Energy Auditors Account for Wasted Energy

A thorough energy audit likely will reveal surprising leaks

Photo by Getty Image
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Recent federal tax incentives are designed to persuade people to make their homes more energy efficient, and could spur a small boom in conservation—minded projects. But if you're one of the ones suddenly galvanized into the green movement, take a breath. Consider hiring an energy auditor first. It's great to want to save resources, and even better if the government wants to give you a tax break on purchases of energy—efficient windows, a new boiler, or even solar panels. But would you take $10,000 and invest it in a single stock without at least reading you paper's business section? Of course not, yet people every day look at their windows, for instance, and decide they need replacing at a cost that can easily climb past $10,000.

Having some money sense, you want to at least talk to a credible auditor or two (more on how to determine credibility later). For about $300, depending on the size of your home and the complexity of the project, an auditor will analyze your home and recommend solutions. The windows you worried about might pale in energy waste compared to vents or insulation holes. Auditors use infrared cameras, large fans, and electronics to pinpoint leaks. The resulting report details problems, and suggests prioritized remedial steps. It also estimates how much the work should cost you and what the return on your investment is likely to be. Before you sign a contract, make sure you have the firm that's right for you. Of course talk to your neighbors and friends for names. But also contact your local utility company or the state Environment Protection Agency to see if they have contractors they recommend (to hire or avoid). No matter where you get a name, be aware that some auditors work for companies selling the goods the auditors recommend. When you meet auditors, ask them for references, for industry associations they belong to, and for training certificates. Actually look at any required licenses. And don't forget to look at the state attorney general's website or that of the Better Business Bureau for clues about past problems.
Recent federal tax incentives are designed to persuade people to make their homes more energy efficient, and could spur a small boom in conservation—minded projects. But if you're one of the ones suddenly galvanized into the green movement, take a breath. Consider hiring an energy auditor first. It's great to want to save resources, and even better if the government wants to give you a tax break on purchases of energy—efficient windows, a new boiler, or even solar panels. But would you take $10,000 and invest it in a single stock without at least reading you paper's business section? Of course not, yet people every day look at their windows, for instance, and decide they need replacing at a cost that can easily climb past $10,000.

Having some money sense, you want to at least talk to a credible auditor or two (more on how to determine credibility later). For about $300, depending on the size of your home and the complexity of the project, an auditor will analyze your home and recommend solutions. The windows you worried about might pale in energy waste compared to vents or insulation holes. Auditors use infrared cameras, large fans, and electronics to pinpoint leaks. The resulting report details problems, and suggests prioritized remedial steps. It also estimates how much the work should cost you and what the return on your investment is likely to be. Before you sign a contract, make sure you have the firm that's right for you. Of course talk to your neighbors and friends for names. But also contact your local utility company or the state Environment Protection Agency to see if they have contractors they recommend (to hire or avoid). No matter where you get a name, be aware that some auditors work for companies selling the goods the auditors recommend. When you meet auditors, ask them for references, for industry associations they belong to, and for training certificates. Actually look at any required licenses. And don't forget to look at the state attorney general's website or that of the Better Business Bureau for clues about past problems.
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Virtually all competent auditors will want to perform blower–door test. The test uses a huge fan placed in an exterior door and super–sensitive measuring equipment to analyze home airflow and identify air leaks—even places you might never think to look. For example, behind built—ins, in the joint where the floor meets the walls, or in gaps created by recessed lighting or wall plates. An infrared camera can spot "cold joints". A cold joint is a term used to describe where air passes through insulation. Another test looks for duct leaks, and works much like the blower—door machine to determine duct air tightness. Energy auditors also evaluate a year's worth of energy bills to identify easy lifestyle changes you can make to lower your heating costs. They'll inspect all your appliances, HVAC, boiler, oil burner, and water heater to see whether replacements are warranted.

Typical findings may shock you almost as much as the simple methods by which those energy—draining issues in your home are solved. "Leaky light cans—some builders call them pot lights—are one of the most typical observations I make," says Michael Broussard, a certified energy auditor and owner of Home Performance Solutions LLC, an independent energy audit company in Colorado. Air–tight light—can trim kits stop air transfers between rafters and rooms, and run about $17 a piece. Remarkably, says Broussard, light cans accounted for a whopping 10% of all the air leaking from one house he evaluated. He says his audits typically save 12 to 20 percent in home heating and cooling costs for his customers. In another home, he found that the owner's blown fiberglass insulation was allowing 30% more air infiltration than would blown cellulose. "Blown–fiberglass insulation tends to be very leaky." Broussard says he often warns homeowners to be wary of replacing windows. There usually are other, simpler measures that improve window efficiency. Caulking around windows or tinting the glass will help.

Sometimes, homeowners need to look outside for tamer temperatures inside. "In Colorado we get some pretty strong winds, so I might recommend planting trees on a particular side of the house to block the house from those cold winds," says Broussard. When it comes to homeownership and energy efficiency, there are always improvements that can be made. The trick is to know which ones are right for you. "A house isn't like a car, where you can't really improve its efficiency. You can always improve the efficiency of your home. You just need to know where to look," says Broussard.
 
 

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