North Carolina has achieved regional and national recognition as a leader in the clean energy market. Energy efficiency is one pillar in the industry that offers simple, costeffective actions that contribute to a clean energy success plan, and financial savings on monthly energy bills for home and business owners. Ryan Miller, founder and executive director of the N.C. Building Performance Association and Chuck Perry, program director of the N.C. Energy Efficiency Alliance, offer their perspective on the energy efficiency industry and marketplace in North Carolina. Additionally, they provide perspective on how consumers are becoming more educated and engaged regarding their energy use, and how that impacts the building and construction industry.
What kind of impact has energy conservation building codes had on North Carolina’s energy efficiency success?
Chuck Perry: The 2012 Energy Conservation Building Code has been a win/win for North Carolina. It has contributed to lower operating costs for North Carolina’s home and business owners, assisted utilities in managing energy demand, and is producing better-built homes for our builders and building owners. Increased consumer demand for energy efficient homes and buildings, along with the new code has also improved job stability and created new business opportunities within the building industry. From performance testing such as the air duct tightness test, which is required on every home, to new air sealing strategies and building products, the energy code has raised the bar on efficiency and economics in North Carolina.
Are demographics or ratings impacting demand?
Ryan Miller: Changing homebuyer demographics and the features they look for are definitely reflective of millennials entering the housing market. They are more interested in energy efficiency from a cost and environmental perspective, while baby boomers are interested in lowering their monthly energy bills and living in a home that requires less maintenance.
We’re seeing a sharp increase in the use of home energy ratings across the country, with North Carolina ranking third. The increasing popularity is due to a few factors: one is that “rated” homes sell for higher prices. Another is that the advent of energy saving gadgets in our homes and also increased exposure on DIY shows and social media create a friendly competition between neighbors to lower their energy bills.
How would you quantify the energy efficiency opportunities within North Carolina and across the nation?
Perry: The nation’s focus on efficient usage of energy has set the stage for a variety of growth potential, and North Carolina has many opportunities. Thirty-two percent of the homes built in our state are certified to an above code program such as ENERGY STAR®, LEED® or the NGBS. The Energy Code created a great launching pad to make buying-in to these programs achievable. North Carolina builders are a smart bunch. They see the value-add of using home performance partners on their jobs for code compliance and for third-party certification. In today’s market, being able to measure each home’s performance and having another set of qualified eyes on the project is very valuable.
Miller: More and more builders are rating their homes to demonstrate their commitment to energy efficiency, which is moving up the list of a prospective home buyer’s demands. Compared to other states, however, North Carolina ranks 24th overall for energy efficiency across all sectors, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. We have very strong consumer demand here and a talented workforce ready and capable to meet it.
What are some low-cost projects that consumers can take to increase energy efficiency?
Miller: Energy efficiency projects are relatively low-cost and easy to perform with higher returns of investment than any renewable energy project. It’s the reason we say “efficiency first.” The top 10 ROI energy efficiency items a homeowner can perform cost approximately $1,300 altogether and work in new or older homes. These items include installing a programmable thermostat, wrapping your hot water heater, and changing out incandescent light bulbs to CFL or LED bulbs. With ten simple changes, a homeowner will recoup their cost in just 14 months and save another $10,000 over the next 10 years. That’s a 96 percent ROI by making simple changes. The programmable thermostat alone will save a homeowner $1,800 over a 10-year period.
What parts of a home use the most energy?
Miller: The HVAC system accounts for 40 to 45 percent of a North Carolina home’s energy usage. When building a new home or replacing an existing HVAC system, the opportunity to install an efficient system will balance both the homeowner’s and builder’s investment by purchasing a system that will operate efficiently for 15 years or more. Furthermore, many utilities offer rebates on these upgrades.