Understanding Home Energy Audits

by Rachel Laurendeau on July 30, 2012

If you think that your house is leaky and might be wasting energy and money, it may be time for a home energy audit, also known as a home energy assessment. This will help evaluate how much energy your home consumes, the efficiency of your heating and cooling system and what steps you can take to make your home more energy efficient.

Audits are often available through:
• local energy conservation or weatherization department
• public utility companies
• private energy auditors (make sure you do a background check on any independent auditors before contracting them)
• do-it-yourself assessments can also be done but will not be as precise or detailed as those done by professionals.

How is a professional energy assessment performed?
A professional energy auditor should do an exterior check followed by a room-by-room inspection of the house and examine past utility bills. Most of the assessments will include a blower door test to measure the extent of air leaks in the building as well as thermographic scan (using infrared cameras), which reveals hard-to-detect areas of air infiltration and missing insulation.

How is a do-it-yourself energy assessment performed?
A simple yet thorough walk-through of your home will allow you to take note of any problems that you see. You will be looking for air leaks (drafts), checking insulation and vapor barrier in the attic, inspecting your heating and cooling systems and assessing your lighting. For more information on DIY energy assessments, take a look at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website or talk to your local public utility as they may have checklists to help you with your audit.

What steps should you take after getting the results from your energy assessment?
The results of your energy audit will help you prioritize your energy efficiency upgrades. In many cases the audit report will make specific suggestions as to how you can address specific issues. The changes may be as simple and inexpensive as cleaning your furnace filters more frequently or turning your hot water heater down a few degrees or they may be as extensive and expensive as having a new vapor barrier and insulation installed.

Examples of upgrades that may be needed:
• Install replacement windows
• Increase insulation in attic
• Make improvements to HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system
• Install weather stripping around doors and windows
• Add a storm door
• Install programmable thermostat and keep house at a more moderate temperature
• Change light bulbs to lower wattage or to compact fluorescent bulbs

In many areas of the country, local energy conservation departments or utility boards offer loans and grants to help homeowners make energy-saving upgrades to their homes. It is worth looking into what is available in your area if you are taking on home improvement projects to reduce the amount of energy consumed by your home.

Resource: U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Savers

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