Go Green, Save Green

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With his infrared camera in one hand and a smoke stick in the other, Adam Duke, 24, of Bloomfield Hills is like an energy-saving super-sleuth. The president and co-founder of Go Green Energy Consulting in Southfield moves from room to room searching high and low — around baseboards and window ledges, in the wells of recessed lighting and along ceilings — for air leaks and other inefficiencies that can wastefully boost a homeowner’s energy bills. His company, with nine full-time employees, makes house calls all over Southeastern Michigan performing home energy audits and recommending and installing upgrades like door and window frame sealing, weather stripping, door sweeps and spray foam insulation. By making these simple changes, he says most homeowners can save more than 20 percent on their energy bills.

“We take a look at the whole house as a system,” he says. “Most people are definitely paying more than they need to.”

Jonathon Koenigsberg of West Bloomfield says he was one of them. He had Go Green assess and make improvements to his 2,900-square-foot house in West Bloomfield, which was built in the early 1970s. While Koenigsberg did not offer specifics, he’s certain his Consumers Energy bills have gone down.

“They sealed a bunch of different areas and put in some insulation here and there,” Koenigsberg said. “This is the first winter since the work was done, but I believe it really did make a difference.”

Another customer, listed as “Tony D. of Lathrup Village,” posted this comment on the company’s website.

“I have received our first electric bill since your company’s work on our home,” it says. “Our electric bill was $220. At the same time last year it ranged from $340-$380.”

From the Ground Up
Duke built the home energy evaluation and upgrade company from the ground up with his longtime friend, Jacob Smith, 23, of West Bloomfield. Both have business degrees: Duke from Michigan State University; Smith from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, where he focused on marketing and social entrepreneurship. Duke also took courses in alternative energy engineering technology at Lansing Community College and is a certified home energy specialist through the Building Performance Institute.

A family tragedy actually got the ball rolling on the green business. In 2006, on his first day of college, Duke’s family’s house in Waterford burned down in an electrical fire. At the time, an MSU professor introduced Duke to energy conservation, and he decided to incorporate those principles in the construction and rebuilding process.

“I helped my family build a green house,” Duke says. “By implementing efficient technologies, I knew I could save them a substantial amount of money on their energy bills. The project was extremely successful.”

He says he started Go Green Energy Consulting to do the same thing for other families, and Duke is right at home when it comes to entrepreneurial endeavors. At age 18, when he was senior class president at Birmingham Groves High School (and his school’s homecoming king), he started an out-of-state dance business teaching dance classes to middle school students at the Alfred and Adele Davis Academy, a Reform Jewish day school in Dunwoody, Ga., near Atlanta. For six weeks, he’d fly back and forth between Detroit and Atlanta to run the business. He says his passion shifted from dance to working with the environment and helping boost Michigan’s economy.

“I’ve worked on a wide range of jobs from solar panel installation, electrical supply distribution and even public policy to help write our state’s Renewable Energy Policy,” Duke says. “Nearly all can drastically reduce their energy use through basic energy efficiency upgrades. This also helps the environment by reducing consumer reliance on polluting fossil fuels.”

High-Tech Tests
Go Green Energy Consulting has a host of high-tech equipment (some of which looks like it belongs at a hazardous material cleanup site), which it uses to evaluate homes. One test, called the “blower door test,” involves sealing off an exterior door with a large, red panel. A powerful fan mounts into the frame and stimulates a breeze on all sides of the home making it easier to see where cold air is getting in.

“There are cobwebs that are moving in the breeze,” Duke said, peering into a basement closet during one recent home energy audit. “This is something we see all the time.”

He also uses a smoke stick to help locate drafts. During the same audit, he held the stick up to a recessed light. The smoke could immediately be seen blowing in a downward direction from the ceiling, indicating an air leak. A thermal imaging camera further helps detect cold spots in the ceilings and walls. In some cases, Duke can use the camera to actually see through walls where insulation is missing or beams are exposed. Sometimes, there’s a major difference in temperature from one side of a wall to the other.

“We specialize in solving home comfort concerns once and for all,” Duke says. “Instead of guessing when to make home improvements, our home performance tests use building science to find the source of energy inefficiencies so effective solutions can be made. We work with homeowners to create a comprehensive plan for solving drafts, hot rooms, cold rooms, moisture or whatever the concerns may be.”

The company also performs lighting and appliance reviews and free health and safety testing.

Rebates and Incentives
Go Green’s home energy audits typically cost a few hundreds dollars; but the utility companies offer rebates that help offset the cost, and the cost of the evaluation is credited back toward energy saving improvements made by Go Green.

The utility companies’ deals change on a regular basis, but at press time, Consumers Energy was offering to pay back $100 for the audit itself and up to $5,000 in rebates for various energy saving improvements like air sealing, duct sealing, basement wall insulation and window replacement.

DTE offers free home energy consultations, where workers will visit people’s homes and suggest simple energy-saving changes.

The state also offers low-interest financing (up to $12,500) for energy efficiency improvements.

“It takes six-to-eight weeks to get the rebates,” says Duke, who adds that Go Green fills out all the paperwork. “Our customers’ average rebates is about $1,200.”

So why are the utility companies helping an effort that lowers the amount they end up billing customers? They actually don’t have much of a choice.

“Our goal is to help Consumers Energy and DTE cut gas and electricity consumption to meet the renewable portfolio standard,” Duke explains. “In October 2008, Michigan enacted a law requiring the utilities to generate 10 percent of their retail electricity sales from renewable energy resources by 2015.”

Each year, according to the Michigan Public Service Commission, our state spends more than $22 billion on energy costs for coal and nuclear fuel, petroleum and natural gas imported from other states and countries. We were, however, listed as the “most improved state” in 2011, according to the State Energy Efficiency Scorecard put out by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

“The more energy efficient we get, the more money that stays in Michigan!” says Duke. “If we can cut down our energy bills, it’s more money in Michigan homeowners’ pockets to be put back in the local economy and ultimately less coal that is mined and burned.”

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