A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

The Popcorn of Energy Code

It seems at times that we are more focused on energy efficiency than ever before. We currently taking alternative energy sources seriously, although we are still heavily reliant on traditional fuels. The mayor of Houston has revealed a new plan to improve recycling and energy efficiency initiatives to begin next month. With all of this attention, more people are putting forth their ideas and beliefs on the subject.

In a way it reminds me of a similar array of articles about our health ten years ago. Talk of the different kinds of fats seemed to be everywhere. My clearest memory was of movie theater popcorn butter flavoring. This artery clogging oil has been a staple on popcorn. Movie theaters stopped having their own staff put it on, and they started allowing their customers to serve themselves. The staff did not put too much flavoring on the product, so hence not too much of this problematic oil. One day when standing in a lobby of a theater, I watched as this man poured maybe as much as ten times the amount of oil that the staff would have. He proceeded to the manager to complain about the oil, and how unhealthy it was. He wanted to know what the manger was going to do about it. After his confrontation, he went back to put more oil on his popcorn. Movie theaters switched to a healthier oil. Customers then complained about the awful taste. After some experiments, theaters went quietly back to the original oil. No more stories dealt with how awful the oil was. In a way, I can see this happening with energy efficiency.

Energystar products are great, but they are not necessarily energy efficient. You see it depends on how you use them. I could wash my dishes by hand in an extremely energy conservative way, but if I buy an Energystar dishwasher, and I use it all the time, my net energy usage has increased. Some products may be even more energy efficient than those rated by Energystar, so you have to be on the look out for how many kilowatts an appliance uses, before making the purchase. Many new technologies like solar may be fickle in your area, so ask an expert in installing the system what would work for you. My point is that you should not rush out to change your life, without taking the time to evaluate all of your options.

One way to check on what you can do is by having an energy audit. Many utilities will provide you with a free audit, and there may be some incentives given to you if you take some steps to being more efficient. Everyone is hopefully aware of the tax break on federal taxes for insulating your home. There is a new type of inspection taking hold in some markets, and that is the energy inspection. I have toyed with the idea of becoming an energy code inspector, but there is no market for it yet in Houston, and I do not want the marketing expense to teach people of this style of inspection right now. A related inspection is the thermographic inspection, which can be a big benefit to homeowners concerned with energy efficiency.(I wrote a post on this inspection type on HoustonTexasRealEstate.com) As for energy code inspections, you can look at what is involved for yourself by going to energycode.gov. You can review the material for the courses there.

Before being sold on or scared by the idea of energy efficiency take some time to learn about easy steps that you can take, and then look at the appliances and equipment that you want to install in your home. Maybe there is an energy code inspector in your community, and this may be a great option for you. If money is tight because of the holiday season, check into an energy audit from your utility. Any step towards efficiency could save you money in the long run.


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