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Local business helps homeowners to save money, energy

Brian McCleary is the owner of Sustainable Energy Solutions, a business that works with Puget Sound Energy to help homeowners find ways to conserve energy use at home. - Patricia Duff / The Record
Brian McCleary is the owner of Sustainable Energy Solutions, a business that works with Puget Sound Energy to help homeowners find ways to conserve energy use at home.
— image credit: Patricia Duff / The Record

Everybody wants to stop burning money to heat the house.

And perhaps it is already clear that the culprit is those old drafty windows. But the cost of installing new ones can be prohibitive.

Good intentions of saving energy in one’s home are not always that easy. And that’s where Brian McCleary can make a difference.

With his new business, Sustainable Energy Solutions, McCleary is skilled at finding ways to make everyone’s home more energy efficient, without breaking the bank.

“I just basically listen to the customer and see how they use the house, how the house functions, and point out the factors that are affecting their concerns,” he said.

McCleary is certified to perform home energy assessments with the HomePrint Assessment Program, a free service for any Puget Sound Energy customer regardless of a house’s heat source.

“The term assessment is apt in that it is an observation of how energy efficient a house is without using more thorough diagnostic equipment, such as a blower door test and an infrared camera,” he said.

McCleary uses a checklist from which he assesses the insulation, windows and heating systems of a house, and then advises on which areas can be improved. But not all fixes are economically viable, such as replacing old windows.

“New windows are always going to be better because they seal better,” McCleary said.

“But the installation of new windows is very expensive and not everyone can afford that. So for older windows, I might recommend curtains or insulated window shades.”

McCleary said he often has to consider the cost benefits for each homeowner, and bases his recommendations on each situation.

“That’s a lot of it,” he said. “It’s often just about people being comfortable in their own home.”

Because this is a free service, McCleary said, it is of great benefit to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it, and it offers real strategies toward reducing energy consumption.

“In times like this, people could really use something of value that’s free,” he added.

Though it begs the question of why Puget Sound Energy, an energy purveyor, would want to reduce energy consumption.

McCleary pointed out that, during the winter, not as much electricity is produced in the Northwest, so PSE has to keep up with demand by buying it from the open market. That gets expensive, so by reducing consumption during the winter it lessens the amount of expensive power PSE has to buy, helping to keep rates as low as possible.

That’s one reason of several, said Walt Blackford, PSE’s customer services supervisor on South Whidbey.

“We have an intention to reduce demand across the board, so we can meet demand with the existing facilities that we have, instead of building new ones,” Blackford said.

It’s also a matter of what is expected of local utility companies.

“PSE can do very little unilaterally,” Blackford noted.

“The objective of finding ways to reduce the demand in place of increasing the supply is supported on the state level by the utilities commission,” he said.

In short, the only power facilities the commission might want to build in the future are alternative ones.

Blackford also pointed out the fact that reducing energy waste in homes is better business. Customers will just be altogether more comfortable if their homes are heated efficiently, he said.

HomePrint assessors are trained to know what to look for in a home.

McCleary is a certified residential energy auditor and a sustainable building advisor who comes from a background in the construction industry.

“Not only do I know my way around a house, but I also know how they function,” McCleary said.

“I can help people identify where their energy is being wasted, and how that can be corrected.”

He said that sometimes it’s just behavioral strategies that can help, such as keeping a door to a heated area closed. But sometimes it’s not that simple, and that’s why he needs to be thorough during the course of the assessment, which takes about 90 minutes.

The free HomePrint Assessment also offers up to 50 free installed compact fluorescent light bulbs which range in style from flood lights to regular bulbs.  At the end of an appointment, McCleary will offer strategies that reduce energy use and inform customers about PSE’s rebates where they apply.

One step beyond the free HomePrint Assessment, McCleary also can conduct a more involved home energy audit for a fee that includes an air-leakage test using a blower door kit and an infrared camera that pinpoints exactly where a leakage is occurring and any areas that are missing insulation. Home energy audits may also include federal tax credits through Energy Star, as well as the PSE rebates.

For more information about Sustainable Energy Solutions, visit McCleary’s website at www.senergysol.com or call him at 321-2025.

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