Home Energy Savings | December 11, 2015
What You Need to Know About Home Energy Audits
Everyone wants to save money on energy costs, especially as cooler weather often brings rising costs. The question is where to start? What’s the best first step to take to get the most bang for your buck?
The answer, say our experts, is a home energy audit. “Getting an energy audit is a smart first step toward making savvy energy improvements in your home,” says Constellation Energy Expert Brian Recor. “The audit gives a full picture of what’s really going on in your home and will help you make the wisest financial choices to potentially lower your energy bill down the road.”
Home energy audits sound more complex than they really are. To help you better understand energy audits and why getting one scheduled for your home might make sense, this post will break down the basics of Energy Audit 101.
An energy audit is a professional assessment of your current energy use and, ultimately, how you can use energy more efficiently and therefore potentially save money. The home energy auditor, who should be certified, will examine your house room by room, looking for leaks and other potential issues. He will then provide an assessment of what’s going on and suggest ways that you can remediate the issues. An audit can run between $300-$500, according to the Department of Energy, and should last about four hours.
In addition to walking through each room of the residence, a home energy auditor should also look at past utility bills.
Many assessments also include a blower door test and/or thermographic scan. A blower door scan uncovers air leaks by using a special fan that depressurizes your home. Blower door tests are run before and then after the house is sealed to discover potential leakage issues.
A thermographic scan measures surface temperatures using infrared video and still cameras. The tools see the light in the heat spectrum, with white being warmer regions and black being cooler ones. It can help a home energy auditor determine if there is sufficient insulation, and can be done inside or outside the residence.
But the home energy auditor isn’t the only one working during an audit. To gather the most accurate information, homeowners need to do a little prep beforehand.
Make a list of any potential problems you’ve experienced. Is a certain window area drafty? Have you noticed lighting issues in certain rooms?
Gather summary copies of your home’s yearly energy bills (your utility can provide these.)
Be prepared to answer lifestyle questions such as: Who is home during the day and for how long typically? What is the average thermostat setting in the summer and winter? Is every room in use?
Be sure to walk through your home with the home energy auditor. This is your turn to ask questions too.
As with many services, a home energy audit is only going to be as good as the auditor doing it. It’s critical, then, to find a reputable professional.
In some states, state or local government energy offices can help identify a company or organization that provides energy audits. Certain electric or gas utility companies also conduct residential energy assessments or can recommend local home energy auditors.
It’s important that the auditor be certified. The Residential Energy Services Network is a good place to start looking. It has a directory of certified home energy auditors by zipcode.
Before signing a contract with any energy auditor, you should also:
Ask for references and call them
Call the Better Business Bureau to check for complaints
Make sure the auditor uses a calibrated blower door
Make sure the auditor uses thermographic inspections
If you can’t afford hiring a professional home energy auditor, here are a few DIY steps you can take in the meantime. When it comes to energy, even doing a little can turn into saving a lot!
Look for air leaks and plug them up!
Check for indoor air leaks, such as gaps along the baseboard or edge of the flooring and at junctures of the walls and ceiling. Plug and caulk holes or openings in faucets, pipes, electric outlets, and wiring. Look for cracks and holes in the mortar, foundation, and siding, and look for leaks around windows and doors. Seal them with the appropriate material.
The amount of insulation in a home is often directly inverse to when it was built: The older the home (assuming it’s not been renovated in any way), the less likely it has the correct amount of insulation. Energy.gov has a handy insulation guide to see how your home energy use measures up.
Don’t forget your attic hatchway. It should close tightly and be insulated too.
About 10 percent of your home energy bill comes from lighting, according to Energy.gov. It’s worth it, then, to look at the bulbs in your house and consider replacing inefficient bulbs with more efficient choices, such as energy-saving incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
Discussing lighting strategy in a home can make a difference too. Do you live with people — or are you the culprit yourself — who leave lights on in rooms that are empty? Taking the time to turn off lights as you leave a room can add up over the course of an energy year.
Check heating and cooling equipment
Many manufacturers recommend getting equipment cleaned and reviewed annually. Some things you can do yourself, however. Forced-air furnaces, for instance, have air filters. Check them and replace if they are dirty.
If your heating equipment is more than 15 years old, be aware that newer models are far more energy-efficient. Doing an analysis of the efficiency of your current model versus a newer one might help you realize that springing for the new model will actually save you money over time. Energy Star’s website can help you analyze your older model with newer ones and see potential savings.
Other simple fixes include looking at ductwork for dirt streaks. These can indicate air leaks, which can be plugged with duct tape. Also insulate any ducts or pipes that move through unheated spaces.
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