Reggie Lopes of WellHome Atlanta discusses why energy audits are becoming so popular and what one can expect when they have an energy audit performed on their home.
Ben Lack: So talk to us about who WellHome is and what you guys really do.
Reggie Lopes: Okay, wonderful. WellHome offers a smart and complete home assessment and what we’re looking to do is we’re looking ot make houses more comfortable and more energy efficient. At WellHome, we’ve actually been doing this for a while, but we’ve been doing it under Environments for Living, EFL.
EFL is a program that was started in 2001. What EFL was it was a program to make new construction, new homes that were being built more energy efficient. These houses were certified, and they were checked by a third-party as well. And so it was a natural progression that Masco who owns EFL wanted to do something in the existing home market. And so therefore Masco Home Services was created, and they branded WellHome. That’s where WellHome came from.
Masco, most people are not necessarily aware of Masco, is a really large company, the brands are well-known, for example, Delta Faucet. Delta is a Masco company. Behr Paint that you can buy at Home Depot, that is a Masco company. Marilette Cabinets. Kilts. So there’s a bunch of well-known companies that are actually Masco companies. So they’re a really large company that people never heard of but really they have.
Ben Lack: And WellHome is here in Atlanta, but is this the only location that you can a WellHome?
Reggie Lopes: No. WellHome is national. So we are right now in twelve locations, but we’re growing. So there’s another five that will be opening up in August. So we’re all across the country. We are Phoenix, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Atlanta, Florida. We’ve got multiple locations in Texas. So we’re kind of all over the place. So it’s a growing industry. Masco has always been known as an innovator. And this is something that we’re kind of leading the charge.
We have a process where we will come out to the customer’s home. We do an assessment, and it’s a very detailed assessment. And it follows the BPI guidelines, Building Performance Institute. It’s a four-hour process, even six hours, depending on the square footage of the house. We will go through these series of tests. Then at which point we will come back. We do a modeling of all the data, goes into a software, kicks out some numbers, runs the calculations, and then at which point we will present to the customer. And once we present to the customer of our recommendations and fixes, and then at which point we go ahead and we can do the fixes ourselves. We are the general contractor. So it’s kind of suit to nuts. We do the whole things.
Ben Lack: So a homeowner’s got a high-energy bill, and they’re trying to find ways to lower it. Why do you guys recommend doing energy assessment before figuring out what solutions are needed?
Reggie Lopes: Well, that’s a great question because what happens is a lot of times homeowners will have an issue. And let’s just say high-energy bills is one part that. Let’s just say for instance they call their heat and air contractor because they’re running their AC system all the time. And because they’re running their AC system all the time, they have high-energy bills so they attribute to the AC system. So they call out the heat and air contractor, and it’s an old system. And a lot of times what they know is heat and air. So obviously their recommendation would be you need to go ahead and replace it. Put in a high-efficiency system. And sometimes the problem is, yes, they’ll put in a new system. It is more efficient so you’ll save some energy on that, but the problem is it’s still running, trying to cool a space that is not being cooled because the house is so leaky. So it’s kind of like a bandaid.
A house works as a system. And what you want to do is you want to understand the big picture of that house. Take everything into consideration. And then once you understand the big picture and see everything, then you can make the proper changes to fix the real costs instead of just putting bandaids on it.
Ben Lack: So what are some of the common solutions that you would provide or recommend to homeowners?
Reggie Lopes: Well, for example, a homeowner calls us up. Two issues: high-energy bills and they have a certain room that’s uncomfortable. So at which point, they’ll call us up, but their system is still relatively new. Say it’s like ten years old which is still good. It’s not high-efficiency system, but it’s a system that works. So what we’ll do at that point once we do an assessment, an example of some of the fixes would be like, once you run a blower-door test, we see that the house is really leaky.
Ben Lack: Tell us what a blower-door test is.
Reggie Lopes: A blower-door test, in essence, we have this system that goes on the front door, and it has a big fan on it. We will depressurize the house to a set level, a negative pressure, and fifty Pascals is the number. Once you hold it steady at fifty Pascals, the computer on the system will measure the amount of air that is being sucked through the fan. And in using those calculations, they can determine how leaky the house is, down to the point of we can really take all the holes throughout the whole house combine it into one whole, we can tell you how big that whole is.
Ben Lack: Wow.
Reggie Lopes: Yeah. It is pretty cool. So I could say, “Ben, your house has a hole that’s the size of roughly a three-by-three or a four-by-four hole. So that’s what we can do. So getting back to your question, if at that point, they have an uncomfortable room and their AC system seems to be running all the time. So now at this point we’ve done an assessment, we know that the fix really is let’s seal all holes. Let’s go up in the attic. Let’s go ahead and cap it at the top. If they’re in a crawlspace, let’s try to cap it at the bottom, and let’s go ahead and get the right amount of insulation that is working. And we recommend R-49. Code right now is R-30. Some jurisdiction is up to R-38. But we recommend R-49, and we want that insulation to work at R-49. So once you do all that, then what ends up happening is your AC system is running less, and those rooms that were hot are not hot anymore. So you’re using less energy, and then you’re comfortable. So it’s the benefit of both. Most importantly, the customer’s comfortable, comfortable in their home. The added benefit is they save money.
Ben Lack: And the idea I guess is to make sure the air conditioning unit is not running as long because if it’s cooler in the house, then you’re not having the air conditioning on.
Reggie Lopes: Or a scenario could be, you have one part of the house which is really hot, right? And the thermostat is on the other part of the house, but you’re not achieving the comfort level you want. You’re cranking that AC down in order to try to get cooler in this one part of the house. But we could fix all that. That’s the thing we can fix all that. So you’re using your system less. Your insulation is actually working to the R-value, and the customer’s comfortable.
Ben Lack: So when you provide these solutions to the customer, did the customer say, “Okay, you’re going to clean our air, plug all the leaks in my house, and you’re going to put more insulation in my attic. What’s that going to do for me? Is that going to save me ten, fifteen percent?” You provide a certain percentage?
Reggie Lopes: Absolutely. What will happen is when we present to the customer, in our presentation, we’ll have the dollar amount to which what it will cost. Then we will subtract the rebates, and there’s a lot of great rebates out there. Georgia Power has rebates. The federal government has a tax incentive. And so we will subtract those items so then they will have a total dollar amount to make those retrofits. And then at which point what we will do is we also attribute to that number a percentage of energy savings because when we come out to do the assessment, we will also collect twelve months of their electricity or their natural gas. Typically that’s what you’ll find in Atlanta. And we put that in our modeling system. So we know if the last twelve months what their energy usage is.
In the modeling software, we basically build the house the way it is right now. We will true it up to their energy use. So we build the model of the house, and we compare to their energy usage because we want to get it to be pretty close. And so therefore it’s accurate. And then we come in, and we put our proposed. We will run all the scenarios of, okay, let’s reduce the leakage of the house by a thousand CFM. Let’s bump the insulation from, say it’s an R-30, and mind you, it’s an R-30 but it’s not necessarily working to an R-30. Because when you have leaks, if there’s airflow through insulation, it basically nullifies it. So now we’re going to bring it up to R-49 that’s working as R-49. And then the modeling software, the computer basically will kick out a percentage of energy savings. We’ve had numbers as high as forty-eight percent of energy savings.
Ben Lack: What would a typical homeowner that might have a few issues here and there…
Reggie Lopes: Well, if you have an older home, and I guess we should probably define what’s older. So if you’re living in town, in Atlanta, in Virginia Island, say you have a house that’s built in the early-to-mid 1900s, 1950. Those particular homes, the ones that we’ve been doing, minimum, just on air sealing, you’re in the thirty, thirty-five percent. Then when you start kicking in windows because we also do windows, when you start kicking in windows or if you kick in a high-efficiency furnace system, then you start getting into forty-eight, almost up to fifty percent.
Ben Lack: Wow. I know this happens a lot on the commercial side where you provide solutions to a commercial building owner, and then say, “What’s my return on investment?” Is the homeowner asking the same question?
Reggie Lopes: Yeah, absolutely. It costs money so people want to know, “Okay, if I spend this, what can I expect to get…” return on their investment. So absolutely. So it’s a simple calculation based on what you’re spending. We give a percentage of energy savings which is based off of their bills of the previous twelve months. So they can easily run a calculation. So if you do an air sealing weatherization insulation package, your return on their investment might be three, four, or five years based off of how bad the house is which is great. Within three to five years, you’re paying for it. You have paid for what you’ve done. So now the next ten years you live in your house, imagine all the energy savings, all the money that you’re saving off of that. And that’s one part of it.
But the other part is you’re comfortable. You don’t have to sacrifice being comfortable in your house because you don’t want to spend the money. There are people out there that they basically have to live in a house that’s seventy, eighty, eighty-two degrees in their house when it’s ninety-five, a hundred outside because they don’t want to turn on their AC or run their AC too long because of the high-energy cost. So there’s that comfort component as well.
Ben Lack: There is something that you had said earlier about that there are rebates available for some of the solution. Talk to us about what rebates are available, not only in Georgia, but on a federal level. And what steps the industry is trying take to make more rebates out there because some of these solutions aren’t inexpensive. They do cost money.
Reggie Lopes: Yeah, they do cost money. Okay, right now as far as what we have now, what we have right now is Georgia Power has a $1,900 rebate. And the way the rebate system is set up is based off of certain fixes. So you’ll get a certain dollar amount for doing air sealing and insulation in your attic. You’ll get another dollar amount if you add insulation in the crawlspace. Another dollar amount for just putting programmable thermostat. So the total is $1900 for Georgia Power. And there is a federal rebate of $1500. It was for two years last year and this year. So it runs out December 31st of this year.
Ben Lack: And is one of the steps that you guys take to help the homeowner apply for these rebates when you…
Reggie Lopes: Yes, we will take care of the paperwork. The check actually gets mailed for Georgia Power, gets mailed to the customer. We do the paperwork for the customer. To be in the Georgia Power program, you have to BPI certified. Southface Institute which is located here in Atlanta, they are a third-party quality control. They’re like the third-party that looks over our shoulders. Make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. We fill out the paperwork. It gets submitted to Southface. Southface checks it and approves, sends it off to Georgia Power. Georgia Power cuts the check to the customer.
So there’s checks and balances. But the fact is there are people who are accredited, certified, who know what they’re doing, going and doing these energy audits.
Ben Lack: I’m curious to know why you got in the business, and why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Reggie Lopes: Well, it was funny. I was in construction, new construction. The last company that I was working with, I was building Earthcraft homes which, in essence, is energy efficient homes for new construction. It’s a program actually Southface and the Great Atlanta Homebuilders Association are doing this together where we are building efficient homes at a certain level.
As you know and as most people know, new construction is pretty much nonexistent. There’s not a lot of new construction going on. So this was a natural fit. It’s something I think I’m passionate about, whether it’s new construction or existing homes, wanting to make people more comfortable, happier in their homes and have these homes be more efficient.
Ben Lack: Well, Reggie thanks for giving us some of your time today.
Reggie Lopes: Absolutely, thank you.
Ben Lack: Very helpful for the homeowner who has high-energy bills and is trying to figure out why they’re so high and why they’re paying so much for staying hot. So thank you very much and we’ll definitely be in touch.
Reggie Lopes: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.