Energy sleuth finds holes in homes that leak heat, money

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Thursday, January 3, 2008
— With snow depth rising and temperatures falling, the monthly bill from Alliant Energy is one more reminder that it's winter in Wisconsin.

It's also known as heating season, or in many cases, inefficient heating season.

But a Milton-based business is working with homeowners, remodelers, insulators and builders to heat and cool homes more efficiently.

As a thermographer for Alliant Energy, Rick Kubly spent 19 years traversing Wisconsin with his infrared camera, checking the utility's substations and peripheral equipment for connections that cost money or pose a safety hazard.

Seeing thermography technology sweep the country, Kubly launched IR EnergySavers, a business centered on infrared technology to find a home's energy inefficiencies.

Kubly's equipment depressurizes a house and then measures the air flowing into the building. While the airflow is exaggerated, he scans the home room-by-room, capturing infrared and digital images of the locations and effects of leaking hot and cold air. With the help of computer software, he provides a report that identifies problem areas, calculates energy lost to air infiltration and recommends solutions.

As a member of the South Central Wisconsin Builders Association, Kubly has ties to the people who can help solve energy inefficiencies.

"I'm still learning how to sell the idea," he said. "One thing I'm finding is that it's almost like people are not all that interested in saving money."

Part of that sentiment comes from homeowners who know they have energy issues but fear the costs of addressing them, Kubly said.

Part of it also shows up in new construction, both from owners and contractors, he said.

For example, a home built by a contractor that uses Kubly's services and is built to be more energy efficient usually will cost more.

"When I work with a builder on the front end, we make sure the house is built as tight as possible," he said. "That costs more money, but in the long run the owner will have a home that's more efficient, that saves money and is more comfortable."

Still, Kubly said he's run into a mentality that follows the least expensive course of action. That often means the less expensive builder gets the project.

"The value to me as a builder is that we gets guarantees that we're building houses as tight as possible and insulating the best we can," said Eric Richards of Richards Construction in Janesville. "The benefit to the customers, in addition to their comfort, is in their heating and cooling costs.

"But there's no doubt it costs me more to build a house as tight as we do."

Richards has been using IR for about three years, and his homes have met or exceeded the standards outlined by the state's Energy Star program.

Richards said many buyers assume that because they're building a new home, it will automatically be as efficient as possible.

"That's not even close to being true," he said. "It's not so much about the products but how you're installing them. With Rick's help, we're making sure we're taping windows the right way, sealing the Tyvek properly and doing all the other things the right way."

For a typical home, Kubly's services cost about $500. He said he can find the source of a problem before a homeowner acts on what can be a costly assumption that new windows, more insulation or some other fix are needed.

After improvements are made, Kubly returns with his infrared camera to document the changes and compare them to the benchmarks recorded during his first visit.

"This is a tool homeowners can use to check the contractor's work, check the quality of the windows or whatever they've installed and verify the efficiency in their homes," he said.

While it's difficult to pinpoint, the annual payback usually is in the range of 15 to 30 percent, Kubly said, meaning the costs of the repairs typically are recovered in three to six years.

Last updated: 3:13 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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