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Sustainably Speaking

Make sure to track utility costs

In CONTRACTOR’s November issue, the letter Why I won’t renew my subscription by Michael Gray, owner of Refrigeration Specialists, was published. CONTRACTOR received a variety of reader responses regarding his letter. Responses can be found in the January issue and online. One response letter that stood out to me was by Kim Hawley, co-owner of Town & Country Heating and Air.

She wrote, “I would like to see your publication focus on the real payback, in real dollars, for the equipment and technologies you are featuring.”

From interviewing contractors about the projects they work on, it seems that data on many projects are being collected to show actual payback and energy savings in the long run. However, collecting utility costs and energy consumption takes time, usually at least a year, especially when many systems are being utilized during different seasons, to have accurate data.

Even though this can be tedious, many contractors are tracking costs and energy consumption because they themselves want to know payback and have data to show that the products and systems installed are efficient and cost effective.

In CONTRACTOR’s January issue, two articles touch upon tracking utility costs on recent projects. The Solar Cottage I showcases sustainable technologies and products, and the HGA Home is a sustainable model — its utility costs overtime will be compared to the original house that was destroyed in a fire.

Hugh Joyce, president of James River Air Conditioning, told CONTRACTOR that he will track utility costs each month, and so far, he is pleased with the Solar Cottage I utility bills.

According to Joyce, the bills were $28 for September; $23 for October; and $16 for November. He is forecasting that the house will have a total yearly utility bill between $200 and $300 compared to a conventional house of the same size, which would be around $1,400 to $1,500.

The HGA Home is another project in which costs are being tracked.

“Since this is a renovation we will be able to measure energy usage before and after,” said Tim Dalene, senior project manager of Telemark, the project’s general contractor. “The HGA members offered to take on the project at cost and the owner agreed to share his historical energy data. We wanted to try to prove that we could build a large luxurious home that was energy efficient and esthetically pleasing. If successful we would then be able to present a financial argument for why sustainable building made sense for both large and small homes.

“We believe that unless sustainable building is cost justified, ‘green’ building will not be universally accepted,” added Dalene. “The HGA house is an important example of how the use of sustainable technologies and methods are cost effective and desirable.”

From residential to commercial projects, it seems that many contractors, large and small, understand that sustainable systems and technologies do need to be cost justified. As Dalene notes, if it’s not cost justified, green building will not be universally accepted.

So contractors, keep on tracking utility costs and energy consumption of the products and systems installed. The more data made available, regarding energy-efficient systems, the better in order to know what systems and products are most cost effective.