Despite record breaking cold winter our MI GreenStar Certified home saved 50% Energy!

Despite the extreme record breaking cold this winter, we still saved nearly 50% energy compared to the home prior to the remodel and about the same compared to conventional homes in West Michigan.
Home Energy Rating System Index (HERS) for the home was 63 after upgrades. A Standard built to code home is 85. See our certificate here. This shows the home is estimated to use 21,000 kilowatt hours over energy (kWH) a year for both gas and electric combined.
The Residential Energy Performance Score on it was 46 out of 70 which also correlates for about 24,000 kWH per year. These scores completed home performance professionals represent an asset rating per home, actual mileage may very. Because we operate our house more efficiently than the average homeowner we actually show above that we used less, only at 15,000 a year. The average home in MI uses about 39k with average in the Midwest at 37K/.
How did we get here? What did it cost? 
Insulation + Air sealing + New Door $7,587
  • Spray Foamed Attic with 20% beat and cane sugar product. 
  • Blow in Cellulose Walls 
  • Foam Rim Band Join 
  • Foam + Ecocell Basement Walls 
  • Caulk Base boards + Windows 
  • Air seal, tighten and install fiberglass door 
  • Storm Windows  -  $1,000 
Total - Heat Loss Mitigation Improvements $8,587.00 
Trane Furnace (+ better filter)  $4,225 
Trane A/C $3,626 
AO Smith Water Heater $2,872
Comfort Link II Thermostat $1,200
Panasonic Whisper Welcome Bath Fan $330.00 
Shipping $525.00
Total Heating, Ventilation & Cooling $12,778  (not counting  Ultimate Air ERV)
Total Appliance - Condensing Washer + Dryer $2,500
LED Lighting Upgrade - 16 Lights - $160.00 (with warranty)
Total $24,025.00 or $16.00 a square foot. 
Payback is roughly 15 to 20 years with projected energy cost inflation.
How do we recoup the long ROI if we don't stay in the house? 
Your home will be valued higher if you can show your have a better energy score and/or a green home certification. You don't have to stay in your home that long to recoup your investment, green homes and energy efficient homes sell for 2 to 9% more and don't sit on the market as long if they are appraised by a green appraiser and put on a green MLS (Main home sale listing site).  West Michigan just recently greened theirs and so did all of MN and part of WI! 
Summary & Lessons Learned

You don't need to by the top of the line energy efficiency products to achieve these same goals or near them. With a little more research, time and avoiding the need to get the most efficient HVAC we could have achieved these goals just the same. 
What would we have done different? 
#1 - Purchase a conventional energy star 30 or 40 gallon tank water heater with seal combustion. Tankless water heaters have a lot of maintenance to them and are expense, especially in retrofits and they often require extensive piping changes for water and gas.
The AO Smith on demand water heater NEXT was very expensive to buy, has had frequent and expensive failures and poor customer service with their company. We went without water for a week! Thanks to our plumber Deweerd VanDyk  for being awesome during these frustrating time and dealing with this product and us. I'll admit it is very efficient but not worth the up keep
#2 Furnace & A/C do not have to be this efficient. Try a SEER 13 or 14 and use a 2 stage furnace with an ECM blower still at 95%. Make sure it is sealed Consider mini splits in your existing duct work if you can make your house super tight. 
#3 DYI - Caulking, blowing in insulation, air sealing the attic and rim band joist with a can of great stuff can knock thousands off the cost! Take a little time, watch youtube for ideas and seal it yourself! Still make sure you call in your energy auditor to ensure everything is tightened up. Using conventional spray foam is for trained professionals, can be very expensive and can decrease indoor air qualifity, dry blow in cellulose in your attic and eco cell cellulose batt insulation in your rim band joist! 
#4 - Avoid Startrek Thermostats - Just go with the nest or even a low cost thermostat. You don't need a computer screen on your wall and you don't need a weather channel report either with radar in your thermostat. What a scam!
#5 - Use the GreenStar remodeling program and make sure your rater and your HVAC, Plumber, Electrician, Insulators are on board early and have at least 1 or 2 meetings to discuss the plans and the project. Lack of communication equals time wasted, errors and problems down the road that could be fixed in the start. This program also generate easy scopes of works for the team to follow and accountability forms for them to sign off on once completed. 
#6 - Utilize your consumers energy smart meter to understand how electricity is being used. It compares you to other homes in the area of similar size and can give you a day by day energy reading. This helps you understand how much power is being used while everyone is gone or sleeping and seeing what simple things you can uplug or shut down, that are wasting you money. DTE energy can also provide good data on your gas usage comparison as well.
I challenge you to take me on!  I know this jerk in Ann Arbor Matt Grocoff is kicking our A$$ with his 110 year old home remodel that puts more energy back on the grid than it takes, even when driving his electric volt and charging it at his house.
Curse you Matt Grocoff! I will build the Mission Positive house some day and we will see whose greener.

Views: 876

Tags: Efficiency, Energy, Green, GreenStar, MIGS, ROI, Remodel, Retrofit


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Comment by Hannah Finch on June 10, 2014 at 1:43pm

Thank you for sharing Brett!  This is awesome. 

Comment by David Eakin on June 6, 2014 at 9:55am


PA (like most states I presume) is a hodgepodge of compliance. All depends on what the local building codes require. One nearby township still does not require duct testing for new construction. Most have adopted most/all of the IECC 2009 but the 2012 version is supposed to be adopted next year.

I now see from your chart where your usage comparison is rated similar to the "most efficient" in your area, so definitely above average.

RE: window/door air leakage - you probably saw the amount of air leakage between the rough openings and window/door frames (maybe the reason for the caulking?) as well as around the sashes (the reason for the storms?) during your audit. Like most weatherization, the labor is the significant cost. Foaming the penetration perimeter is fairly easy (especially if you have a power nailer) and inexpensive (if you are supplying the labor) and will significantly decrease air movement through the structure. Upgrading the sash weatherstrip is a little more labor/complexity (remove the sash, cut 4 kerfs with a router or table saw, install weatherstrip, install sash) but will significantly decrease air movement; much better than relying exclusively on storms. Will it improve your score? Possibly. It looks like you tested around 1100 CFM @ 50p after your improvements. On average, we like to see around 1 cfm per sq ft (prior to mechanical ventilation) so you are in the ball park, but without seeing all the audit results (Fireplace/wood stove? Some rooms more leaky than others?) it's hard to say. But you will notice comfort improvements immediately.

When you re-side, will you be insulating the wall studs to eliminate the thermal bridges (which will also mean improving the drainage plane and (possibly) extending the window/door casings)? This work will also reduce infiltration/thermal rates so your numbers will improve with this effort too.

Balloon framing! This is an oldie! Tough to get at those openings in the attic but foam board cut to fit and perimeter foam-in-a-can is the answer. Also do the openings in the basement if they were not done with the rim joist/basement walls.

Comment by Brett Little on June 5, 2014 at 10:27pm

Hello David - Thank you for passing that on. Foaming the window interiors is another energy priority of mine but one that is below siding, painting and rain barrels to water my lawn. Great idea though but I do wonder how much it would improve my score.

It is interesting you say my home tests out to average... I don't know what the Energy Code is in PA but here in MI it is MUEC 2009 or a watered down version of IECC 2009. Basically the built to code home gets you a HERS rating of 86 but you will see mine is a 63 meaning i am 23% more efficient than the MI code and 37% more efficient than the average US Code of IECC 2006 (HERS 100). 

Maybe you could elaborate on how you believe we are average?

Ceiling = standard speckled drywall with canned lighting penetrating in 4 spots, though air sealed. Balloon framing is likely causing the cold closet. 

Comment by David Eakin on June 5, 2014 at 4:24pm


Good work! I know it's frustrating that you put so much work into your home and it now only tests out as "average" (not even "code"). Not knowing all the particulars I can see some areas you might want to address to make your comfort levels and energy use better. If my math is correct you are working within about 1500 sq ft. Storm windows probably means you have old single-pane wood windows w/o aluminum triple-track storms; and assuming that you installed the storm windows yourself you have roughly 25 of them (@ $40 per) so it sounds like you have a frame house originally built somewhere between the '30s and '50s with lots of windows. You caulked around the baseboards and windows but I would encourage you to think about (carefully) removing the door and window casing to allow you to inject some low-pressure foam-in-a-can around the perimeter, then re-installing your trim. Upgrading the original window weatherstripping can also reap large comfort/energy benefits (use the synthetic wool stuff inserted into a kerf; look here:

As a final recommendation, I would also strongly recommend installing close-fitting, insulated interior window treatments as close to the glazing as possible. I also have a house originally built in the '30s, went with 3-track storms and finally replaced the wood sashes (operation and maintenance) but the largest improvement to comfort came when I installed the "room darkening" honeycomb blinds (they have an aluminized coating on the inside of the honeycombs). I just got the "off the shelf" variety at a local big box store with just a single honeycomb so imagine that the multi-comb models (e.g., Hunter Douglas) would work even better.

Now your spot above the closet - dropped ceiling? And foam on the attic floor? What's between the attic floor and the ceiling below?

Comment by Brett Little on June 4, 2014 at 7:46am

I see where the confusion is Ron - Look at the 3rd graphic - You will see I translated CCFs of natural gas to KWHs. CCF is much cheaper than KWH's 

Comment by Ron Biffinger on June 4, 2014 at 6:55am

Brett, didn't you post the savings of 11,892 kWh?  It's simple, basic math from there no matter what it costs / kWh.

Comment by John Proctor on June 3, 2014 at 9:32pm

If we want to actually do something about the amount of energy the US uses in heating and cooling buildings then we need to get into them and retrofit them with the things we know works. No fancy simulation programs with a lot of assumptions are needed. If there is no or very little insulation in the walls and ceiling, insulate them. If you are in a climate that does cooling, then put in a whole house fan. If your ducts are in the attic, shorten them, seal them, and super-insulate them. Seal in the attic between the house and the attic. If you have a basement or crawlspace seal between there and the living space. Put a retrofit ECM motor in the furnace. Don't bother with a two stage furnace. see

Comment by Brett Little on June 3, 2014 at 4:09pm

@Ron - It is .14 cents here per KWH - No way that savings of $1,900 is possible. I have old homeowner's post upgrade data and it never went that high to save that much. Not possible. This is the fallacy of the HERS which also came to the same conclusion you did. 

@Ed - 10.1 ACH @ 50 down to 5.5 ACH @ 50p. Foam is on the attic floor which honestly likely has a gap in it due to the way the home was built. I get ice melt in a perfect square above my closet :(   Better fix it this summer maybe! 

Comment by Ed Minch on June 3, 2014 at 3:34pm


Good work.  Do you have a before-and-after blower door number?  Was the foam in the attic on the attic floor or at the roof sheathing?


Comment by Jan Green on June 3, 2014 at 12:31pm

Glad I read the entire case study as I was about to ask about the type of hot water heater, thermostat and SEER of furnace.  Good comments on how to get almost the same numbers by spending less. Great information that anyone can read and follow. Plus your feedback after completion is invaluable to others.  

Great to hear that West Michigan has greened their MLS.  As a soon to be instructor and fellow greener of our MLS, support education to realtors so that they understand what the features are and the benefits.  That is HUGE for the real estate market to be able to recoup what went into a project like this.

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