Monday, November 24, 2014

Home Energy Audit, Round 2

...So without getting into a whole thing, let's just say that I parted ways with the previous company that was going to do work on my house due to various reasons.

I had a second energy audit done in late September by McLagan Home Performance Services. This has been a vastly better experience all around. I am about to sign paperwork for them to proceed with several measures:
  • The heating systems and hot water heaters for both apartments will be replaced with Navien Combi units, so the scary rusting boxes shall go, freeing up a lot of space in the basement. 
  • Spray foam the rim joists in the basement.
  • The walls are going to have cellulouse blown-in and dense packed, which will make the house less drafty and more cozy - no more icy cold exterior walls! 
  • They will also be air sealing the attic. I'll have to blow in new insulation myself because I topped out the amount of the NYSERDA loan, but if other people on the interwebs can do it, so can I!
They've estimated that we'll save $1,162/year in energy costs, not to mention be way more comfortable.  Maybe I won't have to swaddle myself in blankets for the entire winter! What freedom!

I've also started going around and replacing all the sash locks on my windows. Due to settling of the house, most of the windows don't meet nice and flush anymore, and the old locks were not really doing their job. And you all know I can't stand slackers. So I popped over to Lee Valley Tools website and scooped up a ton of the cheapest locks they had: Sprung Draw Catches.  I've never had the slightest problem with anything I've ever ordered from there, and baby's on a budget. Because I have like 50 windows here people. Seriously, not gonna drop fifteen bucks on a single lock.

Old sad lock, and yes all these windows still need to be restored. I know. I know. Baby Steps.

Each lock had to be re-shimed and aligned, but it was totally worth it. A tight lock draws the sashes together to reduce drafts at the meeting rail. Coupled with some rope caulk, the office and living room windows are draft free (ish)! The icing on my window upgrade cake is the new thermal roman shades that I got from JCPenney. They were having one of their ridiculous sales (like 75% off!) so I was able to get 10 shades for about $22 each.

Fairly crappy photo, but you get the gist.

They are more of an air barrier material than thick and poofy and insulating, but they are working great. Both rooms are noticeably warmer and less drafty, which is important to this cold hearted bitch lady. I finished my little whirlwind project by adding some weatherstripping to the doors in the dining room.

Now onto finishing the bathroom window!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Home Energy Audit

Being on the second floor has its perks and one of them is that heat rises from the apartment below and warms my space. Due to this, my heating bills typically haven't been too bad - under $200/month for electricity and natural gas. I also have my programmable thermostat drop the temp way down during the day while I'm at work, I don't set it above 68 degrees, and my apartment is only 1250 square feet. That being said, my bill did go up by 50 dollars one month this winter, which is more than enough for this cheap skate to say Enough!

So with me being the green building professional that I am, it's fairly embarrassing that it's taken 3 1/2 years to deal with the energy consumption of the house. To be fair, it's taken a lot to get it into livable condition, and then rentable condition, so I could actually live here and stuff. 

But as my father is known to say, I don't want excuses, I want production! So here we are.

Fortunately in New York State, we have NYSERDA, which deals with energy efficiency in all forms, from industrial to residential. There has been a program for home energy audits for years, however, new in the past couple years is the ability to pay for energy upgrades through On-Bill financing. It is a low cost loan that is paid as part of your utilities bill. This removes the upfront costs associated with paying for energy upgrades, and lowers your monthly energy usage. It is also available to homeowners with less than perfect credit which might disqualify them from typical loan instruments. Another great thing is that payments are transferable if you sell your property, so you can take advantage of lower bills now without the fear of being saddled with a loan if you must leave your home!

Energy efficiency measures are specifically selected for your house as a result of the energy audit and payback is calculated with your energy bills. The most energy and cost efficient measures are selected and designed so that the new loan payment plus your newly lowered energy bills are less than what you were previously paying for utilities alone. Once your loan is paid off, you are left with your significantly lower bills. Win! 

It's also applicable to multi-family housing like my two family, which is great, because a lot of energy is wasted in landlord/tenant situations because while the landlord owns the things that use energy, the tenants pay for the energy. Thus the landlord has a disincentive to upgrade, and the tenant has limited power to lower their bills.  Something like this brings the two parties together. I benefit, my tenants benefit, there is much rejoicing.

So how does one go about getting one of these magical energy audits?  First stop, the NYSERDA website: NYSERDA Residential Energy Efficiency. Here you will find everything you need to get going. Me being me, I applied for an energy audit online and got my reservation number before contacting any of the BPI certified contractors on NYSERDA's list to do the audit. I also applied for the financing and got my pre-qualification letter before the audit happened, which apparently is kind of over achieving according to the guy who did my energy audit. (Shocking, Nerd Alert!) I fully support doing so though, because it was really useful to have the possible loan amount available when selecting what measures I wanted to pursue. I was pre-qualified for the highest amount - $25,000, which meant I can probably do everything I want.

After I got my applications in order, I called ZeroDraft to do my audit. I picked them because they could do the audit as well as the insulation and heating system work that I assumed I would need. So laziness out of the desire of not having to deal with multiple companies won out. There are a lot of companies out there that do this work that are approved by NYSERDA, I would suggest researching several of them to find one that fits your needs.

The audit itself is comprised of testing heating systems, checking insulation levels, and looking for sources of air infiltration via a blower door test. I didn't end up having the blower door test done because I have asbestos on my heating pipes in my basement and something about liability, blah blah blah. It's wrapped in plastic and in good shape, but I understand the company's stance. It's ok though, because in an old house like mine, it's finding the places *without* the air leaks that is the challenge. I told the guy upfront that I was an architect and very familiar with energy saving and this process so I didn't get his whole schpeel. If you aren't, you'll get a more in-depth description along the way.

First we went in the attic, where we concluded that more insulation and air sealing was needed. Duh. Then he toured the two apartments, noted my janky-ass windows, and headed to the basement so he could test the heating systems. Just because my boilers were 30+ years old and covered in rusty holes, he called them "scary". What a weenie! (He also pointed at the blue and white mottling on the walls and beams and asked if that was mold. Nope, just super awesome sponge painting. Because who doesn't sponge paint their unfinished, damp basement?)

From my first tour of the house. It's mildly less creepy down here now.

So then we went back up to my apartment to fill out paperwork and see how much all this was going to cost. We decided on a new combination boiler/on-demand water heater for each unit, basement rim joist spray foam insulation, and dense pack cellulose insulation for the attic. This came in at about $20,000. I need soffit venting as well, which should qualify as part of the "other measures" section of the loan, so they are looking into it for me. Hopefully these measures will save me enough money so that I can save up for the new storm windows the house so desperately needs.

I am now in the waiting phase as the last of the paperwork for the loan is being processed. Hopefully by the end of the week I'll have more information on the timeline for the next steps in this process. I'll keep you guys posted!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Before and Afters Part 2

Annnnnd 3 months later, I finally get myself to show you the rest of the apartment...

The bathroom was deceiving to the untrained eye. It had been remodeled within the last 5 years previous to me buying the house. However, none of the underlying issues had been fixed, i.e. leaky pipes and around the tub area. And the workmanship on the install of finishes was abysmal. No one tile aligned with any other on the floor or on the wall. And it was dirty brown beige. All plumbing fixtures were the cheapest you could get and thus the sink faucet was always leaking, and there was a particularly dramatic evening I spent in the closet installing a new shower kit, including multiple trips to Home Depot, and a mental breakdown while sitting on the floor next to a dirty litter box. Also the electrical was a mess, fairly dangerous, and made no sense. And the toilet seat was the wrong size. And brown vinyl base. I mean, come onnnnnn.



I am particularly proud of the radiator cover and built-in wall on the left, I wish I had a better picture to show you all. It came out exactly like the rendering I had done of it.

No more Glacier Bay piece of crap plastic valves and handles! Also all the tiling is done correctly...

So what did we do? All new electrical, rebuilt the control wall in the tub, fully waterproofed the shower area, new tile on the walls, removed several layers of tile flooring and installed new hex tile, added a built-in for storage, replaced missing trim, installed a new fan/light combo, painted the existing vanity lighting fixture black, cleaned the sink vanity, repainted the medicine cabinet, and added a new sink faucet and plumbing. And new paint on all trim and walls (after much scraping and caulking). And a properly size toilet seat, which surprisingly really helped de-ghetto the room.

Best of all because all labor was free (me!), this was all done for less than $400 dollars. The electrician oversaw and inspected the work I did in here as he was doing some last minute outlet & light box changes in the other rooms. Granted, there was a lot of terrible work, and getting very tired of being in the "cell", but in the end, it was so worth it.