New Metro, TVA programs allow home energy performance to pay off

Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 10:05pm
By Linda Bryant

Elliott Brown likes everything about his recently purchased historic home in the 12South neighborhood — except the $250 to $300 utility bills. He decided to find out what he could do to lower them. 

Brown contacted a specialist available through the Tennessee Valley Authority to perform an “in-home energy evaluation,” an audit and analysis designed to identify problem areas that suck energy out of a home. He found out his two-story, 2,700-square-foot abode was slowly leaking energy because of problems
that included improper insulation and inadequate sealing on windows and doors. 

He had a decision to make: Spend about $3,000 to retrofit his home with targeted improvements or just live with a drafty older home that was an energy hog.

“It [the energy drain] was like having a window open all day and night, and we didn’t even realize it,” Brown said. “I liked the idea of it, but also had to think about the cash outlay because it was fairly substantial. I went for it for two main reasons. I’m planning on eventually raising a family in this house. Plus, I get about $650 back from various rebate and incentive programs.”

Although it’s too soon to verify results of the energy upgrades, Brown expects a 30 percent reduction in yearly utility costs.

“We should recoup our costs in three to four years,” he said.

The incentives Brown is talking about are offered through the In-Home Energy Evaluation Program, a statewide project offered by the TVA in partnership with local power companies. The mayor’s office recently jumped on the bandwagon with Nashville Energy Works, a Metro-centric customization of the TVA program.

“Five or six years ago, you didn’t see many people thinking about these kinds of energy retrofits to their homes,” said Erik Daugherty, co-owner and founder of E3 Innovate, a local company that specializes in home energy improvements. “We are starting to transition our minds from always going after the ‘sexy’ things that people think about when it comes to green building and energy efficiency.

“Everyone used immediately think of electric cars, solar panels and new homes. Now there’s beginning to be a focus on the performance of the house itself.”

Daugherty, who is on TVA’s roster of contractors qualified to make energy improvements for TVA and/or Metro, said air leaks alone cause massive energy loss in many homes. Other pesky culprits include water leaks, moisture issues, a lack of insulation, structural problems with a home and inefficient heating and cooling systems. Fireplaces and skylights are also energy-sucking offenders. 

Dr. Jacob Hathaway, a Nashville-based primary care physician, recently retrofitted his historic 3,500-square-foot East Nashville home with the goal of splitting his energy bills in half. Hathaway spent about $5,500 for what Daugherty called a “comprehensive package.” It included extensive air and duct sealing, a newly sealed basement crawl space and attic insulation with cellulose and a radiant barrier installation. The project took three days to complete.

“We plan on being in this house for the next 20 years,” Hathaway said. “There’s really no doubt the project will pay for itself. I also like the environmental angle. I can’t afford a Prius right now, but this is something I felt I could do to make a positive contribution.” 

Metro’s Energy Works program kicked off in late April when officials announced free energy audits worth $150 to the first 700 participants. The cutoff date has passed, but Davidson County residents can still qualify for incentives and receive a rebate for the $150 audit/energy evaluation fee through the TVA program. They can be reimbursed the entire amount if they make at least $150 worth of improvements to their home, and they are eligible for up to $1,000 in other incentives, rebates and tax credits. 

Mayor Karl Dean said the Energy Works initiative is part of an attempt to position Nashville as a green leader among American cities. He also sees energy savings as an important piece of the region’s economy and overall health.

“Forty percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. are produced from the energy used to power homes and office buildings,” Dean said. “In Davidson County, it’s closer to 50 percent. The only way we can improve our air and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is if everyone does their part.”