It’s that Audit Time of Year Again & It’s a Good Thing
This article was original published for the Talkin’ Green column in the Lake Geneva Regional News Real Estate Guide.
Would you ask for an audit if you could ultimately save money in the long run? No, it’s not an IRS audit. I don’t think anyone would want that – especially if you have already had the pleasure. However, with springtime and air conditioning coming as well as next fall’s heating season, getting a home energy audit is a really smart thing to do. It should be the first step in the process of researching and ultimately purchasing any air conditioning or furnace system – new or upgrade. Bottom line, energy audits can save you thousands of dollars when it comes to determining the size air conditioning and heating system needed for your home or business.
How an Audit Works
Simply put, a home energy audit checks for any air leaks throughout the building, finds thermal loss due to poor insulation or poor quality windows, and tests the efficiency of the present furnace and air conditioning units. The tools of the trade are an infrared camera and a blower door which is attached to the main entrance of the building for the testing procedure.
An infrared camera allows you to actually see with color where the air leaks are by measuring heat or the lack thereof – red for heat and blue to black for cold temps. Thermal loss can commonly be caused if 2x4s or 2x6s are used to construct an outside wall with no thought to adding extra exterior insulation around those studs. The insulation factor of a 2X4 is R4, and a 2×6 is R6. The fiberglass portion in between those studs is usually around R13 or R21. If you were to point an infrared camera on that outside wall on a winter day, you would see red heat lines for every stud as they conducted or “leaked” the heat out of the building’s envelope. A properly insulated outside wall should be at least R24 – R30 and R50 for a ceiling. The critical part is the addition of exterior insulation to stop the studs from being the weak link for heat loss.
A blower door fan is a powerful testing tool that pressurizes the building by pulling air out of the structure lowering the air pressure. Since the pressure outside is higher, it is possible to calculate the air tightness of the building as the pressure returns to normal because of air leakage through windows, cracks in trim and other areas that need to be sealed.
Things to Consider
A home energy audit helps you find the problems so you can hire the specialists to fix them. Before you call though, check with your local utility or your state’s rebate program (Focus on Energy in Wisconsin) to see what they will pay for – perhaps the energy audit itself. Check with these programs first because many of them require you to prequalify before you sign a contract or else you could lose your rebate. Once you are done correcting the problems, you will have a building with no leaky drafts, less temperature fluctuation between rooms, and best of all, greatly reduced energy loss. In a new construction, an energy efficient building envelope can reduce the size of the new furnace and air conditioning system.
A long as we are talking energy reduction, let’s not forget the following energy stealing culprits that can have a big impact on your utility costs and your quest to be more sustainable:
- Consider an instantaneous water heater – these heaters only use energy when hot water is demanded compared to a tank heater that keeps heating and reheating water whether or not it is needed. Also think about installing a recirculating loop that reduces the time you run the water to finally get hot water at the faucet.
- Time to get rid of that old refrigerator in the garage – energy efficient appliances can greatly reduce electric costs.
- Use remote plug-in strips that you can turn off to save the energy that parasitic plug loads use to keep your TVs and stereos in standby mode.
- Incandescent light bulbs produce a lot of heat energy while making light. This also adds to your air conditioning load. LED bulbs, while more expensive up front, are much brighter and use a fraction of the energy while lasting many years.
Making your home more energy efficient will save money every year and you can feel good about doing your part for the planet – it’s a win-win, and a good thing.