Energy adviser: Sealed air ducts keep costs down

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The best way for homeowners to achieve the highest energy efficiency and the greatest comfort from their home heating and cooling systems is to make sure ducts moving air throughout the house are property sealed.

Heating and cooling can represent as much as half the electrical energy use of a house. For that reason, the Bonneville Power Administration offers a Performance Tested Comfort Systems training and certification program to building contractors. These trained technicians are available to install or replace heat pumps and related duct systems to the highest efficiency standards. As part of the program, Clark Public Utilities offers homeowners a variety of conservation loans and grants to upgrade or replace heating/cooling systems if they contract the work using PTCS trained and certified technicians. The BPA hired Ecos Consulting Inc. in Portland to manage the program, which includes training, quality assurance inspections and project certification.

“Something like 30 percent of even newly installed duct work can be in default,” said Andres Morrison, technical program manager for Ecos Consulting. “Homes that are five, 10 or 15 years old may have even higher default rates. In our work, we also are seeing that something like 70 percent of heat pumps are installed wrong,” he said.

Clark Public Utilities offers a list of contractors who have received the PTCS training and certification. According to the BPA website at www.bpa.gov/energy/n/projects/PTCS/index.cfm, a PTCS-certified technician will:

• Recommend energy-efficient equipment that is right for the home.

• Test to ensure proper sizing using a heat gain and loss calculation.

• Install a system properly to ensure best performance and longest life.

• Test a system for the right amount of refrigerant, and adjust if necessary.

• Test airflow and make any adjustments for optimal performance.

• Set up the thermostat and controls to prevent the backup heat from coming on prematurely and increasing heating costs.

• Seal leaky ducts to ensure the system delivers conditioned air where it’s needed and not outdoors.

According to Mark Johnson, a BPA residential weatherization expert, the PTCS program is about more than energy efficiency; it also can make a big improvement to a home’s air quality.

“If you switch on a bathroom exhaust fan or run the clothes dryer, it creates negative air flow in the house, which means air is pulled into the house from where duct leaks might be,” Johnson said. “Typically those leaks are in the musty crawl space under the house or in the attic. In either case that might not be the air that you’d prefer to breathe.”

Grants and incentives

Clark Public Utilities offers incentives to homeowners interested in making homes more efficient through a variety of conservation loans and grants.

See the utility’s Conservation Loans and Grants site, http://www.clarkpublicutilities.com/yourhome/freeResources/archives/conservationLoansGrants.pdf, to find rebate and loan information about installing a new heat pump and related duct work. There are also weatherization loans for window replacement, wall insulation and air-sealing work, all to PTCS standards.

For more information, call 360-992-3355 or visit http://www.clarkpublicutilities.com.

DuWayne Dunham, Clark Public Utilities’ energy counselor team leader, said the utility is among the leaders in the energy conservation arena.

The Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities energy counselors. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com. Past topics are available at http://www.clarkpublicutilities.com.