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By Brad Cook
As a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR contractor that does insulating (as well as a lot of other things related to health, safety, energy efficiency and other building performance problems in homes and small businesses) I would like to respond to Carmen Barone's My View in the October 3 issue.
I would like to correct his perception of Efficiency Vermont (EVT), its role and its funding. EVT operates under contract to the state, as dictated by legislation. Its activities, funding and expenditures are carefully monitored by the Public Service Board and our Legislature. Go to the EVT website (www.efficiencyvermont.com) and click on the "About Us" tab. There you will find a lot of documentation about their funding, expenditures, achievements, accountability and oversight.
The surcharge on your electric bill is a significant part of EVT's funding and is why most of their dollars go to programs that save electricity, with much of that effort going toward commercial and business electrical energy use. The electricity saved in existing businesses and homes has more than offset the increased demand for electricity for new businesses and homes. Electric utilities have not had to build or buy additional generating capacity to keep up with growth, keeping our rates down and leaving more dollars for businesses and homeowners to spend locally.
The money that EVT spends on the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program (which saves heating fuel as well as electricity) in the form of advertising and incentives for energy audits and "weatherization" is only a very small part of EVT's program funding. EVT does not support "insulators" (who typically do not pay attention to building science) but does support Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Participating Contractors who install insulation but only after sealing air leaks and following guidelines based on industry standards and building science. EVT ads may imply that the energy audits and weatherization projects are done by EVT, but in fact they are done by independent contractors who have a contractual relationship with EVT.
Any contractor listed on the EVT website who installs insulation must follow standards set by the Building Performance Institute (www.bpi.org) with quality assurance oversight from EVT program staff. That contract stipulates that we (the contractors) must adhere to established standards and protocols, guarantee our work, allow EVT to inspect our work, help to educate and administer their efficiency programs with consumers, keep records, protect our clients' information, maintain required insurance and other program requirements.
The other issue that you voiced concern about is that new houses are going in without any exterior insulation on the foundation (some contractors are putting up only stud walls with fiberglass batts on the inside of the foundation, which does not work). Vermont has had an energy code for both residential and commercial buildings since 1996 (fully in effect in 1998), which has been updated in 2005 and again in 2011. The current VT RBEC (VT Residential Building Energy Code) can be found at http://publicservice.vermont.gov/topics/energy_efficiency/rbes or look on the EVT website for even more information.
Unfortunately, the responsibility for complying with the code lies with the contractor who built the home, and presently the only penalty is that the homeowner has a right to sue the contractor (six-year limit) for not complying (I don't think that has ever happened). The result is that most building and remodeling contractors do not comply with the code, and, unfortunately, that includes contractors who you believe are building energy efficient homes.
I know that because my company has had to fix many new homes that are experiencing energy related problems such as large ice dams that cause damage and high fuel bills, and local town clerks report very few RBEC certificates are filed by contractors, as required. I have discussed this issue with other Home Performance with ENERGY STAR contractors, town clerks, legislators and Efficiency Vermont.
This is now a hot topic and several parties have been working with the state to find ways to improve compliance with the energy code. Since there are essentially no building codes in much of Vermont, enforcement can be difficult. Some municipalities are starting to make a completed RBEC Certificate a prerequisite for an occupancy/zoning permit. (Note that a homeowner acting as general contractor does not have to comply with the code but is still required to file a certificate.)
Cook is the owner of Building Performance Services LLC in Waitsfield.