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Energy doc’ uses recycled products to insulate house, reduce cooling costs

By Janis Mara

“When you make a house perform well, it is more comfortable and saves a lot of money at the same time” – Jim Gunsshinan, editor Home Energy Magazine

ADVANCED HOME ENERGY co- owner Ori Skloot, near left works with Eusebio Ramirez, right and below and Adrian Esperanza to prepare an attic for blown-in cellulose insulation in a Berkeley home. The Berkeley-based company can install attic insulation many homes at discounted costs thanks to subsidies from PG&E.

Inside Bay Area

When you finish reading this newspaper, drop it into the recycling bin carefully. It might end up insu­lating your attic. Recycled newspapers, shredded telephone books and other paper products make up the cellulose insulation Berke­ley-based Advanced Home Energy sprays into attics. In­sulation can help homeowners reduce heating and cooling costs as much as 20 percent.

“Fiberglass rules the mar­ket because it is simple to in­stall. But it can get in workers’ and homeowners’ lungs and contains formaldehyde, which may be carcinogenic,” said Dvir Brakha, who founded the 10-employee company in 2005. “And foam, another al­ternative, is a petroleum by­product. We decided cellulose is the greenest approach.”

If you’re sweating the cost of installation, Advanced Home Energy can do it at less than half the usual cost in cer­tain East Bay homes thanks to subsidies from Berkeley’s Ris­ing Sun Energy center.

“Without the subsidy, it might cost $1,200 to $1,500 to insulate a one-story, 1,200-square-foot Bay Area home,” said Ori Skloot, the company’s president. “With the subsidy, you could end up paying as little as $480 to $600 for the same house.” Since insulation can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs, a hom­eowner with $100 average monthly heating and cooling costs could pay $500 for instal­lation, then pay off the job in about two years and save $20 monthly from then on, Skloot said. Of course, these factors vary widely depending on con­ditions including the size of the house.

The insulation works on much the same principle as a down comforter. It’s the loft between layers of cellu­lose that traps warm or cool air and makes a home more comfy, without having to work the heating or air conditioning as hard. The shredded paper is treated with boric acid to repel rodents and ward off possible combustion. “People worry about the fire hazard, but it’s safe,” said Brakha. “At a company picnic once we threw some on the barbie and it didn’t catch fire, it just charred.”

Brakha initially worked for a Texas oil company after getting his degree in indus­trial engineering in Israel. He decided to switch careers be­cause “I wanted to look for­ward to going to work in the morning.” He trained in the

home performance efficiency field with the California Build­ing Performance Contractors Association, then launched his firm in Berkeley.

The subsidy for insulation is essentially provided by Pacific Gas & Electric ratepayers. A small part of every ratepayers’ monthly bill, the public pur­pose fund tax, is pooled and doled out to solar roof rebates and other programs. Homes must meet a variety of requirements to qualify for the subsidy. Among other things, they must be older than 1978 and in specific cities, including Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, Hayward and

Fremont. It’s not necessary to meet minimum income standards or fill out pa­perwork to qualify. And those who can’t get the subsidy can still use Advanced Home En­ergy’s services, which aren’t limited to attic insulation.
“We are energy doctors for the house,” said Skloot, who does a wide variety of diag­nostic tests on residences to determine where air is leaking and how to fix it. The fledgling company pulled in $600,000 last year, Brakha said, though business is down a bit this year thanks to the slumping economy. However, the two are hope­ful that their energy-saving focus will help attract cus­tomers.

Over the last three years, the insulation industry saw an expanding market, accord­ing remarks by Ronald King, a past president of the National Insulation Organization, on the NIA Web site. The indus­try is expected to post moder­ate, low-single-digit growth in 2008. “We’re very pleased with their work,” said Jim Gunshi­nan, who with has wife Michele Nikoloff had their Wal­nut Creek home insulated and the ducts sealed by the com­pany in 2007. “We just got a notice from PG&E saying, ‘Congratula­tions, you used 30 percent less-energy than you did last win­ter,” said Gunshinan, who ed­its 25-year-old Home Energy Magazine in Berkeley.

“People generally don’t call a contractor to make the house more efficient. Usually they ask for someone to take. care of the drafts. Or they’re running the heat all the time and people are still cold. But when you make a house per-form well it is more comfortable and saves a lot of money at the same time,” he said.

Janis Mara can be reached at 925-952-2671 or jmara@

Check out her Energy Blog at

A Ruler Signifies at what depth blown-in cellulose insulation will achieve certain “R” values in an attic being insulated by Advanced Home Energy


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