How does a homeowner with underdeveloped DIY-skills and little energy savvy know where to start?
of the best ways to discover where your home is leaking energy is
through a home energy audit. A thorough audit can help assess how much
energy your home uses "” and loses "” and can evaluate measures you can
take to improve efficiency, advises Angie's List, which compiles local
consumer reviews on local contractors and doctors in more than 500
Most important, it can also help homeowners prioritize solutions to get the biggest bang for their energy-saving bucks.
typical audit is usually about $400 according to Chris Dwyer of Emotiv
Energy Audits of Oakley, a former teacher who has been doing audits
about five years. "The full reports, with photographs, solutions,
estimated costs of repairs and estimated savings, can then be taken to
a bank for an energy improvement loan or an energy efficient mortgage,"
he says. (An EEM is a mortgage that credits a home's energy efficiency
in the mortgage itself and lets borrowers finance cost-effective,
energy-saving measures as part of a single mortgage).
not a clean business. "I get dirty," he says, "crawling around attics
and squeezing into crawl spaces" to access a home's hidden trouble
Most energy audit companies use the
blower door fan test (closing off the house and putting a fan in the
front door that pulls the air out of the house lowering the air
pressure. The higher outside air pressure then flows in through all
unsealed cracks and openings to pinpoint air leakage) as well as
infrared tests (a camera measures approximate surface temperatures)
moisture meters, gas leak detectors and borescopes or optical devices
with flexible tubes to see into inaccessible areas.
discover the basics of an audit we first went to www.duke-energy.com,
easily signed in to access our account and got an online audit that
tracks our home's energy use over the last 12 months pinpointing by
percentage, among other things, what household uses were sucking away
the most electricity and natural gas. No big surprise "” heating ate up
81 percent of natural gas. Cooling, food storage, lighting and "other"
took equal shares of electricity. We could see a month-by-month tally
and compare our home's costs with others the same size. But we wanted
advice beyond the helpful energy tips at the site.
offers a basic audit, A Home Energy House Call, free to
homeowner/customers who have lived in their homes at least four months.
It lacks the fancy gadgets and infrared cameras of the audit firms but
was surprisingly thorough and helpful. The auditor, Owen Burns, was
from Thermo-Scan Inspections, and he knew his stuff.
specialist analyzes total home energy use, checks for air leaks,
examines insulation levels, reviews appliances and heating/cooling
systems and from the information collected provides a custom-tailored
report delivered on the spot (as in my case) or within 10 days,
detailing steps to increase energy efficiency and reduce your energy
Burns started with a sit-down lifestyle
interview to determine how a family uses electricity, water and natural
gas, recording house stats like age, the type of heat, the average
thermostat setting in winter and summer (they recommend 68-70 in winter
and 75 and up in the summer), the age of refrigerator, dishwasher,
washer, dryer, water heater, whether there's an extra fridge or
"We're trying to get an
understanding of the age, the condition of the house, appliances or
anything that affects your billing," says Burns, as well as any
improvements you may be considering.
moved on to the weatherization of the house, examining the shell of the
house, the cap or top and the basement or foundation.
whole idea is that you want the shell to be as airtight as possible,"
says Burns, who lists inexpensive fixes anyone can do to doors and
windows, the biggest leakage points. That includes weather stripping,
caulking, sealing trim and installing foam back-plates to switch-plates
on outside walls.
Doors should shut snugly
with no play. They can be adjusted from time to time. There should be
absolutely no light coming in around the edges, and windows should be
at least double pane and ideally triple pane.
"Caulking around windows is always the first thing a homeowner can do,"
says Burns, and should be checked and re-done every other year if
necessary. Exterior light fixtures should be sealed where they meet the
house and garage framing should be airtight, two things homeowners can
easily do themselves.
"The rule of thumb is
that prior to 1975, most houses built probably didn't have wall
insulation since it wasn't even invented until the 1930s," he says.
"And back then insulation was considered an upgrade. Heat and fuel was
cheap and abundant. The energy crisis in the '70s prompted builders to
re-evaluate and start putting insulation in walls."
Given Cincinnati's older housing stock, a failure to find sufficient insulation is not unusual.
older homes "I explain how they are losing energy and point out several
options from pumping cellulose into walls or using a foam injection
method which is the most popular today." The average cost is about
$2,000 per level but Burns points out the tax credit, the comfort
improvement, the decrease in energy costs and the boost to re-sale
value. "It eventually pays for itself," he says.
"cap" of the house or attic should have a minimum of 6 to 10 inches of
insulation to be considered adequate providing an R-30 value. "But the
game is changing," Burns says. "Because we're on the fringe of another
energy crisis, it's suggested homes in our region of the country have
an R-49 rating and that's about 16 to 24 inches of insulation.
things penetrate the house, usually in or near the foundation including
electric, gas and cable lines, plumping, vents, power lines. "You need
to make sure all these are sealed at the entry points or air gets into
the house," Burns says.
Depending on the
construction of the house, ceiling insulation in a cement crawl space
might be suggested as well as lining outside walls with foam board
insulation. And installing a water heater wrap can help cut energy
bills as well. Furnaces should be checked to make sure seams are sealed
and foil tape should be installed around air ducts to prevent leakage,
another easy DIY chore.
After the walk-through
Burns went over a list of possible suggestions and marked what should
be done, providing a printout of materials needed and guesstimates on
"Most recommended projects are DIY Saturday afternoon projects," Burns says.
also left an Energy Efficiency Kit with CFL light bulbs, a roll of
weather stripping, an energy-efficient showerhead, a kitchen faucet
aerator, a needle spray bathroom faucet aerator and switch and outlet
Duke's Home Energy House Call was
started in 2007 and has evaluated about 10,000 homes, according to Rick
Mifflin, manager of residential energy efficiency products for Duke,
who says homes are generally targeted by direct mail. Scheduling is
done by area and the goal is to reach respondents within about 45 days.
Making customers more energy efficient frees
up energy for other needs, he says. "For example CFL bulbs use 25
percent less energy than an incandescent bulb, freeing up kilowatt
hours and a generating capacity that can be used elsewhere."
pilot program is now being tested offering a more comprehensive audit
for about $99 that will have the ability to take customers to the next
level of actually getting the suggested work done through a Duke
connection with contractors. "The intention is to look deeper and help
homeowners act on the findings," Mifflin says. It is expected to start
in August or September.