Energy Savings ARE Predictable, Says Rick Chitwood

Building Performance Podcast from Corbett Lunsford of Green Dream Group in Chicago

One of the things we hear all the time is that energy use is not predictable. Occupants will screw it up. There will be ‘takeback’ due to theJevons Paradox where efficiency gains are given back in return for comfort.

At One Knob Consulting we feel blaming prediction failure on occupant behavior is largely a cop out. Sure some clients will have heated pools and hot tubs, or add plasma screen TV’s that get left on 24/7, but for the most part when you make clients comfortable, they never touch the thermostat and energy savings stick around.

The One Knob program design rests on the premise energy savings are predictable to a level of accuracy acceptable to consumers, program, and loan actuaries. We have savings prediction is possible in our Home Performance consulting practices and others in our world agree, those that have had the desire to predict accurately and have actually measured.

A big name in the Home Performance world, Rick Chitwood of Chitwood Energy, the premier trainer in California, was on Corbett Lunsford’s Building Performance Podcast backing up the fact that energy savings are indeed predictable when you control work quality. Rick also literally wrote the book on Measured Home Performance along with a few other friends of ours.

Rick guaranteed energy costs on new homes in the 80s and 90s with software available at that time, and predicted accurately. Is there any reason to think we couldn’t do it better with todays tools?

Heating and cooling cost guarantees were surprisingly low, $100-600/year in CA annually. Those guarantees sold homes. He NEVER paid an overage. He had one call on a 6000 sf house that got a $350 bill with a hot tub and lots of use. (More than the heating and cooling portion by far.) Between the time of the call and Rick’s arrival the homeowner asked her neighbor about her bill (similar home). The neighbors bill was $1300.

She wasn’t upset anymore.

Rick discusses how silly “setback” is on a decent home – how it’s a lot of effort for nebulous savings. He counsels his clients to leave thermostats alone unless they are uncomfortable. His clients are so comfortable they forget the thermostat exists, so much so that when the batteries failed in 3-4 years clients called asking what to do. This is another controversial thing we have found – setback doesn’t save in efficient homes, and this removes another behavioral problem.

Rick guaranteed energy bills for 3 years, after that people came from word of mouth. He is a big name trainer now – all because he did good work, sealed houses, right sized furnaces and air conditioners, and measured performance. Results informed future predictions. Chitwood can write his own ticket now, choosing the clients and projects he wants – all because he predicted accurately and learned how to truly deliver Home Performance.

He also discovered that when you tell people what to expect with a real number, then actually deliver it, it makes you remarkably rare and you can charge enough to perform quality work, rather than joining a race to the bottom on price. If Home Performance is going to become a real industry, we need to make sure there is profit in it so companies can grow. Rick carved a bunch of this path for us already.

We recommend you download the podcast and listen to it on the way home. It may change how you feel about efficiency. His thoughts have certainly changed ours.

The next time someone tells you energy savings aren’t predictable, point them to this post or this podcast. Once we can predict energy savings accurately utilities can better understand how to send efficiency price signals, homeowners will gain trust in the Home Performance industry ability to deliver on promises, and banks will finally have enough confidence to offer financing products for the HP space.

All will help us to scale, and inexpensively for programs and utilities. If ever you meet Rick Chitwood, be sure to thank him for laying the foundation for us!