Time for a home energy audit?
Even if you’re not in the market to build a new green home, you can make the one you live in now more energy efficient. A good way to start is with a home energy audit. Experts estimate that two-thirds of the more than 100 million single family homes in the United States were built before modern energy codes, so there is the strong possibility your home does not meet modern standards.
If your home has hot and warm spots, drafts or other signs of air leaks and poor insulation, that’s a sign an audit could help it more comfortable.
Basically, a home energy audit helps homeowners determine where their house may be wasting energy, and what to do about it. Two basic options exist: Do-it-yourself or a professional assessment. Even if you tackle the job on your own, you may decide you need an expert opinion later. (Here’s a checklist to help you get started.)
Both methods have the same purpose: evaluate where your home is wasting energy. A careful homeowner often can spot the glaring flaws. But a professional has the training, experience and tools to spot the not-so-obvious problems.
Is it worth the effort? The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the potential energy savings from reducing drafts in a home may range from 5 percent to 30 percent per year. If you don’t take steps to stop leaks, your money will continue to fly out the cracks and crevices of your home.
A useful tool for conducting an energy audit is the building pressurization test. You can try it yourself, or a professional will use a calibrated blower-door. The goal is to find air flow around these usual suspects:
- Electrical outlets
- Switch plates
- Window frames
- Weather stripping around doors
- Fireplace dampers
- Attic hatches
- Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners.
Use caulking, insulation, expanding-foam-in-a-can and other products to seal leaks in these areas. If you can rattle a door or window, chances are it’s leaking air. Same thing if you can see daylight around the frame. That’s a sign it’s time for an insulation intervention.
Next, check out the insulation in the attic and walls. Depending when your house was built, building codes and insulation products may have changed drastically. This is where professional help is useful. Many home energy auditors use a thermographic detector to track air temperature in the walls and ceiling. It uses infrared imaging to show the temperature of the air in a certain area. It’s a surefire way to track air leaks and poor insulation.
A professional energy auditor will use a blower door fan to lower the air pressure in your home. You can do the same thing with household fans but it’s not as effective. Lowering the pressure invites outside air to rush inside the home, making obvious any hidden gaps and thin insulation. The thermography or infrared scanning shows the auditor where air may be leaking behind walls as the air moves. The best scans use a thermal imaging camera which shows a video picture of the room with the heat image superimposed over it.
Check all ventilation ducts for leaks. Professionals will have equipment to check for leaks and also to test whether your furnace and air conditioner are operating properly.
After the audit, a professional will return with recommendations. Some of them a handy homeowner will be able to tackle. Others will take professional help, such as installation of a new furnace or windows. The total estimate for sealing a home may be surprising – cost projections in the $10,000 range are not uncommon.
To help offset the cost of improvements, check for federal and state tax credits, and with your utility company as well. Utilities also may offer incentives for a home energy audit. If you get a home energy rating for home, you could quality for an energy-efficient mortgage to help pay for the upgrades.
A home energy audit is a great step toward improving your home’s energy efficiency and comfort, as well as reducing its impact on the environment.