Cayman’s Sam Spade of homes

Crawling around in a hot and dirty attic – it’s not the kind of detective work a film noir buff might deem terribly exciting.

And while it may lack the glamour of rescuing a stolen relic from the clutches of some celluloid villain, when the ripped up insulation, cracked ducts, mouldy bathrooms, and hidden air leaks that he’s hunting are revealed, Jorge Vera’s eureka moment is just as satisfying.

After all, he’s the Sam Spade of homes in Cayman.

Vera’s company, Smart Energy Management, conducts home energy audits to uncover small problems that, once resolved, can go a long way toward energy cost savings and reducing a home’s carbon footprint.

It’s an auditor’s goal to reveal inefficiencies, and the audit report will suggest inexpensive steps that can be taken to eliminate them, resulting in both instant savings and major savings over time with very little effort.

Vera says that to combat high prices, many homeowners think they need to replace windows, install new air conditioning units or add expensive solar heating or electrical systems.

“While these and other major improvements can result in huge savings, they also require a substantial investment,” he says.

“But energy experts agree that the most economical way to cut utility costs is by auditing your home or commercial facility so you can become energy-wise.”

Just last week, a study released by the consulting firm McKinsey found an investment of $520 billion in improvements like sealing ducts and replacing inefficient appliances could produce $1.2 trillion in savings on energy bills in the United States through 2020, cutting the country’s energy use by 23 per cent.

Homes account for about 35 percent of the potential efficiency gains identified in the report.

Considering how high Cayman energy bills can be, Smart Energy Management’s residential energy audits, which include a high-tech infrared thermal imaging analysis, provide an eye-opening look at the way your home may be gobbling up energy dollars.

Mr. Vera points out because Cayman Islands households rely on one primary source of energy, electricity generated from diesel, the tremendous rise in energy costs has made home efficiency measures and renewable energy options attractive both ideologically and economically.

A simple to fill out online form on the company’s website provides the auditor with a snapshot of your home and the particular concerns you might have such as air quality or mold problems.

On a recent home visit, Mr. Vera says he was surprised by the problems he found.

“The house looked ok, but once we started looking at what was going on it was a different story,” he says.

First off, the auditor looks for air leaks that let cool dry air out and hot humid air in by examining the attic, ceilings, walls and doors. Be warned, it involves the auditor poking around the home’s nooks and crannies, so hide the dirty socks!

Next, the age, condition and efficiency of appliances, the ventilation and air conditioning system are checked out, as are energy use patterns. This involves connecting a device to the electrical panel which reads energy flows to appliances and fixtures.

The thermal imaging camera also checks insulation levels inside and outside the home.

The electricity and water bills are also examined for troubling trends.

The audit takes a few hours, and once the information is analyzed, a report is generated that includes an analysis of the home’s energy usage before and after the audit, the dollar amount of savings if the recommendations are applied, and the amount of time over which the energy cost savings would pay for an investment to retrofit your property.

The findings, presented in a detailed report including many helpful photos and graphs to illustrate certain points, weren’t pretty, and they were plentiful.

To name just a few, the AC unit was old and inefficient (as in, they are not even sold in the US any more), the design was not right for the kind of property, and the thermostat was in the wrong place – for starters. Not only that, an improperly connected duct was blowing cool air to the hot attic.

A big shocker emerged while the kitchen was being tested. The lowly coffee maker consumed the same amount of energy as seven 100 watt bulbs!

None of the appliances were rated as efficient under the Energy Star programme, and to top it off the “phantom” energy used by appliances on standby like the TV and cable box was equivalent to leaving a 60-watt bulb burning all day and night.

“That is just a small thing, but if you eliminated that you would save over $100 dollars a year,” said Mr. Vera. A simple device that shuts down all the entertainment system would solve the problem.

“If everyone in Cayman did the same, it would save a significant amount of electricity.”

The audit found the home in question consumed an average of 9,786KWh of electricity per year, with bills to the tune of $2918, and emitting 4.89 tonnes of CO2.

“In comparison, a person who takes 5 economy class return trips from Grand Cayman to JFK New York generates 4.66 tonnes of CO2,” said Mr. Vera.

The report revealed once the recommended efficiency measures were implemented, the home’s consumption would drop to 6,284KWh, meaning a bill of $1874, a whopping $1000 in savings.  And the home’s carbon footprint would drop to 3.14 tonnes of CO2.

The things that were recommended were surprisingly simple such as relocating and replacing the thermostat with a programmable version, installing better air filters, using the microwave more, and installing a timer on the water heater.

But what was most surprising was that for the number of problems that were found, the total retrofit cost was a mere $1695. And the total payback time? 1.62 years.

Now that’s an eureka moment more than a few people might find satisfying.merged while the kitchen was being tested. The lowly coffee maker consumed the same amount of energy as seven 100 watt bulbs!None of the appliances were rated as efficient under the Energy Star programme, and to top it off the “phantom” energy used by appliances on standby like the TV and cable box was equivalent to leaving a 60-watt bulb burning all day and night.“That is just a small thing, but if you eliminated that you would save over $100 dollars a year,” said Mr. Vera. A simple device that shuts down all the entertainment system would solve the problem.“If everyone in Cayman did the same, it would save a significant amount of electricity.”The audit found the home in question consumed an average of 9,786KWh of electricity per year, with bills to the tune of $2918, and emitting 4.89 tonnes of CO2.“In comparison, a person who takes 5 economy class return trips from Grand Cayman to JFK New York generates 4.66 tonnes of CO2,” said Mr. Vera.The report revealed once the recommended efficiency measures were implemented, the home’s consumption would drop to 6,284KWh, meaning a bill of $1874, a whopping $1000 in savings.  And the home’s carbon footprint would drop to 3.14 tonnes of CO2.The things that were recommended were surprisingly simple such as relocating and replacing the thermostat with a programmable version, installing better air filters, using the microwave more, and installing a timer on the water heater.But what was most surprising was that for the number of problems that were found, the total retrofit cost was a mere $1695. And the total payback time? 1.62 years.Now that’s an eureka moment more than a few people might find satisfying.

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