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Department of Commerce, BBB warn of salespeople pitching energy savings from radiant barriers

5/14/2015 10:14:43 AM


For Immediate Release:

SAINT PAUL, MN – If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The Minnesota Department of Commerce and Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) are warning Minnesotans to beware of salespeople who pitch radiant barrier products as an energy-saving feature in home attics. The high-pressure sales pitch is often made in conjunction with a free dinner.

"Radiant barriers are not a cost-effective way to reduce heating or cooling loads in Minnesota,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “Radiant barriers in attics may be valid for homes in southern states, but they save very little energy in Minnesota homes. They are not a good energy investment and can be a very bad deal for Minnesota homeowners.”

Radiant barriers consist of a reflective film, usually aluminum, laid over the top of attic insulation in existing homes. They are sold as an energy-saving product, with claims of significant reductions in both heating and cooling costs. However, their potential benefit is primarily in reducing air-conditioning cooling loads in hot climates and in buildings with little or no existing insulation.

Radiant Barrier Fact Sheet compiled by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy shows that the benefits of radiant barriers decrease significantly as one travels north. In southern cities like Miami, Fla., or Austin, Texas, radiant barriers could reduce a home utility bill by as much as $150 per year using average residential electricity prices. In states like Minnesota, savings drop to only $10 to $40 per year because air conditioning loads are much lower and radiant barriers have negligible impact on heating costs. If there are no ducts or air handlers in the attic, the savings are even less.

If the price to install the radiant barrier is $2,500 or more and the consumer only saves $25 per year, it would take at least 100 years to get a full return on the investment. 

Buyers beware, know what you’re getting


“We strongly urge all consumers to be cautious, conduct due diligence, and explore other proven means to make their homes and businesses more energy efficient,” said Rothman. “Don’t be misled by ‘deals’ or ‘pilot programs’ available for a limited time only. Get input and bids from at least three contractors, and make sure those contractors are reputable.”

The U.S. Department of Energy and Minnesota Department of Commerce agree that, in Minnesota, air sealing your home and adding conventional attic insulation are considerably cheaper and much more effective for saving energy than installing a radiant barrier. In fact, as attic insulation levels increase, the potential benefits from a radiant barrier decrease. 

Getting a home energy assessment through your gas or electric utility is encouraged as a first step to identifying cost-effective energy improvements. Consumers can contact their utility to arrange an energy audit.

Before purchasing any energy-saving product, the Minnesota Department of Commerce and Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota advise you to:

  • Always research the business at bbb.org.

  • Ask for references and proof the company can substantiate their claims.

  • Do the math and figure out how long it will take to recoup your investment.

  • Verify a working address, phone number and website to ensure that you can contact the business with any questions or concerns. 

  • If you have an unresolved issue or concerns about a questionable sales pitch regarding energy-saving devices, be proactive and file a formal complaint with BBB and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as with your state Attorney General’s Office. 

  • Check energystar.gov to be sure the business or product is Energy Star approved.

BBB also offers the following tips to consider before attending a free luncheon seminar:

  • Be aware that in most cases presenters will promote their products or services. Typical products offered at these seminars include energy-saving products, self- help materials, investment plans or websites for home-based businesses.

  • Do not be pressured into signing a contract or making a purchasing decision. Take as much time as you need to evaluate the company’s claims and/or the promotional materials you receive.

  • Read and understand all materials carefully before signing anything. Be sure to look for information on guarantees, warranties and refund policies.

  • Remember the federal Cooling-Off Rule gives you three business days to cancel a contract if you sign it in your home or at a location other than the contractor's permanent place of business, such as a restaurant or hotel/motel room. 

  • Be sure to note any differences between the product at the luncheon and the product received if purchased.

For more information on insulation and other energy-efficient measures to improve your home, contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce at 800-657-3710 or 651-539-1886, or visit the Commerce Department website, which offers a Home Energy Guide (.pdf) that includes information on a wide range of energy efficiency topics (including air sealing and insulation) and choosing a contractor.

The mission of Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222. 

The Minnesota Department of Commerce is here to help. 


The Minnesota Department of Commerce is here to help if you have questions or believe you have been the victim of a scam or fraud. Report the fraud, so that others do not fall victim. If you think you have been a victim, contact the Department’s Consumer Services Center at 651-539-1600 or (800) 657-3602.

Consumers can file a complaint on the Commerce Department website or sent by email to consumer.protection@state.mn.us.

Consumers

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