All of us are concerned about our energy bills and are looking for ways to save money, especially during the cold winter months. One of the best places you can start is by having an energy audit done on your home. Energy audits analyze all of the areas of your home where you might be wasting energy — and, obviously, your hard-earned dollars — and provide solutions both large and small.
During the course of an energy audit, the auditors will make a site visit to your home and conduct a very thorough inspection of a number of different areas. They take measurements of everything from square footage to window sizes, all of which goes into determining the amount of heat your home is losing. In warmer climates, the same process is used to calculate ways to save on cooling costs.
Typically, the first area of concern for the auditors is insulation levels. They will make a thorough inspection of your attic first, measuring the depth and type of the insulation, its general condition, and how well the insulation covers the attic floor and prevents cold spots. Since moisture and safety in the attic is a big concern, they will also look to see that exhaust fans are properly vented to the outside, and that insulation is properly shielded from anything that produces heat. To ensure proper ventilation, the number and size of vents in the attic will be calculated, and they’ll check that soffit vents are not covered. The same inspection will be made in the crawlspace and any basement areas as well.
Wall insulation levels will also be determined to the best of the auditor’s ability. This includes probing to determine the type and amount of wall insulation, as well as checking exposed areas such as attic knee walls and skylight shafts.
The second big area of concern for an auditor is air infiltration. Depending on the type and age of your home, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that reducing air leaks can account for energy savings of 5 percent to 30 percent per year, so that’s a signification area to inspect.
During the course of the audit, they will measure every window and note its frame type, the condition of the weatherstripping, any glass coatings, and even the thickness between the panes. For doors, they will make note of the size and type of all exterior doors, the amount of glass in them, and the type and condition of the weatherstripping.
In addition to paying close attention to doors and windows, the auditors will also look at the general condition of caulking around the outside of the home. Door and window frames, roof-to-wall intersections, plumbing and electrical penetrations, and any other area that could be contributing to air leaks will be inspected and noted.
Depending on the level of energy audit being done, the auditors may perform a blower door test. This sophisticated test is performed by mounting a metal panel with a large fan into a framework in one of your home’s exterior doors. All other windows and exterior doors are closed, and other penetrations to the outside, such as exhaust fans, are sealed off. Once the fan in the blower door is activated, it pulls air out of the house, lowering the pressure inside. Higher-pressure outside air is pulled in through cracks and gaps in the house, and the energy auditor uses a smoke stick to locate all of these air leakage sites.
HEATING AND COOLING EQUIPMENT
Next, the auditors will typically concentrate on all the equipment that creates the warm and cool air in the first place. They will inspect furnaces and air conditioners to determine the type and level of efficiency, as well as the general condition of the unit and how well it’s maintained.
Of particular interest is the duct system. Auditors will check in both the attic and the crawlspace to see what type of ducts are present, and their general condition. They will look for leaks at the joints, ducts that are unsupported or damaged, and the level of sealing and insulation throughout the system.
Also part of this phase of the audit is the type of thermostat you have. They will look to see the general quality of the thermostat, how accurate it is, and what types of settings are available to the homeowner.
These and a number of other findings, including things like the type of lighting in the home and the type of water-heating equipment being used, are all entered into a computer program, which helps the auditor isolate where the biggest potential energy savings are. From there, a set of recommendations are prepared on everything from insulation and ventilation to sealing and maintenance work. Some audits will also include information on what the potential payback of the more costly recommendations might be.
If you’re interested in having an energy audit done, start by contacting the utility company that provides the fuel for your primary heating source. Some utility companies have auditors on staff, or else they can direct you to reputable local companies who do audits.
Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.