UCD’s Partnership with Energy Works provides affordable energy audits for University City residents

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

University City Review

By Nicole Contosta

Utility bills increase at about five percent each year. As a result, many homeowners find themselves burdened by high-energy costs. However, many homeowners don’t realize that their homes contribute to this expense through poor insulation and sealing. And then there’s the environmental impact. When homeowners allow energy to seep through their homes, they’re also increasing their carbon footprints. So for those who would like to reduce their utility costs while simultaneously decreasing their carbon footprints, consider applying for the Select Partnership Program for an energy audit.

The Select Partnership Program’s energy audit, is one of the programs offered through Energy Works, explained Seth Budick, the Manager of Policy and Research at the University City District (UCD). The UCD, which has partnered with Energy Works, is one of four Philadelphia partnerships to utilize this program. The others include Queen Village, Passyunk Square and the Energy Cooperative. And with 37 households who have applied for the program and 26 audit completions, the UCD has participated in the most energy audits out of the four partnerships.

By offering the Select Partnership to the UCD, participants "receive heavily discounted energy audits," Budick said, explaining that energy audits typically cost between $400-$500. But when blocks of homeowners sign up, they’re able to receive their energy audits at the discounted cost of $150. Moreover, once the energy audits are complete, homeowners receive an additional $50 rebate, Budick added.

"Vetted certified contractors conduct the audits, so homeowners don’t have to worry about their dependability," Budick explained. And the dependability of the contractors that the UCD chose from Lowery Ecco Solutions is something Budick can praise from personal experience. Both he and Mark Christman, the UCD’s Communications Manager, received three-hour energy audits on their homes right before the 2011 holidays.

When Budick and Christman received their energy audits, the contractor began testing their homes for safety by running a carbon monoxide test. It’s a test, "to make sure that your home’s ventilation is working properly," Budick explained. From there, the contractor attaches a blower door to the home’s front door, Budick said explaining that "the blower door sucks the air out of the house and allows the contractor to determine how leaky the house is."

In Budick’s case, the amount of leaks in his house amount to a 15 by 15 inch hole. "It’s equivalent to the size of a giant window that I keep open all of the time," Budick noted. The contractor then shows the homeowner where many of the leaks have occurred through the use of an infrared camera. For instance, the infrared cameral will show how air seeps through un-insulated light sockets, track lighting and even the floorboards. (The contractor will show homeowners the results of the infrared pictures during the audit, but it’s an additional $75 for homeowners to have those pictures included in their final energy reports).

Throughout the audit, the contractor emphasizes the importance of insulating and sealing the home, Budick explained, adding that the contractor will also spend a lot of time in the homeowner’s basement.

According to Budick’s conversations with the contractor, "a lot of the basements in [University City’s] older homes were designed to be leaky because of they way people used to heat their homes with coal and kerosene. If they weren’t designed that way, people would have suffocated."

Once the energy audit is complete, the homeowner will receive a printed copy of their final report. The final report will detail the home’s energy deficiencies, such as how much energy leaks from the home, Budick explained. But it will also show how much money the homeowner will earn back by repairing the house—not to mention the savings they will receive from utility bills. And the people who participate in the energy audits, can apply for a low interest loan (.99) percent that can be used for up to $1,000 worth of energy repairs, Budick said. And, if the homeowner needs "to do any remediation in order to make your improvements--like removing knob and tube wiring-- these loans can pay for that work, up to 25% of the total cost of your project," Budick added.

"It was a very valuable learning experience," Christman noted with regards to understanding the ways he can make his house more energy efficient. "And there are also a lot of very painless ways a non-skilled homeowner can make repairs without contacting a contractor such as turning off lights and closing doors," said Christman.

Due to the Select Partnership Programs success, the UCD has extended the energy audits for another month. Anyone who signs up during this month will receive the discounted rate.

The UCD has worked with Energy Works in a number of capacities through its Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA). The ECA also works with low-income households to help with weatherization. The UCD’s boundaries, on the east, 29th Street and the Schuylkill River; on the west, 50th Street; on the north, Spring Garden Street (to 40th Street), Powelton Avenue (to 44th Street), and Market Street; and on the south, Civic Center Boulevard, University Avenue and Woodland Avenue.

For more information about the Select Partnership or to participate, contact Seth Budick at: [email protected].

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