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Here are 10 ways homeowners can get duped when it comes to energy efficiency because a sales rep:

  1. Sells you more than you need. As we gear up for another scorching Arizona summer, I’m seeing ads for companies that want to overinsulate your attic to a level of R-60, which won’t save you any more money on air conditioning bills than the recommended R-38. In fact, there’s a good chance you don’t need new insulation at all. Most homes have plenty of insulation, but it’s poorly installed or has been knocked out of place. Reattaching it to the floors, ceilings and walls it’s meant to protect could save you a bundle of money—both on replacement product and on energy bills.
  2. Says installing several products that do the same thing is better than using just one. I could scream when I see ads that offer unnecessarily thick insulation, plus ventilation, plus a spray-on radiant barrier for the attic. They promise to drop the attic temperature, reduce the heat gain from the roof by up to 50 percent and slash your air conditioning bill accordingly. Yet no more than 15 percent of your a/c bill has anything to do with the heat coming from your attic. And during our cool season, the attic isn’t hot anyway. This is overkill. With so much insulating equipment in the attic, it could be 200 degrees up there and have no impact on your house—and they charge as much as $6 a square foot for it. Your attic is never going to be 200 degrees. You don’t need this. All you need is properly engineered ventilation and an adequate level of insulation. Period.
  3. Is vague about R-value. R-value is a measure of how effectively insulation resists heat flow. Generally, the higher the R-value, the greater the product’s insulating power—up to an appropriate level, which for our climate is R-38. Some product sales reps will claim their insulation has a high R-value, but they don’t tell you how thick you have to layer it to achieve that measure. Ask this question: How many inches of insulation will I need to achieve R-38—and how much does this product cost per inch?
  4. Misleads you about R-value. The Federal Trade Commission has ruled against manufacturers who claim their radiant barriers or insulation will insulate your attic to a high R-value, when in fact, those products can’t achieve that on their own. In most cases, the FTC found that the high R-value can be achieved only through a combination of insulation, radiant barriers, and common building products like gypsum board and siding, which have some insulating properties. Before you buy, be sure the R-value claim pertains to the product on its own—and that you don’t have to buy additional products to keep your attic as cool as the sales pitch says.
  5. Convinces you that high-tech is better than common sense. The least-expensive way to slash your energy bills is to reach for the “low-hanging fruit” in your house—small, low-cost improvements. Instead of getting hooked into buying an expensive package of multiple new systems, start your energy campaign by sealing your air conditioner’s ducts, caulking windows and doors, and checking weather-stripping.  Have an energy audit to determine if your attic is properly and passively ventilated and that your insulation is well-installed. That will help you more than investing thousands of dollars in optional equipment.
  6. Can’t prove the claims. It’s illegal for to say a product will slash your energy bills, insulate your attic or reduce heat gain without tests to back up the claim. Ask for the research. If the product has passed these tests, you can be sure the manufacturer will have that information plastered all over is Web site. Can’t find it? Don’t buy it.
  7. Insists bigger is better. This is a common claim when it comes to buying an air conditioner. It used to be that bigger homes needed larger a/c units. Newer homes are so tight, however, that they need far less powerful systems than older homes with lots of air leaks. Find an a/c rep who will get a lot of information about your house, the weather and your family’s lifestyle—and use a computer to calculate the size of your new air conditioner. If that’s not happening, find a different contractor.
  8. Misrepresents the energy savings. Before you buy, it’s important to know how long it would take to pay a product off with the money you save on energy bills. If you pay $15,000 to seal your attic up as tight as Fort Knox and it saves you $400 a year on a/c bills, you won’t see an actual return on your investment for 37 years. Go with a plan that will pay for itself within three to five years. After that, the lower energy bill will put money in your pocket.
  9. Trips you up with jargon. Steer clear of products touting an “equivalent R-value” and those that refer to the potential savings in terms like “nominal” or “approximately” instead of offering hard numbers. 
  10. Sells you something new instead of repairing what you already have. Example: You don’t have to replace your air conditioner just because its ducts are leaking. Instead, have the ducts sealed.

Don’t fall for this “marketing approach” to energy savings. Trust the building scientists—and know what they say. You shouldn’t pay more for energy-saving equipment than it will ever save you in energy bills.


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