Home Energy Audit
A greater national conscience is growing about the idea of green and renewable energies , and in turn this growing culture of environmental awareness is also fostering a more quantitative approach towards energy savings and conservation. A home energy audit is an evaluation performed on homes to determine areas where energy can be used more efficiently.1 You can solicit the services of a professional to conduct the audit or you can do it yourself. Professionals are equipped with specialized tools to carry out a highly detailed analysis of energy use and they will provide you with options you can incorporate to increase efficiency, but they may charge a fee. If you do it yourself you can save some money, but you may not discover all of the areas that can be modified to save energy. Regardless of who does the audit, it is important to conduct one to ensure that your home is utilizing energy at an optimal level of efficiency .
BENEFITS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT: An energy inefficient home will waste electricity and/or fuel. Although there has been a strong global movement in promoting renewable energies, especially in Europe, some of the top electricity sources for the United States are still fossil fuels: coal, natural gas, and petroleum. For example, coal is still responsible for 37%of the electricity generated in the United States.2
The environmental cost associated with household energy use is actually quite pronounced with an estimated one pound of carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt-hour.3 To put things in perspective, that is approximately 6 X 1024 molecules of carbon dioxide per pound.4 Given that the average household in the United States consumes 11,280 kilowatt-hours of energy,5 the average emissions per household comes to 15,417 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.
BENEFITS FOR YOUR WALLET: The cost of electricity is currently 10.47 cents per kilowatt-hour, as estimated in the month of June 2013,6 and with an average household consumption of 11,280 kilowatt-hours, the average annual cost comes to about $1,181. A home energy audit can help you reduce your energy consumption by about 5-30%.7 You can calculate for yourself how much that can save your home every year! With the price of natural gas, heating oil, propane, and electricity all on the rise, now is the time to get an energy audit.
Additionally, conducting the energy audit significantly increases your home’s resale value and marketability. For every dollar decrease in energy cost associated with corrective actions taken with a home energy audit, the market value of your home can go up as much as $20.9 Therefore, an energy cost reduction of $300 can actually increase your home value by $6000. On average, investing in an energy audit gives an annual 16% return on your investment, and that is actually fantastic even for a Wall Street broker ☺ To top it all off, you can actually receive federal tax credits for having an energy-efficient home.
BENEFITS FOR YOUR HEALTH:
In the process of looking for energy and air leaks, the energy audit will ensure that your home is a comfortable place to live. Rather than being too cold or too hot from the weather, your house will maintain the temperature that you really want. Also, it keeps your home from having unpleasant drafts or uneven air circulation. This can be especially important if you live in a climate with extreme weather conditions. Apart from comfort issues, a thorough inspection warranted by a home audit can also reveal hidden household issues from health hazards such as mildew to structural hazards in the house that pose a great safety concern.10
Cost: Low to High
If you do this yourself, an energy audit can be free!
If you choose to have someone else do it for you, the costs of professional home energy audits can vary widely, depending on your energy provider and location. Often, you can ask your local utility company and receive one for free or very little cost. However, if this is not available to you, you can get an independent energy audit at an average cost of $300 - $500.11
The cost of actually making your home energy efficient varies widely, depending on what kind of upgrades you choose to make.
Time and effort: Low to Moderate
Conducting a home energy audit on your own can take approximately an hour or so. It's just a matter of touring your house and checking out the most common places where your house may be leaking energy.
If you hire a professional energy auditor, this may take even less effort on your part. One must be sure, however, to take caution with contracted vendors and at least obtain a reference to ensure proper and sustainable service. A professional audit will take approximately 2 -4 hours.12
Upgrades to your home can require differing time and effort investments. Some changes are easy enough to conduct as you walk around your home, while other more complicated modifications may require extensive home renovation.
14Hire a professional or do it yourself?
The kind of audit you want depends mostly on how much you need to upgrade your energy efficiency and perhaps how competent a homeowner is with basic household handiwork.
Hiring a professional: If you know there is a great deal to tackle in your home, or if you prefer precise measurements, it is best to hire a professional auditor. For example, if you have an older home, it probably isn't as energy efficient as modern homes, and a professional can give you the best advice about how to begin to upgrade it. A professional auditor should have the knowledge and equipment to conduct an appropriate battery of tests that would be more revealing than a cursory glance.13 Also, if it often snows where you live, you might want to consider a professional, since even the smallest energy leaks can mean a lot when you want to keep your house warm.
Doing it yourself (DIY): If you know your house is relatively energy efficient already, or if you just tend to be handy around the house, it's probably easiest to check everything out yourself. You'll save the money and have the convenience of doing it anytime you like, even in your pajamas! Furthermore, you would be far more knowledgeable of the vulnerabilities to energy efficiency in your home, and hence adept at taking corrective action in the future if you suspect energy losses.
Steps to take when hiring a professional home energy auditor: 15
- Call up your local utility company to see if you can get a free home energy audit. If this isn't available to the general public, you may still qualify for low-income free energy audits, either from your local utility or from a non-profit in the area. If you can get one for free, skip to step 4. If not, go on to step 2.
Shop around for independent home energy auditors. Your utility company or local energy office may recommend some local auditors, or even your local government and weatherization offices. If they don't have any recommendations, try looking in the phone book under the heading "Energy". Additionally, the Residential Energy Services Network, as well as Energy Star, has its own directory of certified auditors and energy raters that have already been vetted and likely to be skilled and reliable.
Check to make sure the auditor is reliable and has the right equipment. Ask for references and follow-up in contacting each of them. Contact the Better Business Bureau, either by phone or online, to see if there have been complaints about the company and ask to confirm that your house will get a calibrated blower door test and thermo graphic inspections.
Have copies of your energy bills from the past year. If you don't want to dig them up, you can contact your local utility and ask them for copies and ensure that the auditor makes use of this information or explains why he/she chooses not to.
Prepare a list of known problem areas and living statistics: Are there any drafty rooms? Is there a part of the house that is either always too cold or always too hot? Are there any damp spots? Is there condensation on any windows or walls? Also compile a list of general facts of your home such as: What is your average thermostat setting in energy intensive seasons? How many people live in your home? Is every room in your home in use? Is anyone home during office hours?
To prepare for the calibrated blower door test, close all the doors and windows that let in air from outside, but open all the doors inside the house. Turn down the thermostat on heaters and water heaters. Cover any ashes in fireplaces and wood stoves and close or shut off any air circulating through them. Remember that the objective of the blower test is to pressurize areas of your home to search for air loss, so take the best action to minimize controllable sources of loss during the test.
To prepare for a thermographic inspection, move furniture away from any walls that are in contact with the outside (exterior walls). Remove any drapes from the windows. If you want to have the best result, get an audit when there is the biggest temperature difference between inside and outside. If you live in a hot climate, get an audit in the summer. If you live in a relatively cold climate, get an audit in the winter. Try to turn off of remove residual sources of heat during the inspection, such as water heaters and refrigeration units.
After getting your home energy audit and following all the instructions for home energy efficiency, contact a certified rater to qualify for the federal tax credits:
Steps to take when performing your own home energy audit: 16
It's always best to see if you can get professional work done free of charge. Try calling up your local utility company to see if you can get a free home energy audit. If this isn't available you may still qualify for low-income free energy audits, either from your local utility or from a non-profit in the area. In addition, many utilities providers allow consumers to request for green power options from renewable sources.17 Therefore, one can reduce their carbon footprint while also pursuing a free audit through requests made to local utilities companies. If nothing free is available, proceed onto the next steps.
Insulation can reduce heat flow either moving into or out of your home, and therefore proper insulation offers a passive method of keeping your home at a comfortable temperature without much effort. Implementing something as simple as proper insulation is not only fairly cheap but prevents any heating or cooling equipment from overworking and using up unnecessary kilowatt-hours.
Air leaks can be a major source of energy loss in homes with heating and air conditioning. If there are any leaks around your house, the temperature and moisture of the air outside your house can make it difficult to maintain the air inside your house. Also, with dusty and moldy filters your entire ventilation system may be inefficient and energy consumptive as well as a potential biohazard.
Do you know if your exterior walls have insulation? Check for insulation in the exterior walls by removing either a light switch plate or outlet cover. Turn off the circuit breaker to that outlet and remove the plate and peek inside. There may be a small gap between the electrical box and the wall through which you can see any insulation. If there is none, you can either get a professional or install insulation yourself. This process involves drilling holes in the siding and blowing insulation through the holes.
- Does your attic have proper insulation? Once you find the access door or stairwell to your attic, use a ruler to measure the depth of the insulation. If your insulation is 8" thick or less, consider adding more. You can either hire a professional or install some insulation yourself, which involves renting a blowing machine. Also, check below the insulation to see if there is a vapor barrier, which may be made up of many materials such as heavy paper, metal, or plastic. Look around for ducts in the attic. If there are, make sure that these are well-insulated and that any insulation on them is not wearing out. On your way out of the attic, make sure that the attic access door itself has an insulation cover and closes tightly. Additionally, does your attic have a vapor guard to prevent moisture from destroying insulating material? Vapor guards usually come in the form of tar paper, kraft paper, as well as special vapor guard paint. Ensure that the attic vents are not blocked by insulating material, and take measures to seal any electrical boxes with caulk and ensure that insulating material covers the floor of your attic.18
- Is your floor properly insulated? Look at what percent of the floor is covered by rugs, carpet, and other padding. If there isn't any insulation under the floors, do you have a heated basement or crawl space? If you have a basement, make sure the foundation walls have insulation to keep the basement warm. If you have rim joists (wood on the corners between the ceiling and the walls of the basement), insulate these. If you have a crawl space, measure the floor for at least 6" of insulation. On your way out, make sure that the crawl space access door is insulated itself. Insulation is rated by R value, a unit of thermal resistance, and the recommended minimum R value for flooring is 25. For the top of the foundation wall, the minimum rating stands at 19. As minimums go, it is always recommended that home owners use the best rated insulation as this is one of the easiest and cheapest means of lowering energy costs.
Your appliances are ultimately the keys to energy efficiency. While insulation and weathering can make sure that you make the most of the heating or cooling that you have around the house, your appliances determine whether you need a little or a lot of energy to have them operating.
Check your air conditioner or furnace filters for dirt or any form of blockage. Given that many modern air conditioning and heating units have sensors that help maintain a constant air flow, blocked filters would require the equipment to work much harder to maintain the same conditions. If the filters are disposable, replace them, whereas if they are permanent you only need to clean them. Additionally, be clever with your furniture arrangement and make sure your air registers (vents on the floor or on the wall from which your heating or air conditioning system blows air) don't have any furniture or curtains blocking them. Ventilation for these devices is crucial, and burn marks or soot are indicative of poor draft and air flow. One must also be aware of the potential hazard of backdrafts, which usually occurs when combustion applications compete for input air resulting in the potential for spewing combustion gases back into living areas.
Do you know whether your ducts move through unconditioned spaces? If so, they may be wasting energy trying to maintain the proper temperature air. For these situations, you can purchase duct insulation at a hardware store. Also, check the duct for leaks and cracks. If the duct loses air, it can become significantly less efficient, since it takes even more energy to push the same amount of air all the way through the system.
Check to see that your doors are sealed. If there are signs of light entering in the edges of the door even when it is closed, install weather stripping to seal it. Especially check the seal on the bottom of the door, or the threshold, which can be replaced or sealed with caulk. If you have a very inefficient door, like hollow wood doors, a professional can replace it with a very efficient door, like foam filled steel doors.
Check to see that your windows are sealed. If they are loose, install weather stripping and replace any cracked or missing window panes. Caulk up any cracks between the windows and the walls. If you want to replace your windows with something more energy-efficient, the best are double pane, argon gas filled windows that operate much in the same way as a jacket does to warm your body in cold conditions.
Quantify the absence of your leaks as much as possible. It may be daunting to find every minute leak in your household, but the efforts pay off significantly in the long run. To ensure that all leaks have been sealed, one can conduct a pressurization test to measure the ability of a room or your house to maintain pressure levels for an appropriate amount of time. Begin the test by closing all doors, windows, fireplaces, and wood stoves that may let air in from outside. Open all inside doors to let the air from every room flow freely. Turn off all combustion appliances (gas furnaces, gas-powered water heaters). Next, turn on all the exhaust fans over your stove and in your bathrooms to suck out all the air. Walk around your house either with lit incense sticks (and watch to see when the smoke wavers) or with a damp hand (and feel the coolness of a draft). Especially check for air leaks around electrical outlets, foundation seals, mail slots, switch plates, window frames, baseboards, weather stripping around doors, fireplace dampers, attic hatches, and mounted air conditioners. Plug, caulk, and seal any holes and cracks you find.
After upgrading everything in your home to their highest efficiency, contact a certified rater to qualify for the federal tax credits for home energy efficiency:
Check your water heater's temperature. Turn down the temperature of the thermostat to about 120° F. Check to see if there is adequate insulation around the water heater. You can install a water heater insulation jacket and 6 feet of water pipe insulation. If your water heater is very old, consider getting it replaced with a high efficiency energy star unit or solar water heater.
Check your heating and cooling equipment. If the system is over 15 years old, you may want to replace it with an energy-efficient energy star unit. You can also install a programmable thermostat which will automatically set the temperatures at certain times to save energy.
Consider upgrading all the other energy-hungry large appliances. Does your dishwasher have an energy saving feature? Are your refrigerator, washer, and dryer the energy star models? Check the refrigerator or freezer for broken or misaligned gaskets (refrigerator door seal) and replace them. Energy star20 rated products provide a good assessment for purchasing power saving devices that reduce energy bills and consumption. Good common sense also goes a long way in power saving, which includes unplugging devices that are not in use to prevent small energy usage known as phantom loads.
- Lighting is perhaps one of the easiest and most over looked aspects of conserving energy. Energy for lighting can account for as much as 10% of your energy bill, and therefore choosing new generation LED, CFL and incandescent bulbs go a long way in energy savings. Additionally, it helps to pay attention to the wattage of the bulb to avoid purchasing overly bright lighting for areas of the home that require less lighting.
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