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Two Stories of Successful Energy Audits

September 16, 2008 - 3:37pm

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Hello, everyone! Last week, John Lippert gave an excellent and extremely thorough overview of the energy audit process, including what an audit is, how it works, and how you can find an auditor. To further emphasize how an energy audit can help you, I decided to go out and interview two people here in the office who had energy audits done to their homes.

The two people I interviewed lived in very different areas, with very different homes, and yet their energy audits identified significant areas for improvement for both of them. This only goes to prove that no matter how efficient you think you are, or how new your home may be, you can always benefit from a professional looking around and seeing what you could do better. I think both of them have really interesting stories, and hopefully they'll be useful to some of you out there.

First, we have Connie. Connie lives in a relatively new neighborhood that was all developed by a single builder. She heard from one of her neighbors that the Boulder County Residential Energy Audit Program offered subsidized energy audits to homes in Boulder County, and she decided to sign up and see what she could improve. They sent a team right over to do a series of five tests on her home.

By using tests such as the the Blower Door Test and Thermographic Inspections, they identified a number of little tricky problems: The doors were leaking air and the attic needed more insulation. And as part of their appliance evaluation, they gave Connie a few energy saving tips: Keep your computer in sleep mode whenever you're not using it. Unplugging your appliances when you're not using them, meanwhile, will only save you pennies, and is not as useful a practice.

They also helped solve a mystery. The upstairs floor in her home was normally very warm. By using an infrared gun, the energy auditor was able to find the problem: The exhaust duct in the upstairs bathroom was not vented to the outside, and instead was simply pouring air into (and letting air in from) the attic. A call to the builder later, the vent was fixed and the upstairs was cooler.

My other interviewee was Jimmy. Jimmy lives in a more rural area, in an older home. As an energy expert himself, with years of experience, he was well aware of the benefits that an energy audit could provide for his home.

They ran the blower door test and did a quick check through his home, and identified much the same problems that Connie faced: Insufficient insulation in the attic and on hot water pipes, leaking windows and doors, and even holes that went through from the home straight to the outside. They checked ceilings and floors for air leakage. After all this, he jokingly mentioned that, "Before the audit, I thought I was pretty up to date, and perhaps a little smug… I now have two years worth of projects."

Now, when an energy auditor is done looking over your home, they will send you a report. This report will include information about what problems they found and what improvements can be made. They should be able to tell you how much energy (and money) you will be able to save by making the changes they recommend. And while every auditor is different, they should be able to recommend contractors who are qualified to do any of the projects identified in their audit.

Which is not to imply that all of the changes they suggest will be expensive. Connie's leaking doors were fixed with a couple of 97-cent door stoppers that sealed the space between the door and the floor. And just changing all the lights in her home to compact fluorescent bulbs saved them $20 a month on their bill.

For that matter, your audit might not have to be that expensive. Just as Connie's audit was subsidized by the county, you too can check with your utility or your state energy office to see if there are any subsidies available for energy audits.

So, how do you tell how much it will save you? While how much you can specifically save from an energy audit will vary wildly from place to place, there are a few easy ways to find out how it'll help you.

First off, an energy auditor should be able to tell you how much you'll save if you make the changes that they identify. Be sure to ask.

Otherwise, you can do some sleuthing yourself. After you make some of the changes identified in an audit, or do your own Do-it-Yourself energy audit, get out your old bill from last year. Now, you probably won't be able to compare the prices directly, since the overall price of heating your home has, more than likely, gone up a bit. Instead, look for the amount consumed, and compare that between the two years.

If your utility provider lists other useful information—mine tells me the average temperature for the month, and compares it to previous months and the year before—you can compare that information as well, and figure out what is influencing the price of your utilities, and what impact your changes are making.

But whether your home is new or old, an energy audit can help identify all sorts of problems and give you a variety of suggestions and solutions to improving the energy efficiency of your home. And once those changes are made, you'll see those savings in your energy bill every single month you live in that home.

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