Comprehensive energy audits, also known as home energy assessments, give homeowners useful information to improve energy usage, the comfort of the home, and safety. An audit should be your first step before deciding to upgrade your home for energy efficiency or adding solar energy or other renewable energy systems. Audits can also uncover easy ways to improve efficiency throughout the entire house, from the basement to the attic.
What Do Comprehensive Energy Audits Measure?
Energy audits measure energy use, inefficiencies where heating and cooling are lost and prioritize improvements. Key improvements are determined by the information you provide to the auditor about which rooms are used and which temperatures are set for heating and cooling. Energy-saving improvements vary from sealing doors to getting new windows or adding renewable energy like solar panels. Outdated appliances may also need replacement due to efficiency and safety reasons.
How Can I Prepare for an Audit?
Before a comprehensive audit is conducted, you can take several steps that will save time and improve the relevance and value of the audit. Gather information including:
- A list of existing issues like drafty rooms, uneven heating and cooling, or condensation on windows.
- Energy bills from over the last year, or an end-of-year report if the utility company provides one.
- Usage of the home and its rooms, including occupancy during the day, thermostat settings for summer and winter, number of residents, and how many rooms are used.
This information will help the auditor maximize the value of the audit by paying extra attention to potential issues and understanding how the home is used.
How Is the Audit Conducted?
The auditor conducts the comprehensive audit by examining the home's exterior, noting the dimensions of the walls and the number and size of the windows. After checking the home's exterior, the auditor will review information about the home's usage, such as demands placed on the heating and cooling systems and which rooms are used the most. The usage details will help reveal simple ways to reduce energy usage.
Auditors will walk through the home, often with the residents, providing a great time to ask questions. Auditors may use specialized tools to spot energy loss, including blower doors, efficiency meters for furnaces, infrared cameras, and surface thermometers. While infrared cameras can spot differences in temperature on walls and other surfaces, blower doors can exaggerate air leaks during infrared testing and provide better results. Ducts are also tested to ensure they don't leak, are clean, and are properly insulated.
How Can I Spot Potential Energy Efficiency Issues?
It's possible to spot potential issues by doing a walk-through before the audit and taking detailed notes to share with the auditor. This information will help the auditor focus on problem areas and learn more about how you use the spaces in your home. Energy-saving opportunities and possible safety issues can be uncovered in newer homes as well as in older construction.
Opportunities for saving energy and improving safety grow every year, with new technologies entering the market faster than builders and remodelers can keep up with them. Training can also lag on emerging technologies. Homeowners can begin the process by taking steps before the comprehensive audit to flag efficiency and even safety concerns. Review the following potential issues and note them for your inspector.
Locating and addressing drafts can save 10% to 20% on energy bills and increase comfort in all seasons. Culprits include gaps where different building materials join, windows, door seals, outlets, switches, plumbing fixtures, and lighting fixtures are installed. Fireplaces can also create drafts.
Checking for poor ventilation of fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, and other appliances that use natural gas, fuel oil, propane, or wood is vital to identify potential issues. Poor ventilation can be dangerous in addition to being inefficient and causing poor performance of the appliance. Backdrafts can happen when exhaust fans pull combustion gasses back into the house—for example, a kitchen exhaust fan that pulls smoke out of a fireplace. Appliances need a sufficient air supply for proper ventilation. You should watch for signs like escaping smoke and burn marks or soot around the burner or vent collar.
Insulation, or the lack of it, has a significant impact on energy efficiency. Ceilings and walls, especially in older homes, are insufficiently insulated. Spaces where ductwork, pipes, and chimneys enter the house need to be properly sealed. Attics often have insufficient insulation to be added onto and adequately sealed, ensuring vents aren't blocked.
Walls may require a thermographic inspection, which detects surface temperatures through infrared video and photography. Thermographic inspection tools used by professionals can pinpoint areas that lack insulation or have drafts. Basements and crawl spaces have varying insulation needs depending on how those spaces are used. Appliances like water heaters should be insulated along with hot water pipes and ductwork from the furnace.
Heating and Cooling Systems
Heating and cooling systems should be inspected regularly to ensure they operate at peak efficiency and don't have any performance or safety issues. While homeowners can replace furnace filters easily, they should have equipment inspected by a professional. Ductwork should be cleaned and inspected, especially if air leaks with dirt streaks are visible. Insulate ductwork if it passes through any unheated spaces like crawl spaces.
Appliances, Electronics, and Lights
Saving energy doesn't necessarily have to involve a high-efficiency furnace and extra insulation in the attic. Certified energy-efficient appliances and electronics can save on utility bills, but so can measures like being mindful of usage, adjusting settings, and unplugging them when not in use. Some electronics can use power when they're sitting idle.
Lighting options have increased in style, features, and efficiency in recent years, which is good news since lighting can make up 10% of the electric bill. LEDs are very popular options that offer brightness and performance while using a fraction of the power of traditional incandescent bulbs. Lighting usage can also be reduced by using sensors and timers.A comprehensive energy audit is a great way to improve your home's efficiency, comfort, and safety. Preparing for the audit by collecting information about your home and how it's used, as well as potential issues you see, will make the audit more efficient and relevant to your unique situation. Contact Energy Diagnostics, Inc. today for more information about the benefits of a comprehensive energy audit.