Dwelling power audit: The perfect cash I’ve ever spent
Previously, the 116-year-old Victorian that my husband and I bought in the summer seemed to be holding up well in the New England winter. But when the cold snap ended, we called insulation companies. One contractor recommended carrying out an energy audit before starting work. That advice made a huge difference.
“Audits are important to homeowners because they provide solutions that are based on proven construction science,” said Ely Jacobsohn, who manages the Home Performance With Energy Star program at the US Department of Energy. “Finding the root cause of problems rather than just treating symptoms.”
In our case, we selected an auditor from a list of local professionals approved by our electricity supplier. For $ 149, a team of technicians inspected every inch of our home using a blower door machine to measure airflow and identify the source of the draft.
They examined the stove, plumbing, insulation, and windows, and then sealed air leaks on each floor. Technicians also installed LED light bulbs, low flow shower heads, and weather protection in the windows, and caulked the perimeter of our family room, bedroom, and office.
Not every energy audit is this thorough, explained Joan Glickman, who manages the Energy Department’s Home Energy Score program. Audits, she said, can range from a simple visual inspection of your heating system to more elaborate diagnostic tests like the blower door test or using infrared cameras for thermal imaging.
Glickman recommends selecting an auditor to provide a home energy score that assesses the efficiency of your home based on its age, size, and heating, cooling, and water systems. The score ranges from one to 10, with 10 indicating the lowest energy consumption. It estimates how much energy your home will use in a year, depending on the size of your family and the weather in the area.
“It gives you a trusted, credible source of information from the Department of Energy,” Glickman said. “We’ve tested this tool tremendously, so we know it’s very accurate.”
Our big, old draughty house got an A. My husband and I knew when we closed the house that we would have to replace as many windows as the historic heritage protection agency would allow. We have exchanged six since we moved last August. Single-pane wooden windows are not exactly energy efficient, even with storm windows, explained a technician during the audit.
However, he cautioned against focusing on the windows as the return on investment would be much longer than propping up the insulation in the house. In the report we received after the audit, it was agreed that adding insulation in the basement and in the attic would be the most useful to improve our score. More importantly, we would save money on heating and cooling the house.
“After an audit, homeowners should work with their contractor to find out and focus on their top priority in the home,” said Jacobsohn. “The contractor should be able to help them find funding in the form of discounts or financing.”
The good news is that our state, like many others, offers discounts on installing insulation. Many states and utility companies also offer low-cost finance for energy efficiency renovations. To see what is available in your state, visit the State Incentives for Renewable Energy and Efficiency Database at www.dsireusa.org.
Ideally, we should have had an energy audit carried out before buying our house. That way we would have known what to expect and could have used the results to negotiate with the seller. Maybe we could have saved ourselves the hefty heating bill that came in last week.
Glickman encourages buyers to schedule an audit alongside their home inspection, but said the assessment is valuable regardless of when you do it.