Most of us just grin and bear it when it comes to various checkups – dental exams, cholesterol screenings, even car tune-ups. But when do we take time out to check up on what could be our biggest material investment? Yes, I’m speaking of home sweet home.
I’m just as much of a procrastinator as the next person. My wife can tell you that she has to remind me to straighten up leftover messes from garage projects, or to hose the birdie mess off our mailbox! However, when it comes to getting a home energy audit, none of us should be procrastinating. By the way, some people refer to these house checkups as “home energy assessments” instead of “audits,” but I’ll take the shorter spelling.
You’ll benefit from a professional home energy audit in several ways:
• Money savings – According to the U.S. Department of Energy, following through with implementing changes after a home energy audit can save you as much as 5 to 30 percent off your current utility bill. Plus, when you’re ready to sell your home, buyers will be more impressed with the lower utility costs.
• Energy savings – When you lower your energy use, you not only save money, but you help the environment by the reducing pollution and greenhouse gases that are created by burning fuels and by the production of electricity.
• Comfort – After you get rid of drafts, perk up your insulation or make other improvements, your home will feel like a more pleasant place to live.
You have a couple of options: a simple DIY home energy audit, or a more thorough audit from a professional home energy auditor. If you decide to use a professional, find a certified auditor at RESNET (Residential Energy Services Network).
Professional Home Energy Audit
When you use a professional auditor, you’ll benefit not only from the experience and education your auditor brings, but also from the specialized equipment, such as blower doors and infrared cameras.
A blower door test measures air leaks in your home’s envelope, or shell. It’s used to determine the airtightness, or air infiltration rate, of your home. In addition to lowering energy consumption, having an airtight home helps you avoid moisture condensation issues and unpleasant drafts. In case you’re wondering, a blower door is a super-strength fan that’s mounted into an exterior doorframe. It sucks air out of your house, which lowers the air pressure inside. This allows the higher-pressure air from outside to flow through unsealed openings.
Infrared scanning, often conducted during the blower door test, can reveal where more insulation is needed, or where insulation has been installed incorrectly. During infrared scanning, auditors use infrared video and still cameras that show areas of air infiltration as thermograms – images that reveal surface heat variations through a range of colors from white to black. In thermography, black represents cooler air, while white shows warmer areas. In addition to showing heat losses or air leaks, thermography can reveal other problems, such as excessive heat or friction in electrical or mechanical systems. Scans may even help pinpoint a leaky spot in your roof!
A professional home energy auditor will also look for tight fits around walls, joints, and under eaves. In addition, an auditor will inspect the seals around wiring and ductwork in your attic. Your auditor may suggest replacing inefficient heating or cooling units, insulating your hot water heater, or installing more energy-efficient lighting or appliances. Sometimes auditors also uncover hidden problems, such as improper ventilation that can encourage mold growth or other safety problems. In the end, you’ll have a helpful list of suggested repairs and upgrades.
When to Get a Professional Home Energy Audit
Thermographic images are more accurate when there’s a larger difference between indoor and outdoor air temperatures. In southern states, the scans are typically conducted in warm months while the air conditioner is running, but for people living in northern states, the scans may be more useful if done in the winter.
DIY Home Energy Audit
I can certainly think of more pleasant ways to spend my Saturday than inspecting baseboards and attic hatches, but let’s talk the DIY option for a minute. While you’ll save some dough performing your own home energy audit, you should also consider the potential that you’ll miss something that could have saved you even more money if fixed. However, I also understand self-reliance! Fortunately for you, there are several free online tools to guide you through your own home energy audit:
• Energy Star Home Energy Yardstick – Before you start inspecting anything, use the Home Energy Yardstick to see how your household energy use stacks up against similar homes. You’ll need your utility bills from the last 12 months, or a summary from your utility company.
• Energy Star Home Advisor – Find out which improvements the EPA recommends for your home based on where you live. The Home Advisor includes a DIY guide to sealing and insulating.
• Energy Savers Guide to DIY Home Energy Audits – The Energy Savers guide to DIY Audits, compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy, will walk you through a basic home energy audit, and explain some changes you may need to complete to make your home more energy efficient. The guide covers how to locate air leaks, and how to inspect insulation, lighting, and heating and cooling equipment.
If you’ve recently made changes for better energy efficiency after a home energy audit, were you impressed with the savings on your utility bill?