Making a home truly energy efficient means more than installing a new heat pump and double paned windows. To ensure everything is working as it should, Mount Shasta contractor Rick Chitwood suggests a thorough building performance test.

Making a home truly energy efficient means more than installing a new heat pump and double paned windows. To ensure everything is working as it should, Mount Shasta contractor Rick Chitwood suggests a thorough building performance test.

Chitwood, a fourth generation Siskiyou County resident, trains home performance contractors, field tests homes, and lectures on the topic in many states. He is working to get the word out about building performance testing technology.

“The most common question I get is, ‘What should I fix first, where are the big energy savings?’” Chitwood writes in an information piece provided to the newspaper. “We are always looking for the silver bullet, the one thing that is cheap and easy and will significantly lower our utility bills. Regretfully, there is never one thing. The opportunities for improvement are found in lots of areas and vary significantly home to home.”

To illustrate his point, Chitwood calls attention to the Mount Shasta home of Jack and Lorie Saunders.

The Saunders have lived in their house on Adams Drive since 1980. Lorie said it wasn’t much more than a “cabin” then, but they have since added on twice.

In 2009, when their old furnace died, she said they put in a top-of-the-line high efficency furnace. Lorie had high expectations, but it did not lower their propane bills.

She said some parts of the house were too hot and others too cold.

Having heard about her sister-in-law’s experience with building performance testing that was done before installing solar panels in Massachusetts, Lorie decided to do have her house analyzed.

She hired Mike MacFarland of Energy Docs in Redding to perform the testing and implement an energy efficiency plan. He provided a thorough analysis of her home and part of the cost of the study was credited to the project, which Saunders admits was spendy.

However, she sees the benefits outweighing the costs.

“We were easily spending $2,500 a year on propane, and $300 to $400 in electricity a month,” Saunders said.

Now, propane is used only for the cooktop and a fireplace insert, not for heating. Their electric bills have been cut in half and they no longer have a wood stove.

Lorie said she sees a difference in her home’s air quality, a result of the sophisticated science MacFarland used to move the air around.

MacFarland monitored the house for 12 months, then provided a report detailing their energy savings.

Initially the Saunders expected to recover their costs in 10 years; now Lorie believes it will only take 7.

“It is such a wonderful feeling to know, as we are looking forward to retirement, that we are prepared for a reduced income,” she said.

An investment

Chitwood agrees that the initial investment for implementing an energy efficiency plan with performance testing can be large. He also believes it is well worth it.

“When we carefully analyze where the opportunities for improvement in the energy efficiency of a home is, we virtually never find it in one (hopefully easy to fix) location,” Chitwood wrote. “Typically, we find that the opportunity for improvement is spread in small amounts from lighting, water heating and refrigerators, to air leaks, duct leaks and missing insulation.”

He said when it’s time for an energy efficiency upgrade, the prevailing wisdom suggests getting three bids for the work and taking the low bidder.

But, according to Chitwood, “the low bidder can’t afford to include performance testing in his price. Performance testing is the only way to identify the areas that have problems and the only way to know if the new work is performing at full efficiency. Testing is critical. If you are ill would you tell the doctor not to run any tests because you want to save a few dollars?”

A list of performance tests provided by Chitwood includes: a “blower door test” to measure the size of air leaks, infrared cameras to show how well insulation is working and where the air leaks are, duct blasters to measure how much the ducts are leaking, flow hoods to measure air flow rates, electronic thermometers, glass testers that determine the efficiency of a window, and others.

“It’s so tempting to shop price only, taking the low bid,” Chitwood said. “But to receive true value we need to find a cost effective balance between cost and delivered performance, which can’t be done without building performance test equipment.”