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Council gives stimulus funds to homeowners

Original post made on May 21, 2009

The City Council voted unanimously to give homeowners a break Tuesday night by directing federal stimulus funds towards home energy conservation.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, May 21, 2009, 12:38 PM

Comments (26)

Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 21, 2009 at 2:02 pm

USA is a registered user.

Lordy, where to begin with this piece of stupidity ...

* At a time when city and state budgets are bad and getting worse, we are going to drop $288,000 on audits. There are people and projects who could really use some money.

* For all the yapping about "sustainability", the auditor jobs are not sustainable. When the money ends, the jobs end. The money should be used to seed the creation of self-sustaining jobs.

* Naturally, the eco-nazis are going to think this is a great idea. They will be oh so pleased with how smart they are, yet they will not engage their brains to do the simple math to see that the above numbers are grossly wrong. (DeBolt -- maybe you meant pounds instead of tons?) Seriously, how could educated people not notice that?


Posted by Don Frances, Mountain View Voice Editor
on May 21, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Don Frances is a registered user.

Indeed we meant to put "pounds" instead of "tons." It's fixed in the file now. Besides this typo, I'm not aware of other problems with the numbers.


Posted by Mike Shafto, a resident of Rex Manor
on May 21, 2009 at 5:13 pm

eco-nazis?
What's next, democratic socialist party?
Let's at least tune in to the reality channel and keep the discussion reality-based.


Posted by paul, a resident of Castro City
on May 21, 2009 at 7:27 pm

I guess jobs and help to home owners are bad things?


Posted by Rodger, a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 22, 2009 at 11:00 am

Hiring people for energy audits is a waste of money, sounds like some sort of scam. Perhaps it's a way to avoid laying off city workers just shift them into something trendy paid for by the Federal Government. Let's use our rainy day reserves to preserve our city workers jobs and use the new energy money for energy saving purchases that will be around for years.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 22, 2009 at 12:04 pm

The audit idea seems to be a foolish waste of money, helping a limited number of residents.

Energy audits can be easily done online, so perhaps a much cheaper education program, staffed by college interns (little or no cost) to instruct residents of the value of a self-run audit, would be a better use of the funds -- lower cost and it would allow the stimulus funds to be used for something that benefits the entire MV community.


Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 22, 2009 at 1:18 pm

USA is a registered user.

Paul -- To the contrary , I said that "the money should be used to seed the creation of self-sustaining jobs." Audit jobs are not self-sustaining.

Also, having been through the city's permit & inspection process a few times, I have little faith that the auditors would be effective or efficient.


Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 22, 2009 at 1:37 pm

USA is a registered user.

The construction business is hurting bad. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and others in Mountain View desperately need jobs or at least a few projects to put food on the table. How about using that $288,000 to match homeowners money to pay for solar product installation? For example, we could say that the city would match a dollar for every two dollars that a homeowner pays to pay to a Mtn. View worker for qualifying home improvement projects such as installing solar cells, double pane windows, etc. That would leverage our money for greater benefit, provide much needed help now, and return many years of zero-cost, green benefits.


Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on May 22, 2009 at 1:59 pm

I wonder how the potential energy savings were calculated. Do they assume that every homeowner will abide by the recommendations of every audit? That doesnt seem too realistic.

USA's suggestion of direct subsidies for homeowner's 'going solar' isnt a bad one, but I'd prefer to have seen all the money going into projects that would save the city money and energy over time, or perhaps grants to some of the schools in town to fund solar projects.

Instead, we're creating 3 short term jobs to duplicate something that PG&E already does!


Posted by reactionary fringe, a resident of Rex Manor
on May 22, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Who on the City Council has the brother-in-law in the energy conservation biz? Sheesh..... talk about EARMARKS. Oh, wait, OUR dearly beloved LIBERAL Council wouldn't pull such a terribly REPUBLICAN stunt?!


Posted by Ken, a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 22, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Its a bit disappointing to see the level of ignorance and cynicism displayed here. First of all, there are specific constraints on using the federal stimulus money earmarked for energy conservation- we can't just use it to avoid laying off employees. Those of us who have had an energy audit and completed some of the recommended improvements can attest to the value of this service. This program is only going to provide $192 per home for an energy audit. Even if the average recipient does a few of the recommended improvements, it will be a good investment in the environment, not to mention the economy for the work done by the local contractors. Neither PG&E nor a homeowner doing an online survey would possibly come close to the depth of knowledge and capability of a good energy audit company. The auditors typically get involved with doing the actual recommended improvements after the audit. That combined with the reality that the homes and businesses in this country are massively energy inefficient, will make their jobs quite sustainable. I recommend at least reviewing the websites of some well regarded energy retrofit companies like Sustainable Spaces (Web Link) before you form a conclusion that this is a waste of money.


Posted by curious, a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 22, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Ken,
I looked at the website. It's a waste of money. You can get the same info from the PG&E website as from one of these exalted 'audits'.

Where did you get this $192 per home figure? It sounds like you took $192 times the number of houses in Mtn View to reach the $288,000 figure. If so, that's a whopper since there is no way every house in Mtn. View is going to get audited.

"we can't just use it to avoid laying off employees." So, the city can't layoff someone and then immediately rehire them for one of these cushy audit jobs?

To Mr. Frances, that's a very misleading headline. The city council didn't give it to homeowners. They used it as pork to pay off someone or some company they favored for political reasons.

This is probably a microcosm of the so-called stimulus spending. The Democrats are piling up huge debts to pay off their special interests groups.


Posted by Ken, a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 22, 2009 at 8:26 pm

According to the article, the City intends for 1,500+ homes to get an audit under the program. $288,000 /1500= $192. I actually think 1,500 homes is a bit too optimistic given the labor involved in a quality audit. My home energy audit involved 3 professionals spending 4 hours going through my entire home, including attic and crawl space testing for air leakage, air exchanges per hour, phantom power drains using heat sensitive cameras, radon, carbon monoxide, moisture, etc. They took over 200 pictures of areas we can't see from inside the house and it was quite revealing. I received a detailed 36 page report on how all these things measured against what is considered healthy as well as a list of things I could do to fix them. For this they charged me $600 which I still consider a bargain. These guys clearly lose money even on a audits. They're betting that you have serious energy inefficiency and air quality issues such that you want to hire them to fix some of them (though you can hire anyone you like.) So if you think getting $192 for doing this kind of work is "cushy", I encourage you to apply to be a home energy auditor.

I would also like to point out that the EPA says that indoor air quality is 5 times worse than outdoor air. If you have kids or spend a lot of time indoors, you should be concerned about the health of your indoor air. I hired Sustainable Spaces to seal my very leaky ducts and install an energy recovery ventilator, both of which have measurably increased the air quality in my home and the efficiency of my air conditioning and furnace. PG&E has some good resources but you won't get this kind of perspective from their website. Talk to some people who have had a real home energy audit (not from a plumber who does them on the side). They'll tell you its very valuable. Instead of spending $30K on a hybrid car, many people would make a more positive impact on GHG emissions while increasing their air quality and saving money by getting an audit and following its recommendations. If anyone would like to ask me any questions about my experience with energy audits, feel free to email me at kjaudi5k@aim.com.


Posted by Ned, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 23, 2009 at 6:38 am

Ken, great input thanks. This is the kind of analysis this article needed.


Posted by Don Frances, Mountain View Voice Editor
on May 23, 2009 at 10:06 am

Don Frances is a registered user.

Ken,

I second what Ned said -- thanks for the input. In the future, if you're up for it, we may like to write about your audit experience in more detail. I think Mountain View homeowners would appreciate knowing what it all entails.


Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on May 24, 2009 at 12:05 am

Ken-

Begs the question: how much did you spend to implement the audit recommendations?

If someone is getting a FREE audit, they are far, far less likely to plunk down sustantial cash to make repairs in hard to reach spots than someone like you that presumably had some skin in the game after writing a fat check to the auditor.

Nobody is "spending $30K for a hybrid car". They are paying some incremental cost above and beyond the cost of a different car they would have otherwise bought.


Posted by dugudugudah, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 25, 2009 at 10:48 am

Timely idea, which I intend to take advantage of... my spouse was recently laid off and we've transitioned from being "the good life" types to "savers."

Now we need to hear the other side: Water-use audits... another possible story for Don and his team?

Again, very timely stuff. It's on US FOLKS as private residents to do something with the output reports, which I intend to take seriously... next up: replace the lawn with dryscap


Posted by dugudugudah, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 25, 2009 at 10:59 am

Great idea, and very timely as my spouse was laid off and we've transitioned from being "the good life" types to being "savers..."

I intend to get an audit and take the results seriously. Perhaps a complimentary story idea for Don and the crew would be "water-use audits," to go along with this theme, during a time of lingering drought. Right now I've stopped watering the front lawn and am looking at dryscape designs with California natives.

Great story, Voice, and great work Council. For all those who criticize people for trying, to paraphrase Woody Allen: There's a special place in heaven reserved for people who try... on the other hand, if it turns out this duplicates an existing PG&E program, the City needs to turn their funding over to publicizing and integrating with that program, and not duplicating it? That's a question that needs to be answered.


Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 26, 2009 at 3:12 pm

USA is a registered user.

Ned & Don -- No, that is not great analysis. It is not even analysis. It is commentary, and weak commentary at that.

The purpose of the audits is to help improve the environment and save money. Those should be the subject of the analysis. If Ken is going to write an article with some actually analysis, he will need to answer questions such as
- How many recommendations were there?
- What is the project costs to do them?
- How many have been implemented to date?
- What are that savings in dollars?
- What are the saving in terms for reduced carbon emissions?

With that data, he can then start the actual analysis with answers to questions such as
- How does that rate of return compare to other eco-projects e.g. what if Ken had just invest an equal amount into solar cell?


Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on May 26, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Well said USA (gratuitous friendly comment since I'm ripping into you elsewhere...)


Posted by Twana, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 28, 2009 at 11:17 am

FYI, PG&E does not offer free home energy audits anymore, except for some low income programs. Instead, they do have an audit tool online that you can use to perform your own basic audit if you want at www.pge.com/myhome/saveenergymoney/analyzer/en. The Santa Clara Valley Water District does offer free home WATER audits, available if you call 800-548-1882 or check out www.valleywater.org/conservation.

Audits help people save energy and money at home. It is also a good idea to reduce home energy use before buying a solar system, so that you can reduce the size of the system that you buy.


Posted by Ken, a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 28, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Its difficult to determine energy and CO2 emission savings from any home energy retrofit because you can't control for all the constantly changing variables that impact those things over time. Additionally, not everyone is looking for a quantifiable ROI in these projects. My family isn't perfect but we try to make a few improvements to our environmental impact each year. I had already installed solar on my house one year and installed new Energy Star appliances another year. So the retrofits we chose as a result of the audit became this year's investment in the environment and our health. If they lowered our heating bills or increased the value of our home down the road, all the better but not an absolute requirement for us.

There were several recommendations and we certainly didn't do all of them. We chose the ones that were within our budget and fit personal interests, chiefly to improve air quality as I have young kids and we all spend a good deal of time at home. We also have allergies and probably suffer from more colds than we should due to unhealthy air and humidity. Yes, I will admit we can't measure that, its just anecdotal but then this is just commentary as you point out. When I discovered our ducts had huge leaks in them causing us to be breathing dirty crawl space air, that alone was enough for me to be interested in having our ducts sealed. But other people may be more interested in having insulation blown in their walls and attic area to decrease drafts in winter and save energy. Again, I can't precisely quantify all the economic and environmental benefits we've achieved for the skeptics out there, especially just a few months after the work was done. I can only testify that we FEEL a lot better after having done the work.

Lastly, I agree with Eric that the recipients of the City audit program should have some skin the game. There's a finite amount of money and time but an infinite number of ways we as a city can improve our energy efficiency. So in order to better ensure the program is targeted towards people who actually have an interest in doing something to improve their home's energy efficiency, this should be a matching program. Perhaps requiring each homeowner to pay 50% of the audit would be deemed reasonable. This would also increase the potential number of audits that could be completed for the budget.


Posted by Ken, a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 28, 2009 at 2:44 pm

I would appreciate hearing from anyone interested in attending a no cost presentation from Sustainable Spaces on what audits are about including some local case studies. I would be happy to help arrange this to be set up at the Mountain View community center if there's enough interest. Sustainable Spaces has indicated to me that they would be open to offering a community discount on home energy audits if enough people signed up for them after seeing a presentation. I have no financial interest in this, just think it would be helpful for many people to see. Please email me at kjaudi5k@aim.com if you would be interested in attending such a presentation. Thanks.


Posted by curious, a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 28, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Ken, the audit you describe is an amazing amount of work for conclusions that are obvious. Everybody knows the drill or can find out from the PG&E website or reading a library book: weather-seal windows and doors and electic outlets, insulate your ceiling, double-paned windows (and there are many websites describing the types and their advantages), insulate your walls, energy efficient appliances, hang up your clothes to dry after washing, etc, etc

Infra-red cameras etc are way overkill. You very soon run into diminishing returns.

The City Council's decision is a classic easy-come-easy go. Plus it sure smells or pork, but Mr. Frances does not seem curious about that.


Posted by Marc, a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 30, 2009 at 10:29 am

I don't heat my house very much. We keep the thermostat at its lowest setting (58) and wear sweaters in the winter. I wonder how many sweater the city could buy with the money to hand out to people who don't like to pay the expense of heating their homes. Or maybe to make jobs, they could hire people to make the sweaters. And to make more jobs, they could hire shepherds to help with the source of wool.


Posted by Ken, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 9, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Sustainable Spaces is hosting a free presentation on home energy audits. You'll learn everything that's involved in home energy audits, hear some case studies of the work they've done around the Bay Area, and have your questions answered. In addition, they're bringing hors d'oeuvres and wine!

Anyone who attends the presentation will get 50% off a home energy audit which usually goes for around $600. For more information about Sustainable Spaces, you can visit their website at Web Link

Date: Tuesday, June 23rd
Time: 7:00PM wine & hors d'oeuvres
7:15PM Presentation

Location: Mountain View Community Center, 201 South Rengstorff Ave., Mountain View


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