Assess Your Home’s Efficiency with an Energy Audit
Category: Green Building
Author: Scott Allred
Posted: Wednesday - November 26, 2014
You may be wondering how to save money on your energy bills this year. The Triad Green Building Council would like to help you. In addition to building the most energy efficient new homes in the Triad, we are also eager to promote the “Greening” of our existing housing stock. By taking these simple steps, you can reap the benefits of lower energy bills and increase the comfort of your home. Conducting a do-it-yourself home energy audit is a fast, relatively simple way to assess how much energy your home consumes and determine what you can do to make your home more energy efficient.
A home energy audit will show you where your home is losing energy, how efficient your heating and cooling systems are, and ways to conserve electricity. All it takes is a thorough inspection of the areas listed here and keeping a checklist of the problems you found.
Air leaks. Stopping or minimizing drafts can save 5 to 30 percent of your annual energy costs. Some places to inspect where air commonly seeps from homes include gaps around: baseboards, wall and ceiling junctures, electrical outlets, switch plates, window frames, weather stripping, fireplace dampers, attic doors, window-mounted air conditioners and foundation seals. Leaks cause the HVAC equipment to run harder to keep the house heated and cooled.
On your home’s exterior, look at the areas where two different building materials meet, such as corners and areas where siding or brick come together with chimneys or the foundation. If you can rattle windows or see daylight around door or window frames, you likely are losing air.
Once you’ve identified the leaks, seal them with caulk, weather stripping or the same material as the original seal. Replacing windows with new, high-performance ones will improve your home’s energy efficiency and you may get a break on your taxes. An inexpensive alternative is to attach plastic sheets around your windows.
Insulation. In older homes especially, the amount of insulation in the ceiling and walls may be insufficient for current standards. See if your attic door is insulated and closes tightly. Openings around pipes, ductwork and chimneys should be sealed. Look for a vapor barrier – tarpaper or a plastic sheet – under the attic insulation. To check your walls, make a small hole in a closet or other out-of-the-way place and probe into the wall with a long stick or screwdriver. The area should be completely filled with an insulating material.
Fill the gaps in any openings with expanding foam. Flexible caulk should be used to seal any electrical boxes in the ceiling. If your home lacks a vapor barrier, consider painting interior ceilings with vapor barrier paint. This reduces the amount of water vapor that can pass through the ceiling and reduce your insulation’s effectiveness.
Heating and Cooling Equipment. Inspect your heating and cooling equipment. See if ducts and pipes that are located in unheated spaces and your water heater and hot water pipes are insulated. Dirt streaks around your ductwork, especially near the seams, are evidence of leaks. Leaky ducts can be sealed where accessible with a product called Mastic. Duct tape, and similar products are almost useless for sealing ducts.
Have your equipment checked and cleaned by a professional annually. If you have a forced-air furnace, replace your filters as soon as they are dirty. Even if they aren’t, replace them every 30 to 60 days. Consider replacing units that are more than 15 years old with a new energy-efficient one.
Lighting. Look at the bulbs in your home and determine if a lower-watt bulb would work just as well for your needs. If you have an area where lights are on for extended periods of time, a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) can save up to 75 percent of the lighting energy of an incandescent bulb.
Buy energy-efficient appliances. Replacing your refrigerator, dishwasher or washing machine with Energy Star certified appliances can cut your energy costs significantly.
Professional Home Energy Audits. Independent testing firms can provide a more comprehensive evaluation of your home and its systems. By using the Home Energy Rating System (HERS), the standard measure of home efficiency, inspectors can test the house and provide a report that serves as a starting point for improvements. A list of qualified HERS raters can be found at www.natresnet.org. The HERS rater reviews the home to identify its energy characteristics, such as insulation levels, window efficiency, wall-to-window ratios, the heating and cooling system efficiency, the solar orientation of the home, and the water heating system. Performance testing, such as a blower door test for air leakage, Duct Blaster for HVAC duct leakage, and an infrared camera to detect temperature variations, are usually part of the rating. The data gathered by the home energy rater is entered into a RESNET accredited computer program and translated into rating score. The home receives a score between 1 and 100, depending on its relative efficiency.
A home audit is a great way to find out your home’s energy deficiencies and make simple improvements that will save you time and money in the long run. Next month, we will explore water saving features of green building and provide information on the WaterSense program introduced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).