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How An Energy Audit Leads To A Sustainable Home or Business

By: Leia Sims, CEM, BPI Certified

An energy audit is the first step to determine efficiency upgrades that make sense for your building. It is a comprehensive method for benchmarking current energy consumption. The best, most cost-effective ways to reduce that usage are then recommended.

A whole-building approach is used by Certified Energy Auditors. This means we examine and test all systems in the building, as they interact with each other. An energy audit is a fundamental tool in any energy-efficiency plan.

All buildings can benefit from a whole-building energy audit including single-and multi-family homes, large or small commercial buildings, non-profit, municipal, churches, schools etc.

Energy audits lead to many solutions for building problems. In addition to the energy savings and reduction in utility bills, energy audits will locate problems that are causing buildings to be uncomfortable, such as drafts and rooms unable to maintain temperature (hot/cold rooms).

Improved Health of Occupants

Audits often lead to improved health and safety by locating carbon monoxide and gas leaks. 

Recommendations implemented from the energy audit will often improve indoor air quality by reducing airborne dust and dander that irritate allergies.

The audit will usually find solutions to moisture/mold problems. Single-family homes are greatly impacted by external factors – weather, humidity, etc. Therefore the building shell is extremely important to seal. 

Higher Home Value

An audit also has great potential to increase the value of your home – energy efficiency upgrades offer a highly marketable advantage over a comparable building.

Upgrades based on an energy audit often result in:
Reduced energy use by 10 to 70%
Reduced maintenance & capital costs
Reduced environmental impact
Increased occupant comfort & health
Increased employee productivity = increased profitability.

Energyaudits provide a tool to work with when upgrading a building. The upgrades chosen from energy audits will likely pay for themselves many times over. Oftentimes
we find upgrades that will pay for themselves in the first year or sooner.

What An Energy Audit Includes

A home audit performed by a certified auditor includes the following services:

1) Interview with homeowner – As the building occupants you are most familiar with what you are experiencing and can point your auditor to specific problem areas.

2) Combustion Safety Tests – These are imperative to maintain safe living conditions:
Gas Leak test
Combustion analysis
(steady state efficiency, draft)
Spillage (backdraft) test
Carbon Monoxide test

3) Visual inspection – A certified energy auditor’s trained eye is a necessary tool for identifying deficiencies.

4) Blower door (air leakage) test – Professional energy auditors use this to help determine a home’s airtightness. These are some reasons for establishing proper building tightness:
• Reducing energy consumption due to air leakage
• Avoiding moisture condensation issues
• Eliminating uncomfortable drafts caused by cold air leaking in from the outdoors
​• Air quality considerations from contamination by indoor air pollution.

How Blower Doors Work

A blower door is a powerful fan that mounts into the frame of an exterior door. The fan pulls air out of the house, lowering the air pressure inside. The higher outside air pressure then flows in through all unsealed cracks and openings, exaggerating all of the airleaks.

These tests determine the air infiltration rate of a building. Your building's recommended leakage number is determined based on its location and the number of floors and occupants. The tested infiltration and the recommended infiltration are compared and the appropriate airsealing recommendations are determined. 

Almost all buildings that are not built to Energy Star standards have at least one and a half times the recommended leakage amount resulting in significant energy loss. Older buildings are often three to four times leakier than recommended. 

5) Infrared analysis – An infrared scan done in combination with a blower door can help locate the source of the air leakage and demonstrate how a small leak can affect entire wall systems.

6) Duct blaster – duct leakage test.  Duct leakage can result in pressure changes in the building that dramatize existing air leaks in the building.

7) Lighting & appliance inspection

8) Energy analysis with energy modeling software - after the site visit (back at the office)

9) Detailed report with pictures

10) Cost-effective recommendations

$15,000 Of Incentives

Currently funding for upgrades is available through New Jersey Clean Energy Program (NJCEP) and Home Performance with Energy Star. The funding ranges from $1,000 to $15,000 depending on the package. Upon completion of the audit by a BPI certified contractor with NJCEP you will become eligible for the funding to do the installed recommendations, in addition to the monthly energy savings you’ll receive.

The diagnostics help to compile a detailed report and determine a comprehensive package of energy solutions.

​The sooner you schedule an energy audit for your building the sooner you will discover the most cost-effective methods for reducing energy consumption and increasing the value of your property.

Leia Sims is a CEM, certified energy auditor with the Building Performance Institute as a Building Analyst, Heating Specialist, Shell Specialist, and Multifamily Building Analyst.  Her company, Bright Alternatives, provides energy consulting, auditing and presentations. Contact or go to

Start Your Own Green Biz
By: Angus McDougald

Most Americans surveyed indicated the environment is a priority. Another recent survey shows at least 50% of American people would like to realize their dream of starting a business. 

Considering these two surveys, now could be a great time to start your own Green Biz. 

While Small businesses constitute 97% of all businesses in America, many big businesses started in somebody’s home, from Apple computers to Kellogg’s. Careful planning, hard work and a little luck will increase the odds of success. 

Make It Sustainable
A practical biz plan, technical skills, and basic knowledge of sales, marketing, management, finance, record keeping and market analysis are all integral parts of planning a successful biz. While this may seem like a lot to know, the level of understanding required is only relative to the size and scope of the planned biz.

First ask yourself why you want to own your own business. What are you good at? And what do you enjoy doing? In these answers lie the beginnings of a plan. In some cases that may be the extent of a plan. Ultimately, profitability is the measure of all healthy biz. 

Successful businesses have one thing in common: each has found a demand they can satisfy. The most important task you will face in your early planning will be to find a niche and determine the profitability of your idea. Getting into the right business at the right time and sustaining it has its challenges. 
Before you invest time, effort, and money you’ll want to separate sound ideas from those likely to fail. To be successful requires you understand the market that will be your ‘clients’. Marketing, pricing, and distribution strategies will differ greatly depending on your customers. The wants of an 18 year old male can be quite different than a 50 year old female. 

You don't have to be an expert to analyze the marketplace. What it takes is the ability to collect and understand the info relative to your business. Location can be relevant when considering opening a restaurant, but may not be with a consulting firm. Understand the environment you will sell in, gather facts about potential customers and determine demand for your product/service.

The more information you have the better, but don’t bog yourself down with too much info. Ask questions of other successful business owners in similar fields about what info they think is most important. If you have the chance to network and make friends in the field, DO IT! Find a ‘mentor’, as well as a group of peers to bounce ideas and frustrations off. Know the market before investing in any business venture. 

The Plan
A business plan will be your guide to managing the ‘life’ stages of your busi- ness. A plan is important for three pri- mary reasons: 1) It gives owners a current outlook of the business as well as a guide for long-term goals. 2) It helps a business maintain growth, through increased revenues and outside funding. 3) It is vital if you want to secure financing, ranging from a family loan to venture capital funding.

Key elements of a business plan:
1. Executive Summary- a brief overview of the plan (product/services, management team, marketing approach, and summary financial estimates).
2. A description of the business- what exactly is sold and why.
3. A description of the market- how big is it, what are the demographics, what are customers buying now?
4. Describe your competitors- under- standing who your competition is and how they operate is important.
5. Introduce the players- outline your credentials as well as those who will be involved in your business. Effective employees and management are critical.
6. Outline marketing goals- how will you advertise? It is important to be very specific in this section, as it will help you in selling your product.

A person in business is not expected to be a lawyer but you will want to know the laws affecting your business. Attention to security and insurance protection for your business is also important. These concerns may have a large financial effect on your business. 

Owning and running a business is a learning process. Research your idea and do as much as you can yourself but don't hesitate to seek help from people who can tell you from experience.

A large number of small businesses fail each year. There are many reasons why, but one of the main ones is insufficient funding. Many entrepreneurs try to start and operate a business without sufficient capital (money).

The primary source of revenue in your business will be from sales. But your sales will vary from month to month because of seasonal patterns and other factors. It is important to determine if your monthly sales will produce enough income to pay each month's bills. From the moment the door to your new business opens a certain amount of income will undoubtedly come in. But don’t project this income in your operating expenses. You will want enough money available to cover costs for at least the first three months of operation.

U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA and Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) - The SBA offers an extensive selection of info on most business topics, from how to start a business to exporting your products to getting government contracts. SBA offers training, education, counseling, financial programs and contract assistance in partnership with state and local governments, community colleges and the private sector. 
Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), A national organization sponsored by SBA of volunteer business executives who provide free counseling, workshops and seminars to prospective and existing small business people.

Libraries & Trade Associations
A librarian can help you locate specific information in reference books through a variety of directories covering many business topics and resources, like Trade Association information. Associations provide a valuable network of resources to their members through newsletters, conferences and seminars.

(For questions or comments about this aritcle contact :

PVA America "The Promise of Solar

By: Cathy Sims

Boston, Massachusetts

This year’s PV America theme was “The promise of solar is no longer just a promise. Light It Up”, held at the Boston Convention Center. I attended the last day of the June 23- June 25 event. Julia Hamm, President & CEO of Solar Electric Power Association along with Rhone Resch, President and CEO of Solar Energy Industries Association were there to spur on the industry.

After so many ups, downs, overs and turnarounds, it seemed like that spurring on is what solar professionals came for, at least the few hundred that showed up.

Workshops on battery storage, finance structuring, customer acquisition, risk management, motivating O&M providers, US-china trade conflict, Community Solar and more were available at this lightly attended expo.

At the end of the day, “Beers with Peers” provided an opportunity to get questions answered in more intimate groups around the room with a dozen presenters at half-a-dozen tables. It was a nice touch to get some one-on-one or two or three attention while more info was exchanged.

​The presentation on Risks and Contingency Planning, by Peter Wilcox, Director of Risk Control at Travelers Inland Marine, with his10 years in the solar industry, was informative. Wilcox pointed out how unanticipated severe weather such as extra heavy snow could cause some ground mount structures to collapse, and need to be planned for, and insured for. Certain maintenance and technical procedures could help mitigate risk and prevent down-time for a solar project. Wilcox uses an ABC approach: Assessment of risk, Business Input Analysis and Controls: prevention and mitigation, such as having extra solar panels stored for the future when it may be difficult to get the exact replacements.  In the end, he says, implement, test and adjust (to get the job on track).

​“Portfolio Building Blocks: A Balanced Approach to Northeast Distributed Solar” was presented by Vanessa Stewart, Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder, Soltage, LLC, a solar energy developer and integrator. Stewart explained how the cost declines have made solar a much more affordable investment and in the Northeast, there are more smaller opportunities as big land areas are being restricted. “There’s lots of capital moving into solar. Strong credit, strong certainty helps us deliver to the Northeast about 9% IRR.”

The workshop on Changing Solar: National Women in Solar Initiative & WE Build was interesting. Erica Mackie, co-Founder of Grid Alternatives and President of Solar Design Associates, LLC had a lot to say about the value in hiring women for solar. “If we need to scale rapidly, we need more talent. That is going to come from the other half of the aisle,” she said. “There are too low numbers of women in the industry right now, while studies show a company does better when women are in the team,” urged Mackie. And, finding the right solutions to climate change requires dealing with jobs training and education.  Grid Alternatives has trained over 16,000 women in 10 years, and they’ve installed a thousand solar systems per year since 2001. They also offer webinars such as women in construction. Go to   Sharing Access to Solar Nationwide, presented by Matt Cheney, Chief Executive Officer, CleanPath Ventures, was heartening to hear. He said there are now 39 states which have passed legislation to allow community shared solar systems, though they are all different.

Customers can buy a panel or two on a farm and get virtual net metering, in some cases. In other cases, the pricing is high for those one or two panels. “It’s important for everyone to have access to solar,” Cheney explained, as everyone in the pool of the economy is paying for the incentives and should be able to reap more of those benefits. “When there’s economic injustice, people get angry if they never benefit from something they contribute to.” California passed a bill last year that allows community shared solar investments.  Some of these are known as Independent Power Producers, or IPPs. With solar grid storage coming, the opportunities increase. IREC website has a list of shared renewable opportunities. See

Structuring Financeable Solar Projects in a Maturing Industry, was presented by Chris Diax of Seminole Financial Services and Craig Robb, Zions Energy Link. “There’s lots of new money coming in to solar. It’s a better credit risk than real estate,” said Diax. “Tax equity is key for it to work, as that equates to about 50% in the cost of the project through tax benefits.” Robb explained that investors are looking for the host, or leasee to have a great credit track record and ability to sign a loan. SRECs can be taken at $150 to reduce risk. Residual value is evaluated. Concepts like 80% loan to value and Yieldcos were discussed.

For some more inspiration and knowledge, the next brand new regional event sponsored by SEIA and SEPA “where the power of solar meets the Mid-Atlantic market” will be Solar Power Mid-Atlantic, September 9th-10th in Atlantic City, NJ. 
Solar Power Mid-Atlantic!