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NEAT success story: ORNL software helps homeowners save energy

 

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Oct. 18, 1995 — A woman from the local community action agency visits the elderly widower's home, bringing a laptop computer and printer. She and her partner inspect parts of the house, check it for air leaks, and ask the homeowner questions. She enters some data into the computer on the house's walls, doors, attic, insulation, and heating and cooling systems. Then she prints out a list of recommendations and hands the printout to the homeowner.

"You will save money and be more comfortable," she says, "if you add insulation to your attic, replace your old furnace with a high-efficiency furnace, and install a 'smart' thermostat."

Homeowners throughout the United States are making home improvements that help them save energy, thanks to a computer program developed by Mike Gettings, Terry Sharp, and others in the Existing Buildings Research Group at The Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory's (ORNL) Buildings Technology Center. The user-friendly computer program determines the most cost-effective retrofit measures that will increase a home's energy efficiency and comfort levels.

National Energy Audit (NEAT) software was developed at ORNL for DOE's Weatherization Assistance Program, which provides funds for installing energy efficiency measures in the homes of low-income families with children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. In 1995 NEAT is being used by about 500 local agencies in 30 states to make retrofitting decisions for more than 80,000 low-income, single-family dwellings. Several electric and gas utilities have adopted it for demand-side management programs to reduce consumption of and peak demands for electricity and natural gas.

"Field tests show that use of low-income house retrofits identified by the NEAT program reduced energy use for space heating by at least 25 percent, whereas standard retrofits cut energy use by only 18 percent," said Ron Shelton, manager of the Existing Buildings Research Group. "The use of NEAT rather than standard approaches in these 80,000 homes is projected to save $70 million over the lifetime of the retrofits performed this year."

The current program is menu-driven. However, an optional version using a mouse is under development for users who like to point and click on screen buttons and bars.

Since 1976, DOE's Weatherization Assistance Program has reduced heating and cooling costs for low-income families by identifying ways to increase home energy efficiency and providing funds to install the measures. Efficiency measures were normally selected from a standard list of building envelope measures, such as adding insulation and storm windows and sealing cracks and crevices through weatherstripping and caulking.

In 1985, DOE's Existing Buildings Efficiency Research Program began conducting field tests in Wisconsin and New York of comprehensive audit approaches such as NEAT. These field tests, together with a third field test cosponsored by the Weatherization Assistance Program in North Carolina, showed the value of NEAT. Its strategies resulted in greater energy savings for every dollar invested because it selected the most cost-effective options.

NEAT was first introduced to audiences nationwide through eight presentations during fiscal year 1993. At a recent national workshop, training on the use of NEAT was provided to representatives of at least 43 states.

A NEAT user inputs data on the building and its heating and cooling systems into the program. It responds with a prioritized list of cost-effective, energy efficiency measures. NEAT's selected options are designed to correct costly inefficiencies in both the building envelope and the heating and cooling system. It customizes measures for individual homes. For the recommended retrofits, it produces estimated heating and cooling energy savings and their dollar value, savings-to-investment ratios, and a list of materials needed. It also uses billing histories to determine savings opportunities and reconcile engineering estimates of energy consumption and savings.

"The cost to DOE for developing NEAT is approximately $2 million to date," Shelton said. "Not counting future retrofits, the economic benefits to the country are 35 times the cost. And the long-term benefit for all of us is that we will not use up our energy supplies as fast and we will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that could alter the climate."

ORNL, one of the Department of Energy's multiprogram research laboratories, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, which also manages the Oak Ridge K-25 Site and the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant.


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