Cooperative Energy Residential Retrofit Pilot Study

attic insulation

Cooperative Energy, formerly the South Mississippi Electric Power Association, is a generation and transmission cooperative (co-op) based in Hattiesburg, MS. It has 11 member co-ops and supplies electricity to more than 419,000 homes and businesses in the state. Providing safe, reliable, and affordable energy in an environmentally-responsible manner is a central component of Cooperative Energy’s mission. Therefore, in 2014 Cooperative Energy decided to explore energy efficiency opportunities in its service territory to determine what measures could provide the most savings.

Cooperative Energy contacted Advanced Energy to collaborate, and we worked together to develop a two-year Residential Retrofit Pilot Study examining the impact of three different retrofit measures on energy use: duct sealing, attic air sealing and insulation, and a combination of the two. Duct sealing eliminates air leaks in the duct system, and attic air sealing and insulation eliminates air leaks between the house and attic. A primary goal of the project was to provide a positive homeowner experience by ensuring high levels of customer service and good communication.

smepa retroit fit

The first step was to make sure that Advanced Energy, Cooperative Energy, and the six participating member co-ops were aligned with regard to the project plans. To this end, Advanced Energy hosted a series of meetings in Mississippi to facilitate collaboration, and the team listened to each other’s needs to reach a consensus on the best way to implement the project.

The next step was to identify and recruit homeowners to participate. To help with recruitment, Advanced Energy designed personalized marketing materials for the six participating member co-ops to distribute. Participating houses had to meet certain criteria, such as being all electric and having ducts in only the attic, to ensure accurate data and avoid health, safety, and durability issues. The team selected 72 houses for the pilot. One third of those houses received the duct sealing retrofit, one third received the attic air sealing and insulation retrofit, and the final third received both.

“Our housing selection criteria focused on identifying a subset of Mississippi homes that reasonably represented area housing stock, while assuring our ability to quantify the effect of envelope treatment on home performance. One consequence of this selection process was that homes with non-electric heating systems were unable to be included. Another goal of our housing selection was to include housing samples from the North, Central and Coastal regions of Mississippi in order to reduce study bias associated with concentrating on a single geographical location. This was accompanied by an attempt to balance, to the greatest degree possible, the envelope treatments of selected homes with respect to overall study housing characteristics.” – Matt Murray, AE Energy Engineer

Cooperative Energy Training Photo

Two contractors were selected to conduct the retrofits, and they were trained on how to correctly do so. John Tooley, David Treleven, and Jonathan Coulter, all of Advanced Energy, traveled to Mississippi to deliver in-class building science training along with field training. The contractors did not have experience with the measures being used in the project, so they benefited greatly from this hands-on approach. The training had other indirect benefits as well. For example, the contractors, with their expanded arsenal of services, were able to apply for large-scale programs offered through other electric utilities in Mississippi, and by increasing revenue, they could hire more employees and support the local economy.

“During the field training, following the classroom training, the head contractor of one of the companies was lying in insulation wearing his nice blue jeans and cowboy boots to make sure the exterior top plate was getting sealed. At that point I knew we had selected the right contractors and that they truly understood how to do the work right.” – David Treleven, AE Building Science Specialist

When the training was complete, the contractors performed the retrofits on the selected homes. The first four jobs were mentored by Advanced Energy staff, who oversaw progress and answered any questions. This mentoring not only boosted the confidence of Advanced Energy in the contractors’ abilities but also that of the contractors themselves. It helped them refine their process and ensured they were using the correct materials. Furthermore, quality assurance efforts evaluated whether the jobs were completed and whether homeowners had a positive experience.

Cooperative Energy Attic Air Sealing

The results of the Residential Retrofit Pilot Study provided insight into cost-effective ways to save energy and helped Cooperative Energy make an informed decision about rolling out full-scale energy efficiency programs in the future.

Advanced Energy wants to thank Cooperative Energy and its member co-ops for their assistance throughout the project, and looks forward to continuing to partner in order to provide energy efficiency research and program support.

For more information on our work with electric cooperatives, please contact George Sharpe at gsharpe@advancedenergy.org or 919-857-9055.