Alternative Power Systems (Spring Arbor, MI): Dinner Invitation Review
Radiant Barrier Installation
If you are reading this you probably received a postcard from Alternative Power Systems of Spring Harbor Michigan promising up to a 55% reduction in your energy bill if you attend a seminar that includes a free dinner. The accountant in me was intrigued, so I went under cover to get all the sorted details.
Over the years I have reviewed a large number of products that promise to save money. Most do not live up to the billing. But with energy costs high and going higher, it is a good idea to keep eyes and ears open for opportunities to reduce energy consumption. Keep in mind that I am not out to save the planet. An energy saving product must really save ME money. Payback periods of a year or two are best, but I am willing to consider products with payback periods of ten or twelve years if it makes sense. From the accounting standpoint, a twelve year payback is equivalent of an 8% return on my money.
Before you attend the free dinner, (You didn’t go to the free dinner without consulting me first, did you?) I will walk you through the entire process, including the sales pitch. Then you can decide if the free dinner is more expensive than it is worth.
The postcard promises “There is nothing to buy at the dinner” and that is half true as most of this program is. Upon arriving, John Hohl, the “energy consultant” that will present the seminar, greets my wife and I. He is friendly and courteous. The dinner takes place at The Granary Supper Club in Sherwood Wisconsin, located a few miles from my home. I’ve eaten there before and the food is good. I love research.
John Hohl hands out a three-fold brochure with marginal information and customer testimonials. Sound familiar? If you check the company out there is little to review. That is why I went under cover and am sharing this with you.
Our food order was taken followed by a short intro by John Hohl. Hohl promises that there is nothing to buy at the dinner and no product or service will be offered. He talks about reflective technology and NASA spacecraft. What he doesn’t say is “reflective barrier,” which is what is being sold. More on that latter.
The meal is served between sections of the presentation. It allows for multiple repeats of the same information about how NASA uses “reflective technology” to keep astronauts safe and comfortable.
The group is provided with a sample of the product to show how strong it is. A heat box is turned on to show how much heat is lost without Alternative Power System's product followed by a short Q&A. Hohl appeared to have limited knowledge on the technology when pressed with difficult questions.
Then a one-minute infomercial was played on a plug-in device I am aware of this product offered and it is nearly a total waste. I don’t say total waste because it has some benefits in certain application. Regardless, the device is too small to accomplish the intended results even if you could benefit from it. If you attend the seminar and are intrigued, talk to your electrician about it. He can set you up for a fraction of the cost.
And now for the catch. Hohl then tells us he wants to be reimbursed for the meal and satisfy IRS requirements so you need to fill out a form that includes your address, phone number, and a time for him to stop by your home the next day to see how much he can save you on your utility bill. Gotcha!
The Home Visit
Research goes only so far. I did not allow Hohl to examine my home. I already use radiant barrier and will show you how to do-it-yourself for a fraction of the cost.
At the seminar Hohl promised his product will cost next to nothing, a half truth. About half the group decided it was a good idea. I hooked up with a neighbor to see how things would progress. According to my neighbor (I was not there), Hohl examined his home for how much Energy Shield he would need installed. The price was revealed as a small down payment (the “almost nothing” half lie) and the remainder on an installment plan provided by the company and paid for with your energy savings.
I would be polite if I said my neighbor was hosed. The down payment was small but if you did it yourself would have covered all the materials. The next several years of payments are pure profit to Alternative Power Systems. As I said to my neighbor, “Thanks for buying my meal.”
Two guys installed the radiant barrier later that day. To be fair, radiant barrier can save you money and everyone was professional. There was no “hard sell.” But the style of selling put you into a bad position. Most bought when they should be doing what you are doing, research.
Pro and Cons of Radiant Barrier
John Hohl wanted to call his product “reflective technology.” It is really radiant barrier. It is easy to install and low cost if you install it yourself.
What was never said at the seminar and only listed on Alternative Power System’s website is that radiant barrier works best in “well-built, insulated, and energy efficient dwellings.” If your home has draft, and all homes have some level of draft, radiant barrier is less efficient. To realize the energy savings promised you need to insulate properly and seal cracks. Plugging holes with Great Stuff insulating foam and caulking windows is the first step. Then radiant barrier will save you money.
You can buy a 1000 square foot roll of radiant barrier through Amazon for about $150. I recommend Amazon for their return policy. I am ever the conservative accountant.
Great Stuff Foam
Real Life Results of Radiant Barrier Use
There are two personal uses of radiant barrier I want to share: my home and an agricultural workshop. Radiant barrier saves energy and increases comfort in multiple situations. Some work better than others.The utility room/workshop on my farm illustrates the maximum benefits of radiant barrier. When I bought the farm the waterworks entered a room at the front of the barn before piping out to water facilities for the animals. There was no insulation in the room at all and heating tapes were required. When it got real cold I turned on a 1500 watt heater and directed it on the water pipes to prevent freezing. With all this effort I still had pipes freeze a few times.
Heating tapes needed replacement each year as they tend to burn out halfway through the second winter. Replacement took time and cost money. I decided to apply 2 inches of extruded polystyrene insulation (it looks like Styrofoam except the color is pink and little more dense) on the walls and ceiling. I used Great Stuff insulating foam for the seams. The room was airtight and heating tapes were no longer needed. Freeze-up never happened in that room again.
The electric bill dropped by around 60%. The electric heater (no fire heaters allowed in the barn) ran on low during cold snaps and kept the room comfortable in the 40’s Fahrenheit. Previously the electric heater ran on high all winter 24-7. The cost of the foam was about $320; I installed it myself.
Never satisfied, I wanted to reduce my utility cost more. I applied radiant barrier to the walls, ceiling, and some of the floor. The cost for self-installed was just over $100. The heater now runs significantly less and very seldom before Christmas or after February 15th and I live in NE Wisconsin where below zero temperatures are common. I estimate last winter’s electric cost for the utility room at under $20, down from $300-$450 pre-insulations days.
Before we get too excited a few things need to get pointed out. First, the room was well insulated, and second, there is little to no airflow in that room. It is nearly airtight.
I also wrapped a piece of radiant barrier inside the animal water fount so none of the heat from the light bulb would radiate away. The water does not freeze outside anymore because of this.
When I show my shop I am asked why I don’t put up radiant barrier in the lien-to by the steers. The answer is airflow. Even though there would be some benefit, I do not feel it would be cost effective to add radiant barrier to the barn. It does make sense to add radiant barrier to a pole building or machine shop in my opinion. It would help others if you share your personal examples in the comments section below.
I use radiant barrier in my home a little different than most. Since I live in a very cold part of the country, it is better to use radiant barrier differently than in southern climates.
My home does not have attic everywhere. The areas that do have radiant barrier lose on top of the fiberglass insulation. I also have a crawl space under a hot tub room that also doubles as a quiet play area. The room is normally cold in winter and hot in the summer. Too many windows and a crawl space below are to blame. I used a dab of Gorilla Glue to spot hang radiant barrier on the crawl space walls and laid a layer on the floor also. The increased comfort was immediate.
Still not satisfied with my energy savings, I made steamers of the silver radiant barrier material and had my daughter paint Christmas scenes on them. We hang these in that vaulted ceiling areas during the holidays. It makes a difference and it doesn’t look gaudy.
In the sunroom and hot tub room I made curtains we can hang over the walls. They look like real curtains. We can regulate the comfort level of each room with ease.
What is your experience with radiant barrier?
Use my ideas as a starting point. Radiant barrier does work and is inexpensive if you do-it-yourself or use a local contractor. I recommend against using a company that is flying through your area making a few quick sales.Use your imagination. Radiant barrier purchased through Amazon is low-cost. Try a roll or two and see how it works. You can always finish another part of your home later.
Best of all, radiant barrier is not itch like fiberglass and other insulators. You will need a utility knife to cut the material to size. It is light-weight and thin. If you plan on hanging the material on basement walls you will need glue. Also consider taping seams with reflective tape. Glue and tape are not needed in most case, but when exposed it looks nice.
I use Amazon for their return policy. I may not know the company I am buying from, but I know and understand Amazon. My local hardware stores did not carry radiant barrier and what they had was more expensive than Amazon, so Amazon it is.
Share your ideas and experiences in the comments section below.