Since the first smartphones and tablets came on the scene, construction pros have been asking, “Is there an app for that?” to help streamline an array of business needs, from estimating and invoicing to project design and product ordering.
Now that mobile devices are ubiquitous on the job site, app offerings are becoming both more versatile and more sophisticated. That versatility is especially evident for contractors seeking tools that make reducing energy costs and environmental impacts easier. Here’s a look at a few tools to consider for your company and your customers:
Space Heating Energy Calculator and Water Heating Energy Calculator. To kick off 2017, buildwithpropane.com is making big upgrades to its popular Energy Cost & Carbon Calculator, creating new energy calculator tools to help construction professionals and their customers evaluate heating and water heating options. The calculator app is now available as two apps that can be downloaded separately, depending on your needs: the Space Heating Energy Calculator and Water Heating Energy Calculator.
Both tools incorporate easy-to-follow steps that let users enter specific information about their location, home size, system type, and fuel costs. With the data entered, the calculator will return estimates for the homeowner’s annual energy costs and will also calculate the expected carbon (CO2) emissions from the system.
One valuable new feature will be particularly helpful for pros evaluating both high-efficiency and standard-efficiency equipment: the payback calculator. Users can enter details for a standard system and a higher-efficiency option — along with installation costs and available rebates or incentives — to compare the two systems side-by-side. With two systems to compare, the apps will also calculate how long it will take for homeowners to break even on their investment in more-efficient technology.
The new Space Heating Energy Calculator also adds the option to compare space heating systems that use dual fuel sources, such as a geothermal heat pump with a propane backup furnace.
The apps were developed in collaboration with Newport Partners, an agency that analyzes and consults on energy efficiency in homes and buildings. In addition to incorporating accurate energy usage calculations from Newport, the Space Heating and Water Heating apps were designed to be brand-agnostic, so professionals and homeowners can take advantage of the results regardless of what make and model of equipment they prefer.
The new Space Heating and Water Heating Energy Calculator apps are currently available for download on both Apple and Android devices.
Sun Seeker. Developed in Australia by OzPDA, the Sun Seeker app gives users insight into how the sun tracks across a certain location. With a visual representation of the sun’s path overlaid onto live views from the device’s camera, users can see how a future home’s orientation on a site will be impacted by the sun. “The most particular usefulness of Sun Seeker on a mobile device is that it allows you to do a visual survey of the solar exposure at any given site, which includes the ability to see the range of hours of sunlight exposure throughout the year,” says developer Graham Dawson. “This particular capability is something that would otherwise only be possible with sophisticated and expensive 3D modeling of the site using CAD software.” By gathering this information more easily through the app, builders can site homes on a lot to take advantage of day lighting, solar panel orientation, and passive heating opportunities. Dawson says he’s currently beta testing a macOS version of the Sun Seeker that would allow users to supply a “photo sphere” image taken at the site and use the app’s tools — with a variety of new features, such as shade analysis — on a desktop instead of a mobile device.
Insulation Calc Elite. Keeping homes properly insulated is essential for reducing energy use and improving homeowner comfort. The team at Cyberprodigy has developed the Insulation Calc Elite app to help builders and remodelers meet U.S. Department of Energy recommendations for R-value in attic insulation projects. Simply enter the type of insulation you’re working with, the depth of the current insulation, and the R-value you want to achieve, and let the calculator do the math on how much insulation you need to add. In existing homes, the quick math makes it easy to top off insulation that may have settled over time, bringing the full amount and level of insulation back to DOE guidelines and improving home comfort. Contractors can use the app for new builds as well by taking advantage of the calculator and a map of recommended insulation levels. The app will calculate required insulation volume for blown-in material or batts, and for multiple material types, including cellulose, fiberglass, and rock wool.
Dropcountr. Specifying more-efficient water heating equipment isn’t the only way to help your customers save money on water heating. Help them save even more by simply using less. Originally launched in 2014, this clever app partners with water utilities to help homeowners save water by giving them transparent access to their water usage. Users can set goals to help reduce their water consumption, and get alerts if a leak is detected. And in the spirit of friendly competition, Dropcountr also shows comparative results so homeowners can see how their water usage stacks up against their neighbors. “The first response we get from folks is, ‘Wow, I had no idea that I used that much water,'” Dropcountr CEO Robb Barnitt told Fast Company when the app launched. “That’s really the first piece we’re trying to deliver — transparency and visibility. It’s really tough to gain much insight from your water bill.” Currently, Dropcountr has partnerships with water agencies around the country, including many in California, where drought has become more severe in recent years. The company is actively looking for additional partnerships and encourages homeowners to tell their local utilities about the app and its goals.