Conducting your own home check-up
Before deciding to make such an investment, you may want to do some checking on your own. For starters, look in your attic. If you find a thin little blanket of insulation, or none visible at all, you probably will want to add more. Think of your attic as the “hat” on your home. If you don’t wear a hat on a cold winter day, your body heat escapes quickly. If you don’t shade your head from the sun on a hot summer day, all of you will feel hotter. Adding insulation often returns the biggest bang for the buck of any home energy improvement.
Photo Courtesy of DOE, Weatherization Services, DOE Weatherization Assistance Program, Veteran's Green Jobs
You can find out how much air your home is leaking fairly easily. On a windy day, light an incense stick and put it next to closed windows and doors, baseboards and even electrical outlets. The smoke from the incense stick will move if there is air infiltration from the outdoors.
You can tell a lot by looking carefully at your existing heating and cooling equipment, windows and doors . If they are old and in need of maintenance or replacement, you might study up on Energy Star rated models. Finally, look carefully at your energy bills and learn if you are using more or less than a year ago and try to understand why. Many utilities allow you to log into your account and get detailed information about your usage over time, and sometimes advice on how to cut your bills.
Tools are available to help you understand your home’s energy use, including this one:
There are numerous benefits to calling in an expert, including:
Conducting a home energy analysis is the best way to understand how your home works as an energy system. With the proper diagnostic equipment and expertise, you will receive a custom roadmap to reduce monthly energy bills and comfort problems. Professionals use tools to determine air leakage and flow, and to evaluate insulation levels, windows, heating and cooling systems, and appliances. An energy analysis professional will ask you about home comfort problems and some provide independent quality assurance for work done by contractors.
Photo Courtesy of DOE/NREL, homes with solar photovoltaic system in Watsonville, California
A well-designed game plan will maximize your return on investment for efficiency improvements. A professional analysis will detail the most cost-effective improvements and the predicted energy savings. More often than not, doing a combination of improvements will produce the best energy savings. Actual savings vary for each home, but it’s reasonable to achieve a 30-50% reduction in energy bills for leaky homes with old heating and cooling systems. As energy costs rise, this return on investment increases.
If your vision of energy conservation includes using candles instead of lights, and turning the thermostat down so the heat never kicks on, think again. A good energy analyst helps you take a whole-house approach to efficiency to solve home comfort problems while saving you money every month. With the proper upgrades, you will experience even temperatures throughout the home, eliminating cold/drafty rooms or the need to crank up the thermostat to keep warm.
Safety & Indoor Air Quality
Thinking about your home as an energy system is important for keeping your family safe and healthy. High efficiency heating equipment, for example, is closed combustion and eliminates the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning. An energy analyst can review potential safety issues in your home and suggest the appropriate corrective measures.
Indoor air quality can be up to five times worse than outdoor air. Making sure air flow is properly controlled and your home has adequate ventilation can improve indoor air quality significantly.
Energy efficiency is the quickest, cleanest and cheapest way to extend our energy supplies. Neither the coal nor the natural gas we depend on for heat and electricity is renewable.
What equipment is involved?
Energy analysts use a variety of tools to diagnose your home:
Blower doors quantify the air leakage of the home and help the analyst pinpoint where the leaks are.
Infrared cameras can give you a colored guide to your home’s hot spots and cold spots
A duct blaster determines the tightness of duct work.
Flow hoods measure air flow from supply and return air registers.
Air pressure gauges identify imbalances in air pressure throughout a home that can pose a safety risk or cause comfort problems.
Building simulation software simulates energy performance under typical weather conditions and estimates bill savings from various efficiency improvements.
Photo Courtesy of DOE/NREL, Researcher working in lab at NREL
Energy raters should be accredited by RESNET (http://www.natresnet.org).
Home Performance with ENERGY STAR is a certificate program that trains qualified contractors on whole-house energy improvements efficiency and requires quality assurance inspections. Learn more here: (http://www.austinenergy.com/energy%20Efficiency/Programs/homePerfCertificate.htm)
References, licensing, insurance
It is always important to speak with previous customers, check with the Better Business Bureau and ask for verification of the necessary licensing and insurance requirements. Download a home improvement hiring checklist from the Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro20.shtm).