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What to Expect in a Home Energy AuditApril 28th, 2014 by
This article was crafted with the help of Ernest Linzie of Green Day Energy Company.
Most homeowners can easily tell when they have an energy efficiency problem, the most noticeable signs including drafts, high energy bills, and an HVAC system that seems to take forever to reach the desired temperature. Pinpointing the causes of energy inefficiency and implementing solutions, however, usually require specialized knowledge, tools, and experience. One firm providing such expertise is Atlanta-area Green Day Energy Company. When performing energy audits, company president Ernest “Ernie” Linzie and his team study everything from the roof down to the basement or crawl space. Below, Ernie shares his energy audit methods and the benefits of his work.
The starting point for an audit is often the immediate comfort issue that homeowners are facing. “One of the first things I ask homeowners is, ‘What are you hoping to achieve from this energy audit?’” says Ernie. “Then I ask them to take me on a tour of the house, show me the crawl space and the attic, hot rooms and cold rooms—anything that’s bothering them or that they think is a problem.”
Although homeowners may be preoccupied with what they consider a self-contained issue—a single drafty room, perhaps—an energy audit is typically a whole-house diagnostic; Ernie and his team even collect data that homeowners might overlook, like the size of the windows and the orientation of the house toward the sun. Ultimately, the entire process may take three or four hours.
Evaluating the Building Envelope
In order to check the integrity of the building envelope—basically, the ability of the windows, doors, and walls to seal out drafts—Ernie and his team perform a blower door test. A blower door is essentially a door-mounted fan that expels air, putting the house under negative pressure and causing outside air to rush in through any cracks. “We simulate a 15-mile-an-hour wind outside the house,” says Ernie. “That’s not much, but it can create a tremendous amount of air infiltration and expose existing leaks.”
Once the house is under negative pressure, a smoke puffer is used to track down weaknesses in the home’s building envelope. Based on Ernie’s experience, drafty windows and doors aren’t the only liabilities. “During the blower door test, you can even sometimes hold your hand in front of an electrical outlet and feel air coming in,” he says. “It’s almost as if there’s a miniature fan behind it.” Attic access doors are another source of drafts. “Most attic access doors leak so much that, from an energy perspective, it’s as if they were left open all day,” says Ernie. Openings in walls that allow plumbing and ductwork conduits through are also common sites of energy loss.
Checking Insulation Levels and the HVAC System
Sufficient levels of insulation as well as an effective air conditioning and heating system are the keys to an energy-efficient home, and both will be checked as part of a thorough energy audit. Referring to R-value, the measurement of a material’s ability to slow heat loss, Ernie observes that most attics have standard R-19 fiberglass insulation; the insulation recommended by the ENERGY STAR program for most regions of the US has an R-value of at least 30. “Also, over the years,” Ernie adds, “the insulation has usually been tromped through, and there’s stuff stored on top of it, so it’s mashed down and simply not performing well.” He explains that replacing or adding to existing insulation is a very cost-effective way to increase your home’s energy efficiency, with one of the most immediate results being that the HVAC system will reach its set temperature much more quickly.
Speaking of HVAC systems, Ernie says that inspecting heaters and air conditioners is also a part of an energy audit. With 40 to 50 percent of a home’s energy typically allotted to the HVAC system, even small improvements in efficiency may be impactful. Ernie says, “We make sure that the filters are being changed and there’s good airflow; we check for proper Freon pressures—those kinds of maintenance tasks are what make for a really efficient HVAC system.” As part of a home energy audit, companies like Green Day Energy also perform a combustion safety test, making sure that gas appliances are not venting carbon monoxide into the home.
Using an EPA-provided software model that takes into account the orientation of the house, the regional climate, and a variety of other factors, a home energy auditor can give homeowners an idea of where their energy costs could be. According to Ernie, many houses have energy costs of about one dollar per square foot; with certain improvements, that cost could be lowered to 65 or 70 cents per square foot.
In order to achieve those savings, homeowners can rely on their auditor’s detailed recommendations for increasing efficiency. In the case of Green Day Energy, every recommendation is itemized. “I include what each improvement will cost,” says Ernie, “but I also prioritize them according to what will have the biggest impact on the home’s efficiency.” Ernie prefers to make high-value recommendations. For example, replacing the windows can be expensive and may not provide dramatic savings in homes that already have double-pane windows. “On the other hand,” says Ernie, “sealing drafts and beefing up the insulation, which will lower the air infiltration rate, are improvements that won’t cost people more than they will save afterward.”
Whether in response to drafts or high energy bills, an energy audit is a good idea for every home. With tax incentives being continually offered and, in some areas, financing provided by local electric cooperatives, the entire process can be more cost-effective than many homeowners might think. Contact an experienced energy auditor to learn more about the home improvements that will save you the most in the long run.
This spotlight article was crafted with the help of Green Day Energy Company, an Energy Audits Best Pick in Atlanta. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.