Making his way through the useful and the question marks

My husband is mostly self-employed, with many steady and semi-steady sources of work. He's done a lot of different things over time, but the strongest thread is housing. Currently he is a code enforcement officer, an administrator of a housing rehabilitation grant, and an EPA certified lead paint risk assessor. So when I learned that the local technical college was giving a course that would train one to become an energy auditor, it seemed like a perfect fit with the rest of his skills.

He checked out some information on the web, and was going to pass on the course, because the certification process seemed very expensive. He talked to the man who would be teaching the course, though, and was encouraged to attend. The initial certification would not be expensive, and he could get 100% of the course fee reimbursed by the NY State Energy Development Authority (NYSERDA). So he pulled out our credit card and signed up.

He has learned an awful lot about housing through the years, and he was a prize student in the class. Much of the material in the course was not new to him, though he picked up some interesting new information. On the first day of class, though, he came home irritated. He learned that the path of being certified as an energy auditor is a twisted one in this state.

The certification is not issued by a governmental entity, but by a private company. The initial certification is not too bad. However, they require you to buy all of the equipment you need to do an energy audit from them, to the tune of about $7,000. They also require a second course and a second more expensive certification to be able to perform followup audits after energy conservation work has been done. By the way, the procedures you do for an energy audit after rehabilitation are the same as the procedures you do to diagnose the problems in the first place. Also, you are supposed to refer all energy conservation work to contractors who have been certified to do energy conservation work. And who certifies them? The same private company.

To us, it looks like there is a real sweetheart deal going between NYSERDA and the private company. NYSERDA controls much of the funding available in the state for energy efficiency improvements made by homeowners and businesses. And NYSERDA is requiring privately certified auditors and contractors to be the people doing the work before it will dole out any funding. NYSERDA is not actually funded by tax dollars, but rather by fees we all pay when we pay our utility bills, so it escapes close public scrutiny.

As much as some folks might not like government control, it seems to both my husband and me that if there is to be certification of any kind, it should be issued by a government, not by a private company.

We've also learned that the insulation in our roof isn't nearly as good as we thought it was. By the time 20 years have passed, the insulating value of fiberglass is 25% of what it was at installation. Foam loses some insulating value in the first few years after installation, but it stabilizes. Guess how old our house is? One half is 20 years old, and the other is 30. There is a lot of degraded fiberglass over head. Plus, our tongue-and-groove wooden ceiling may be leaking air like a seive.

Next year we won't be paying tuition, but we will be putting a new roof on the house, and it will be a major job that will include removal of fiberglass and installation of blown-in foam insulation. Better start saving a few pennies where I can. We've got a start on that - my husband is not going to become a certified energy auditor.

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