“[I]t’s a two-way street. Solar gets some people excited about energy consumption and drives them to do energy efficiency. And I think a lot of people get energy efficiency and they still want to do more, and so they go do solar,” says Ms. Sterkel.
Ted and Astrid Olsson talked with half a dozen solar installers before a colleague advised getting a home energy audit first.
On a recent weekend, Golden and a two-man team walked with the Olssons around their four-story home. Golden’s team are like plumbers for air. Using smoke candles, they watch how air circulates through ducts and drains out of vents, and look for bottlenecks and leaks. Using a fan device known as a blower door, they measure how airtight the building is.
The average home is leaky – lots of energy goes out of windows, doors, or walls. Two percent of all the energy used in California is lost from bad ducts alone.
The Olssons’ audit revealed, among other things, that their attic hemorrhages heat. The audit prioritized retrofits based on return on investment, helping the couple decide to insulate the attic and hold off on other fixes.
“Even with all the incentives offered [for solar], it pays me more to solve my problem by retrofitting the house,” says Mr. Olsson.
Energy officials say they want homeowners to make such rational assessments, but audits cost several hundred dollars and fixes can be time-consuming. That makes it tricky to agree on when and how homeowners should be pushed into the process.
One obvious moment: when a house goes up for sale. The California Assembly passed legislation requiring audit and repairs at a home’s time of sale, but it died in a Senate committee.