Dear Pat: I keep hearing about home energy audits. How do they work, and will they save me money? — Lorena C.
Dear Lorena: You are smart to be thinking about a home energy audit. Spending a few hundred dollars now can save you thousands of dollars over time.
A home energy audit is a detailed assessment of your home that can give you a roadmap for future energy-related investments. An energy audit can meet different needs:
- What efficiency investments will be most effective in reducing your energy bills?
- Are areas of your home sometimes too hot or too cold? An energy audit can identify problem areas and solutions.
- Are you considering a new furnace, air conditioner or rooftop solar system? An energy audit will help you “right-size” these systems and identify complementary measures that will help these large investments work most efficiently.
- Are you considering selling your home? An energy audit can document your home’s efficiency to help improve its resale value.
Online audit tools can give you a basic understanding of how your home compares to similar ones. However, a qualified and professional home energy auditor can use his or her experience and high-tech tools to provide a thorough report of your home’s challenges and opportunities. A professional energy audit can range from a quick, visual walk-through of the home to a more comprehensive, more informative but more expensive assessment.
Energy audits require an examination of the building envelope (attic, floor and exterior walls) and the energy systems in the home such as the water heater, air conditioner and furnace. Follow the auditor during the inspection and ask questions so you can understand where the problems are, what you can address yourself and where you may need further professional help. The auditor may analyze your recent energy bills to determine what your energy is used for and if use has recently changed. Finally, the auditor will ask about the energy use behaviors for those who live in the home. For example, is someone home all day, or does everyone leave for work and school?
Ford Tupper, an energy auditor with the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, noted, “The residents’ habits can make a big impact on the energy bill and can also be the hardest to change. If you go from being a household with two working adults to one with a new baby and an adult home most of the day, your energy use is going to increase.”
An auditor may do some or all of these tests:
- Blower-door test: Windows are often the suspected cause for air leaks in the home, but there are usually larger and less obvious sources. A blower-door test measures how airtight your home is and identifies where the air leaks are.
- Duct blaster: Ducts move warm and cool air around your home. Duct-testing can measure whether your ducts are leaking.
- Thermographic imaging: Seth Rosser, an energy advisor at United Cooperative Services in Texas, shared, “Identifying where more insulation is needed is a key component in our energy audits — too little insulation will make a member use more energy than needed. Adding more can provide a quick return on investment.” Thermographic imaging is one way to identify where more insulation is needed. Infrared images show “cold” spots in a home’s envelope.
- Health and safety testing: Energy auditors are also trained to spot safety problems such as a missing smoke detector or an appliance that could cause carbon monoxide issues. Some auditors can also test your home for radon.
Following the assessment of your home, the auditor will analyze the information and make recommendations on what systems could be upgraded or behavior changes you can make to reduce energy use and improve comfort. If you take action based on your auditor’s recommendations, you could lower your energy bill 5 percent to 30 percent and perhaps even more!
Your electric co-op may be able to help you get started with your energy audit. Some co-ops even offer discounted audits or a list of qualified energy auditors in the area. Be sure that whoever you hire is willing to answer questions, and plan to be home during the audit — it is a great opportunity to learn what makes your home tick and how you can make it even better.