into an apartment, condo, or home where one already exists. They don’t really know how to use it or program it, or even that they can. The manual may have been lost years ago. Thermostats may also be located in odd or incorrect places in the home — in a dark hallway where you can’t see the buttons or the temperature very well, or close to a window, where they’re reading a cooler temperature than what actually exists throughout the home.

3) We’re the problem, too. There are also numerous myths and misconceptions about how thermostats work and don’t work, which may dissuade energy friendly operation. Take, for instance, the idea that if you set the thermostat to a lower temperature at night or when you’re out, it takes more energy to warm the home back up again. Here’s DOE’s debunking of this falsehood:

In fact, as soon as your house drops below its normal temperature, it will lose energy to the surrounding environment more slowly. The lower the interior temperature, the slower the heat loss. So the longer your house remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you save, because your house has lost less energy than it would have at the higher temperature.
So if you’ve ever been afraid to mess with your thermostat, or completely mystified by a bizarre thermostat in a hotel room, suffice it to say that you are definitely not alone.

The future may be better
So, what’s being done to make the world’s thermostats better? There’s a clear trend toward linking up thermostats with smartphones and the Internet, and including features that move them beyond the realm of merely “programmable” into something “smart” and able to automatically adjust to or even learn from its user.

Thermostat maker Honeywell, for instance — which built the famous thermostat known as “The Round” (we’ve all seen one) in the 1950s — now offers Lyric, a smart thermostat that you can operate remotely from your phone. Lyric uses a technology called “geofencing” that “automatically sets back the thermostat when the home is empty and makes it comfortable when someone is home,” says Brad Paine, general manager of the Lyric Platform at Honeywell Connected Home. You enable the feature in the Lyric app on your smartphone, and the thermostat then knows (from the smartphone’s location) how close you are to home, and can switch your home temperature to a preferred setting when you are in close proximity. (Watch a video of how it works here.)

For thermostat researcher Peffer, remote programmability represents a pretty important breakthrough. “If people are going to go spend two weeks on a vacation and it’s in the dead of winter, they don’t want to come back to a house that’s 48 degrees,” she says. “But if you can turn on your system when you’re at the airport on your phone, I think that’s a huge difference.”

And then there’s Nest, another smart thermostat whose maker, Nest Labs, is now owned by Google. Nest actually “learns” your behavioral patterns — and self-programs to save you energy.
“Most people don’t actually program their thermostat,” says Nest spokeswoman Zoz Cuccias, “so it puts more ask on the user.” So Nest in effect self-programs after learning your habits during the first week of use. Nest can also be controlled remotely, and it shows an encouraging little green leaf on the display when energy savings occur.

Granted, these tend to be the products bought by the wired and energy conscious. They’re spreading, but there’s some thermostat inertia in the population overall — old thermostats that are inherited by new homebuyers may not be changed until they actually break down.

The EPA says it wants to get back in on the action, too. “EPA is working with industry to gather information about how smart thermostats can most effectively be used,” said Jennifer Colaizzi, a press officer with the agency, who said an automatic thermostat can save $180 a year. “The first step is to establish a way to evaluate energy savings with data from the field.”
For a lot of us, though, in order to save energy we may need to seize control of our climatic and energy fates. This winter, maybe a smart thermostat first requires a smart human.