The RoundTable stood by recently as a team of professionals prepared to conduct a physical. They would determine the general condition of an elderly patient and then monitor such vitals as his temperature and pressure.
In fact, the procedure at hand was an energy audit rather than a medical exam; the “patient,” a meticulously maintained older home in Evanston’s Fifth Ward.
On an October day whose warmth belied the frigid weather just around the corner, three certified auditors from Energy Infrastructures Services were poised to measure the energy “health” of the home of a senior citizen.
This was the trio’s sixth audit in a week, five of them for senior citizens and all six conducted free of charge. Incorporated just a few months ago, the company is reaching new clients by word of mouth, says Mr. Wilson.
Connie Lytle, president of Energy Infrastructures Services, was talking with the homeowner inside the house. Outside, her son, Doug Lytle, and his partners, Lonnie Wilson and Ibsen Yu, took time before beginning the audit to discuss what they bring to the project.
Mr. Wilson is a lifetime Evanston resident who was the coordinator at Family Focus for 17 years before joining with Daniel Cheifetz in community development on the City’s west side. Working with Mr. Cheifetz, CEO of Indie Energy company, Mr. Wilson said, he became well-versed in geothermal heating and cooling systems.
Mr. Lytle, who grew up in Evanston and graduated from Loyola Academy, worked for seven years as a government defense contractor, doing computer and systems engineering in Washington, D.C., and San Diego.
Mr. Wu has a background in environment – environmental studies, resources and management. All three are accredited by the Building Performance Institute to do auditing and HVAC work.
Establishing the business made sense, they said, even in the midst of an economic slump, because “the major cost of living in a home is energy, and we can cut that cost.”
Their intent is to help homeowners lower energy bills, thus enabling them, for instance, to keep current on mortgage payments and perhaps avoid the all-too-rampant foreclosure proceedings haunting this and other neighborhoods.
There will be a particular need to evaluate energy efficiency in Evanston in the near future, said Mr. Wilson. Energy Infrastructures hopes to win a contract to do so. In January the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the City $18.1 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds. Two Evanston census tracts were designated to receive the funds – one on the south and the other, including this block of Foster Avenue, on the west side – to mitigate the potential for devastation, given the high rate of foreclosure of homes in those areas.
The federal funds are earmarked for affordable housing to be rehabbed by the City of Evanston and its partner, Brinshore Development, over the next three years. The housing must meet the HUD definition of “affordable”; Mr. Wilson says he would like to ensure it is also energy-efficient.
Though the country and the City of Evanston are taking steps to conserve energy, progress is slow. “Americans are ‘over-consumers’ [of energy],” said Mr. Lytle, adding, “We’re behind the rest of the world.” Travelling in Australia, for example, he saw a country where incandescent light bulbs are virtually nonexistent and dual-flush toilets are the norm.
Before beginning the audit the team discusses the condition of the house with the homeowner, says Mr. Wilson. Then they start outside, inspecting the roof, gutters, windows, gas and electric lines.
Using sophisticated equipment, they measure the ambient level of carbon monoxide and check for natural gas leaks (which would prompt an immediate call to the gas company).
Then Mr. Lytle walks around the perimeter of the house with an infrared camera. The camera is sensitive enough to detect everything from leaky windows to mold, wet spots and damaged roofing. Temperature differences (especially dramatic in colder weather) that indicate heat is escaping around windows and doors show up on the device as blobs of yellow.
Later, the auditors will conduct an indoor walk-through focused on safety. They will count light bulbs (incandescent and energy-saving fluorescent) and check for asbestos, volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and moisture or mold.
They will examine the insulation or lack thereof. Attic floors as well as ceilings should be insulated if the attic space is “unconditioned,” says Mr. Wilson. An attic should be “boxed off” so that it maintains a temperature more like the outdoors than the indoors, he says; insulation keeps heat from escaping through the roof.
They check appliances, turning on the furnace, oven, dryer and water heater and using a gas combustion analyzer to make sure “bad” gases are venting outside. They look for fire and smoke detectors, installed and operating.
Few people know, said Mr. Wilson, that “the largest user of energy is the refrigerator.” Buying a new, energy-star rated refrigerator saves money in the long run, he said.
The final phase of the audit measures the house pressure. The auditors close the house and take the pressure in its “natural state,” he says. Then they depressurize it, removing the air with a blower in order to identify cracks and leaks as the outside air rushes in.
Old windows often leak heat to the outdoors; uninsulated electrical outlets and recessed “can” lights let heat escape as well. When such leaks oblige the furnace to kick on again and again, “You are burning your money,” said Mr. Wilson.
The company generates a report with the results of the audit. Based on the report and the homeowner’s utility bills for the last year, they make recommendations for lowering energy use. Their goal is to cut the homeowner’s energy costs by 30 to 50 percent, says Mr. Wilson – an appealing notion, with winter approaching.