Are you buying a home in Austin, Texas? Did you know that the seller is required to provide you an energy audit? This is a requirement of the Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure (ECAD) ordinance, whose purpose is to make all Austin homes more energy efficient. The goal is to save enough energy that Austin does not have to build more power plants. The program is administered by the city owned utility, Austin Energy.An ECAD audit is performed by an Austin ECAD auditor who is registered with Austin Energy. The auditor analyzes energy use of the home using official forms provided by the City. The Austin ECAD auditor looks at a number of different areas of the home that effect energy use. He or she will analyze which windows should have solar screens on them as solar heat gain is major contributor to energy use in the summer. The ECAD auditor will measure the attic insulation and estimate its effective R value. The Austin Energy auditor will analyze and describe the duct system and the HVAC system as well as run a Duct Blaster test on each HVAC system. The Duct Blaster is a calibrated fan and manometer that will measure how much the ducts leak air, typically into the attic.With this and other information collected on the official ECAD form, home buyers have a snapshot of energy use of the home they are purchasing. However, ECAD audits are a subset of more comprehensive energy audits that all registered energy auditors are trained to perform. To qualify to perform ECAD audits, all energy auditors must either be certified through BPI or RESNET, the two energy auditor certification organizations.Currently, sellers are required to provide the ECAD audit by the time the real estate paper work is filed in the county’s offices as a result of closing. Austin Energy’s program managers realize that the current deadline comes too late for energy considerations to be part of the contract negotiations, so they’re seeking to change the administrative rules. They would like that the Austin energy ECAD audit be required by the end of the option period. Check with your energy auditor on the current rules.You the buyer benefits from this Austin energy audit. How? You’re getting information you probably wouldn’t otherwise know. Energy use is part of Total Cost of Ownership of any home. As energy prices rise, energy use becomes an important consideration. The Austin ECAD energy audit report gives you baseline knowledge of energy use.You may be able to use this knowledge in negotiations. If you’re looking at two similar houses, energy use may provide an edge of one over the other. Or, you can negotiate energy upgrades as part of the punch list of things you want the seller to fix prior to the sale. Many energy upgrades not only provide a financial benefit, but a comfort one as well. For example, adding cellulose insulation in walls not only lowers utility bills, but it also makes homes quieter. More insulation in the attic can make homes warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer as well as save money in utility bills. Duct sealing can provide more A/C to the living space instead of having conditioned air leak into the attic. The worse a house is in terms of energy efficiency, the quicker the payback on energy efficiency upgrades.As the buyer, you can suggest the Austin ECAD auditor the seller should use. You can find registered ECAD auditors on the Austin Energy website. Interview them and find the one that will do the best job for you. Ask about additional services like Blower Door testing, which tests air leakage through the building envelope; infrared thermography, which provides a visual record of many insulation failures (conditions permitting); air balancing, which tunes the HVAC system for maximum performance; etc. An Austin ECAD audit is a minimum energy audit. There’s more to learn about your future home in order to make it as energy efficient and comfortable as possible. The Austin ECAD energy audit is good place to start.
Whether you’ve been practicing energy meditation in the form of qigong, Core Energy Meditation, pranayama, kundalini, or some other system for awhile, or if you’re just beginning, I think you’ll find the following eight tips helpful for your progress. Many of these tips you can apply to any other type of meditation practice as well.Meditation is a practice of focusing your attention on a specific object or in a specific way for a period of time. Energy meditation means that you are using imagination and feeling of your life energy, prana, or “qi” (“chee”) as your focal object. The energy centers and pathways through your body are a great way to meditate because they give your mind an active path to follow. It’s interesting and it generally feels great-especially when you’ve developed your skills.Energy meditation grounds you in the present moment in your body, which is an effective way to “get out of your head.” It also has tremendous health benefits, including activation of your natural relaxation response, improved posture, tension release, improved circulation, deeper breathing, coherent brain and heart function, and improved immune response. Energy meditation helps you to feel at ease, positive, and vitally alive. Most importantly, it connects you to the essence level of “who you are” and “what you are here to do.” It connects you to your inner guidance, deeper purpose, and feelings of oneness with Life.In the Chinese system of qigong and in Core Energy Meditation, we focus on three primary energy centers or dantians (“dahn-tee-ens”) in your body:1. Your lower dantian or Body Center in your lower abdomen which relates to your primal life force and physical vitality.2. Your middle dantian or Heart Center in the center of your chest which relates to your refined feelings and qualities of interaction with others including appreciation, gratitude, trust, compassion, and love.3. Your upper dantian or Mind Center in the center of your brain which relates to your mind powers of insight, imagination, intuition, and concentration as well as your ability to calmly observe your experiences without being overwhelmed by them.When you first practice imagining and feeling your energy centers, you may not imagine or feel much at all. It may be a challenge to keep focused on them during your practice. It’s also common that you might feel one of them but not the others, or two of them and not the third. What you experience depends on your natural aptitude for visualization and kinesthetic sensing, the degree of activation of your energy centers, and how much you have practiced feeling inside your body.No matter where you stand in your ability to visualize and feel inside your body, it’s O.K. You can benefit from applying yourself to the practice, no matter what your current abilities. If you practice consistently over time, you’ll gradually awaken your ability to perceive, feel, gather, circulate, refine, and still your inner life force. I’ve practiced energy meditation for over 25 years and find myself improving these abilities year by year.As you grow your abilities, you will also notice positive effects in your ability to sense inner guidance, make good choices, be present, and follow through on your best intentions. You will come to feel more at home, healthy, and positive in your body, heart, mind, and spirit. You will develop a consistent strong, positive, clear and coherent personal energetic vibration, or what I like to call a “Core Energy State.” Here are eight tips to keep you progressing.Eight Tips for Effective Energy Meditation:1. First and foremost, practice daily. If you are practicing only when you think you need it, know that there is much more for you in the practice than merely using it to calm and come back to center when you get “stressed out” (though this is certainly important). If you practice every day, you’ll discover that you are better able to process the experiences and tensions of the last 24-hour period so that you approach life in a much more clear, relaxed, positive, and focused way.You may also notice the difference when you miss even a day of practice as unresolved tensions begin to cloud your perception and affect how you feel. It’s common in the first several years of practice, to experience letting go of “old stuff” that may bubble up into your consciousness as you meditate. The more you release these past held tensions, the more you can live freely in the present.To encourage your daily practice, I suggest that you choose an amount of time that seems very reasonable to you, maybe 15-20 minutes, and schedule it at the same time every day (for example, first thing in the morning). Though it may be challenging to wake up earlier at first, it’s likely that you’ll start to look forward to waking up and getting into a “Core Energy State.”The most important reason for daily practice is that each time you sit down you will be able to move right into your practice and build on what you’ve done the day before. You’ll stay in the flow of it. If you practice sporadically or infrequently you will, in a sense, “always be starting over.”2. If you’ve been practicing consistently for awhile, you may want to consider increasing the amount of time you devote to your practice. While 15-20 minutes daily is fantastic, you may find that meditating longer will deepen and strengthen the benefits. You can get into progressively deeper, clearer, and quieter states the longer you meditate.It’s common for the first 10-15 minutes of practice to involve a lot of mind chatter that progressively quiets down the longer you continue. If you sit for 30-40 minutes or more, you may have more time in a quieter state. The additional time will grow the influence of this state in your mind and body and make it a more reliable reference point to which you can more easily return.To increase your time, you may consider doing one longer session per week or maybe two longer sessions per week on the weekend days. However, don’t give yourself too much to do that it becomes a chore. Lengthen your time as your natural desire increases.3. Besides increasing your overall time, you can increase the time that you spend focusing on any one energy center. For example, you may find it easy to focus into the center of your brain, but harder to focus into your heart or your lower abdomen. It’s common to have one or more of these centers that is easier to focus on and one or more that is more challenging.When you first start practicing, you may tend to want to spend more time in the energy center(s) that you are most comfortable with. That is certainly fine, to build your confidence. However, as you continue, you’ll make the most progress in your practice and your life if you spend extra time focusing on the energy center(s) that you feel the least or that you find to be most challenging. These are likely the places where your energy flow is not as fluid and free. You may be storing long-held emotions or traumas in these spots.Spending extra time with these places with an attitude of curiosity, a feeling of appreciation for the way your body works to keep you safe, and a calm observing attention can begin to release these held tensions so that your energy system will function more fully and integrate more deeply. One way to do this is to settle your attention into a feeling of spacious, silent stillness in the middle of any energy center. Simply being present within an energy center, resting your attention there without trying to do anything or make anything happen, can have a therapeutic effect.In the Daoist tradition, it is regarded as safest to put extra focus into your lower dantian or lower abdominal energy center when you are beginning your practice. As your energy builds in that center, your energy will naturally flow upward to the middle dantian or Heart Center, then, to the upper dantian or Mind Center. Whether you follow that progression or another form based on your particular needs, it’s a good idea to begin and end your practice by gathering energy in your lower dantian.4. To support strong vitality in your lower dantian care for your body well. It takes surplus energy to strongly focus your attention and grow your practice. The foundation of this extra energy is your physical vitality. To increase your physical vitality, monitor these five things:A. Manage your “To Do List” well,B. Get adequate sleep,C. Eat a variety of foods that are as fresh and as close to their natural state as possible,D. Drink enough water to stay well-hydrated (approximately 64 ounces a day for most of us), andE. Exercise regularlyIf you have committed to getting up early to practice, but you are exhausted from your life activities and haven’t gone to bed early enough, haven’t eaten quality food, aren’t well-hydrated, and haven’t adequately exercised, you likely won’t have the energy for a good practice session. With sufficient physical vitality you will be able to devote strong attention to activating, opening, clearing, and integrating your energy centers.5. To activate and clear any energy center imagine and feel yourself breathing through it. As you inhale, imagine and feel that you are filling up that energy center with your breath. As you exhale, imagine and feel that you are emptying that energy center and releasing any tension held there. When you inhale, try imagining that your breath is bringing light, open, spaciousness into your energy center. When you exhale, try imagining that you are exhaling any congestion or density.You can also apply this technique to tension anywhere in your body. First, imagine and feel as if you are breathing into the space around the tight area, softening up its edges. Then, draw your breathe right into the center of the space where you feel tension or tightness. Imagine and feel as if your breath is bringing light, open, spaciousness into that area. Exhale any density or tightness.6. You can also spend more time focusing on the connections between the energy centers. Connecting the three dantians is the Central Channel or Middle Mai Channel. This channel can be visualized and felt as a vertical cylinder extending from your perineum (between genitals and anus) up through the center of your body (in front of your spine, though you can also imagine it including the spine) to the top of your head. This channel connects your three dantians and integrates them into a coherent balanced system.You may feel one energy center is strong, open, and clear and another is numb, tense, or clouded. You can imagine and feel the connection between them through the Central Channel as a way to activate and clear the center that feels clouded. You can also imagine and feel your breath traveling between the two as you inhale and exhale.Another possibility is that you feel openness in the energy centers themselves but lack a feeling of integration between them. You may feel that they are not vertically aligned or not functioning well together. For example, your mind is not working with your heart and your body. They aren’t in sync. Your mind thinks one thing, your heart feels another, and your body desires something altogether different.If that is the case, you can imagine and feel the Central Channel as a straight vertical column with the three dantians resting in the middle of it and breathe through that channel. I like to do this at a few points during my practice to refresh my concentration. I also finish my practice by inhaling up through the Central Channel and exhaling down through the Central Channel several times. Then, I gather energy in the lower dantian before opening my eyes.The bottom line with energy meditation practice is that it is specific to each person. You begin by learning good forms to follow. Once you master the forms, then you can adapt them to your specific needs and what is going on for you at any given time. The more you understand the practice and the more sensitive you become to your internal energy flow or lack of flow, the more you will know how to proceed. Energy meditation sensitizes you to pick up on your inner guidance.7. Once you have thoroughly learned a form or forms of meditation by following a guided audio, you might try practicing on your own without the audio. This could be after months or years of practice. Allow your inner guidance to lead you in how to refine and develop your internal energy. Spend more time where you need to, use your breathing to open up areas of tension, and allow your conscious presence within your energy field to lead the way.Whenever your attention wanders, recognize and accept it, and gently return to your meditative focus. As you remain present, accept whatever arises, and return to allowing life energy to flow smoothly through you, I believe you’ll discover a profound trust in the deeper Life Force that is guiding your life.That brings us to the eighth tip for effective practice.8. When you sit to meditate have a firm and clear intention for your practice. Having a strong “why” will lead to firm focus and unwavering attention. For example, my purpose in meditation is to become a clear channel for Life Energy to flow through me. I call this a Core Energy State. In such a state I feel calm, clear, free, purposeful, and whole. Moving into life from this state I find that I can better sense and follow what I am here to do, my service to others in each moment. If I sit down to meditate with this intention strong and clear in my mind, my practice has more power.Contemplate why you meditate and state your intention as you sit down to practice. See if that helps to rouse your motivation and strengthen your focus. I hope you find the eight guidelines above helpful for cultivating your meditative experience, refining your life energy, and increasing the positive feelings of vitality and purpose in your life.