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Sun, Sept. 22

Energy audits, utility rebates are good values

I've known Mike Uniacke for many years. He's one of the experts I call when I have questions. He doesn't know it, but I'm a little upset with him.

Gavin Hastings hasn't met me yet (he will next month), but I'm upset with him, too. You see, I have to go into attics every day, and they are pretty darn hot in the summer. But often the air conditioner ducts are in the attic. If I turn the air conditioner on when I enter the attic, I almost always find some leaky ducts. Usually up to 15 percent (or more) of the cool air is leaking into the attic. It's nice being able to find those leaks and get a little cool air while I'm up there.

Unfortunately, Mike is going around and sealing all these ducts, and Gavin is helping the homeowners with the cost. This is making it less comfortable for home inspectors or anyone else that has to go in an attic.

I'm not really upset with them of course - they're helping to save homeowners a lot of heating/cooling costs, and making their homes more comfortable and cleaner. Mike owns Advanced Insulation and Advantage Home Performance. Gavin is the program manager for the APS Home Performance with Energy Star Checkup program. (APS is our electricity provider.)

This is the best program I've seen for checking your home for energy efficiency. Here's how it works: You have an energy audit performed on your home. This audit would normally cost $400 or more, but with the APS program you pay only $99 because APS and Unisource (our natural gas supplier) are subsidizing the cost. You have to use a contractor approved by APS and/or Unisource, who only approve contractors certified by the Building Performance Institute. Mike is one of these contractors.

The contractor will show up at your home with about $10,000 of

specialized testing equipment, including a blower door (to measure house and duct leaks) and infrared cameras (to check for missing/poor insulation). They will check and evaluate your heating/cooling equipment, ducts, doors and windows, insulation, room pressures, etc. I have mentioned building science many times in this column, which includes the study of how different components and systems in a home interact. Making a home "tight" can affect gas appliances, so the audit will include combustion testing on these appliances. You will receive a written report that will tell you exactly where your energy dollars are going. You will know the costs for the improvements, and which have the best return on investment.

Now the best part: Not only does APS pay most of your energy audit cost, it offers up to $1,000 in rebates, and Unisource offers up to another $1,350. APS has separate rebates of $250 for sealing ductwork, sealing air leaks (these are often attic leaks like light fixtures, not just doors and windows), improving insulation and shade screens. I wrote a column last year about how effective shade screens can be. APS has an additional rebate (up to $270) for replacing older, inefficient air conditioners. Unisource has rebates for insulation, air sealing, and duct sealing, and up to $550 for replacing inefficient gas furnaces.

So, APS and Unisource will pay for most of your audit, and may give you rebates for any improvements you make. These improvements will save you energy costs, and very likely make your home more comfortable, cleaner and safer.

Oh yeah, if that's not enough, the energy auditor will provide up to 10 CFL light bulbs, one water-saving showerhead, and up to three sink faucet aerators.

This is an absolute no-brainer to me. I have scheduled Mike to do an energy audit on my home, not only because my older home needs it but so I can become more familiar with the program. This is information I want to provide my clients, no matter what age home they're buying.

Mike's company performs both the audits and mechanical work. Here's a few questions I had for Mike:

How long does the actual audit take? The audit takes 3 to 5 hours, depending on the size of the home, mechanical systems, and the complexity of the energy loss issues.

When will I receive the audit report? It takes about five business days to get the report.

Is it beneficial to be present when the audit is performed? More than beneficial, it's critical for the auditor to interview the homeowner.

Will the rebates cover replacing window air conditioners with a central air conditioner? Yes, the old window air conditioner is removed when the central air conditioner is installed.

Why aren't gaspacks eligible for the rebates? Gaspacks are common in our area. These are a combination furnace and air conditioner in a single unit, most often installed on the roof. Gaspacks are not eligible for the Unisource furnace rebate because they do not meet the higher efficiency requirements for heating. Many gaspacks do quality for the APS air conditioner rebate of $270.

Unisource has rebates for some of the same improvements as APS. Can I collect from both of them? Yes! That is one of the best parts of the program. If you are an APS and Unisource customer, you can receive rebates from both companies.

How long does it take to get the rebates? Both the Unisource and APS rebates are designed to be instantly rebated off the customer's invoice for qualified improvements.

These rebates are only available to APS and Unisource customers (of course), and only if you get an audit from an approved contractor. There is a list of contractors, and videos and much more information, on these websites: aps.com/checkup, uesaz/efficiency/home/gas/bright.com (Unisource), and advantagehomeperformance.pro.

Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is state-certified and has performed more than 6,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. Contact him at randy@inspectprescott.com.

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