With President Obama announcing thousands of dollars in tax credits for families to increase energy efficiency in their homes, there has never been a better time to perform a home energy audit. Conducting an audit could result you in energy savings equaling hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the medium and long term. Best of all, many home energy “fixes” are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement.
The absolute best way to get a home energy audit is to hire a professional. They have tools at their disposal that measure your home’s energy efficiency with extreme accuracy, more so than anything you could do yourself. The downside is the cost, which can range from $250 to $600–but if you consider the amount of money you’ll save by plugging up all of your energy leaks and increasing your energy efficiency you may decide that the cost is well worth it.
Here’s a seven-step plan for choosing the best professional energy auditor and getting the most out of the audit’s results.
1) Create a list of local home energy auditors. There are multiple sources for finding an auditor. Here are some ideas:
- Find auditors participating in the government’s “Home Performance with Energy Star” program.
- Find auditors at the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) web site. This is a great organization that certifies home energy auditors using strict standards.
- Check with your local power company.
- Check with your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau.
- Check with your local government’s energy or environment office.
2) Make sure an auditor will perform a CALIBRATED “blower door” test. What the heck is that? A blower door is basically a powerful fan that gets mounted on the frame of an exterior door. It sucks air out of the house and therefore lowers the interior’s air pressure. That causes outdoor air to leak in from all the many cracks and openings in your house, allowing the auditor to measure them.
A calibrated blower door has air pressure gauges that can also measure how much air is being pulled out of the fan, while an uncalibrated blower door does not. That’s why it’s important that your auditor use a calibrated system, since it will tell you how bad your air flow problem is rather than just simply pointing out its presence. Ask each auditor on your list if he performs this service; if not, scratch that company off and move to the next.
3) Make sure an auditor will use a thermographic scan. This is essentially an infrared scan. You’ve probably seen these scans before, which show heat being given off by objects–the colors range from white for hot to black for cold. The same scan can be done for your home as a measure of your home’s surface temperatures. It’s best done with a camera, which can record black streaks signifying air currents on images you and your auditor can review later. Other methods exist, such as a simple meter measuring temperatures at a given spot, but the camera is the best method.
Your auditor may decide on either an interior or exterior survey, depending on factors like weather conditions. Try to get an interior one if you can. It’s more accurate to measure heat loss from the inside than from outside where it can be more difficult to guess where a leak is coming from. Wind can also dampen exterior results by fudging the temperature differences.
Once the blower door test gets underway the auditor will look through his infrared camera, which will detect air leaks. It will also show how effectively your home’s insulation is working and whether you’re losing heat through your attic.
Check with each auditor to make sure the company uses thermographic scanning, preferably indoors and with a camera. If not, pick someone else.
4) Ideally, pick the right time of year. The thermographic scan works best when there is a maximum temperature difference between inside and outside your house, making drafts easy to detect with the scan. In cold climates the best time for an audit is in winter while your heat is on, and in warm climates the best time is in summer while running your air conditioner. This is just a general guideline, however. Don’t let it stop you from getting the audit as I’d imagine most good auditors can get around less-than-ideal temperature differences.
5) Conduct your due diligence and select the final candidate. Check for three references from any auditor you’re considering. Make sure the auditor is licensed and insured. Check the local Better Business Bureau for any complaints against the company. Once you’ve done you’re research you’re all set for your energy audit.
6) Prepare your home on audit day. Follow your auditor’s advice. Generally, close windows and open interior doors. Turn down thermostats on water heaters and other heaters. Cover ashes in fireplaces and wood stoves so they don’t blow all over the place when the blower door gets turned on. Shut fireplace or wood stove dampers, doors, and other air intakes. Remove furniture and drapes away from the exterior walls the auditor will be measuring for leaks.
Be present and available during the audit, as the auditor will want to ask you many questions about your living habits.
7) Read the results and craft your action plan. Your auditor will get back to you with a detailed write-up of what he found, along with a list of recommendations for improving your home’s energy efficiency. Fixes will range from sealing up cracks with caulking to buying more energy efficient appliances.
Put your plan into action in more or less the following order to get the most bang for your buck:
- Make sure the insulation in your attic is good, and if not then fix it.
- Seal up cracks where air leakage is present, especially in the attic, basement and around any pipes.
- Patch up drafty cracks around windows with weatherstripping.
- Change your light bulbs to CFL’s or LED’s.
- Make sure your heating and cooling equipment is running efficiently through regular maintenance and annual cleaning.
Doing these things alone could generate hundreds of dollars in energy savings per year. If your financial means allow you may also want to follow other recommendations in the report such as upgrading old appliances to newer more energy efficient models.
That’s it! You’re all set for a much greener, more energy efficient home.
This is the second in a multi-part series looking at home energy audits. Part one looked at the necessity of getting an audit done in the first place. Subsequent parts will examine how to conduct a “do it yourself” energy audit.