Cash In the Attic: Doing a Home Energy Audit

Illustration by Anders Wenngren

Cash In the Attic: Doing a Home Energy Audit

A home energy audit is the best way to pinpoint where your house is wasting watts and figure out the steps you can take to shrink costly utility bills.

By Gretel H. Schueller/Illustration by Anders Wenngren
Published: 11/23/2012

Do you ever feel like you're throwing money out the window? When it comes to paying your utility bills, you may be doing just that. The average U.S. household spends about $2,200 a year on home energy, reports the Environmental Protection Agency, with roughly half of that going to heating and cooling. 

Simple changes--switching to compact-fluorescent bulbs, lowering your thermostat setting in the winter, and servicing your furnace regularly--will help reduce your consumption. The real key, though, is a whole-house energy-efficiency plan. Even a top-of-the-line power-saving furnace will waste a lot of fuel if the ducts, walls, attic, windows, and doors in your home are not properly sealed and insulated. In the duct system alone, about 20 percent of the air moving through can be lost to leaks, holes, and poor connections.

The first step to finding out how much energy you're wasting is a comprehensive home energy audit. Such a test will help you identify air leaks and find out how well your insulation works. Air leaks can waste up to 30 percent of a home's energy use. The biggest culprits are openings in your ceilings, walls, and floors (see diagram above). Others include fireplaces and even electrical outlets. One of the most cost-effective ways to improve efficiency is to add insulation in your attic, but even something as simple as sealing windows with weather-stripping and caulk can help lower energy bills. Sealing and insulating your home's entire envelope (outer walls, ceiling and roof, windows, doors, and floor) could cut heating and cooling costs by around 20 percent.

Get the most out of your audit by preparing beforehand. Collect information about your consumption habits, compile utility bills, and know what your average thermostat setting is for both summer and winter. When discussing test results with your auditor, evaluate the costs and benefits of adding insulation and replacing old windows and appliances with more energy-efficient ones.

 

Home Audit Basics

-Make sure your energy auditor uses a calibrated blower door test. A special fan depressurizes the home, allowing outside air to rush in through all those openings you didn't know existed. Auditors can spot leaks with an infrared camera. They should conduct the test again after improvements are made.

-Consider having inspections done in cold-weather states during the winter and during summer in warm-weather states.

-You can apply for tax credits if you purchase certain renewable energy systems. There are also low-interest loans and rebate programs to help offset upgrade costs. Your local utility may offer free or discounted energy audits. For help finding a professional auditor, visit resnet.us or bpi.org.

-For more information, go to energysavers.gov and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

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Comments

Honeycomb insulating shades for windows

Insulating honeycomb shades are a great way to insulate windows quickly (and well) and move on to other energy saving upgrades. I've noticed a huge difference in the comfort level of my rooms that have those shades. I ordered Symphony Shades, but there are lots of brands out there. These particular shades have a side track system that blocks more drafts!

Audits are always in season

All good advice except I would argue that seasonality is of very little importance when getting an audit. The advice assumes that an infrared imager is only useful with extreme temperature differences. An experienced building science professional can get and interpret images with only a few degrees of difference between inside and out. Using the blower door with the thermal imager creates an enhanced condition that reveals air leaks in any season.
Interpretation is key. Make sure that the person you hire has experience or is backed buy an experienced organization. Also I suggest using a company that does not have an interest only in selling a product. The key is that the results of the audit are an interpretation. That interpretation should be in your interest.
So, don't wait. If you are thinking of starting an energy improvement project do it now.

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