Now is perhaps good time for a house vitality audit – The Mercury Information
Since we bought our home in 2006, Matt and I have had at least 5,000 “What should we fix on our fixer-upper?” Conversations.
Our little North Oakland bungalow was built in 1910 and we love it. But it definitely needs help. First we tackled the seismic work on the foundation – it was a breeze. Next came the insulation of the attic. Then we had a baby and all other projects on our growing to-do list fell into a gaping black hole.
Nevertheless, the talks continued. We finally decided to do a home energy audit, in which a construction science specialist examines your house from top to bottom – heating and cooling systems, appliances, insulation, air leaks, lighting.
Older and even some newer houses usually have single pane windows, outdated heating and cooling systems, or inadequate insulation. Other homes can suffer from poor indoor air quality, mold, or uneven heating and cooling. An energy audit prioritizes which work should be carried out first, with the aim of saving energy costs and making your home more comfortable.
Now is a good time for an audit. Some energy efficient upgrades are eligible for tax credits of up to $ 1,500, due to expire on December 31st. Although PG&E has not actively marketed these, they are tacitly participating in a pilot program called Energy Upgrade California that is also being conducted offering discounts to homeowners who agree to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
Several companies in the Bay Area, including Sandium Heating & Air in San Jose, SolarCity in Foster City, and Energy Conservation Options in Oakland, are contractors for Energy Upgrade California in the PG&E area. We hired Recurve, a San Francisco-based company formerly called Sustainable Spaces. It has existed since 2004 and performs both energy audits and green energy conversions. A friend recommended them, and the Recurve website is always up to date with information on discounts and incentives available. The audit was $ 395, $ 295 back if you hire Recurve to work on your house.
The first step was to give Recurve our recent PG&E invoices so the company could get an idea of our gas and electricity usage. We don’t have a flat screen TV or air conditioning, and our PG&E bill for October was only $ 67.
The next step was the audit itself. Andrew Dunn, a polite 26-year-old from Georgia, arrived in a hybrid company car with bags of high-tech gear from his laptop and iPhone to a digital tape measure, thermal camera, and one Fan for the “blower door” test that would measure the airflow in our house. The son of a college builder studying physics and engineering, he approached our home like a giant puzzle waiting to be solved.
Dunn immediately saw things about our house that had completely escaped my attention. He found that the water heater was 14 years old and that its position in the kitchen near the stove was dangerous. He asked how many times we kept it waiting – the answer is never. He mentioned that the floor stove was likely drawing damp air from the crawl space under the house.
He turned on the fireplace in the dining room, which we never use – it was designed to burn coal, not wood. He asked us if we noticed that the chimney had no fireplace. I felt like an idiot: when the heat was on, every warm air in our house flowed straight up the chimney. (Our son Jasper explained that we had to keep the chimney open for Santa Claus for Christmas.)
He measured the length and width of every room in the house with a digital tape measure and entered all the information into his laptop. Recurve has developed software that models each house and evaluates its overall energy efficiency. He used the infrared camera to check the insulation in our walls. He ventured into the attic and climbed into the toddler room. He was looking for carbon monoxide.
Jasper and I went to a neighborhood park, and when we got home an hour later, our front door was covered with a large red vinyl curtain that had a powerful fan that blew air into the house. As you went inside, you could feel small tornadoes of air currents.
“They have a lot of leaks,” said Dunn. “The fireplace, the old cat door from the washroom, the water pipes under the sink. Sealing all of these leaks would be incredibly inexpensive. “
Dunn stayed in our house for about four hours. A few weeks later he came back with detailed tables. Recurve had been analyzing our energy bills for a full year and found that we spent more on gas than electricity for most months, which surprised me. Our house had good insulation in the walls and in the attic and our overall energy consumption was low. The main problem was the air tightness: we had to seal all the gaps and drafts in places like the chimney where warm air was coming out and cold air could get in.
“You want to make your home like a thermos,” said Dunn. “If you sealed all the leaks, you would really reduce your heating needs.”
Recurve then identified three options for working on our home. The first would cost us about $ 11,000, the second about $ 13,000, and the third about $ 15,000 – in our opinion “cheapest”, “middle of the road” and “chic”.
With each option, sealing the air leaks was a top priority. The second biggest recommendation was to replace the gas stove and add pipes and registers to each room, as well as replace the water heater. Each option offered slightly different possibilities: get a new stove and water heater without a tank, or a hydronic air handler instead of an oven.
We tortured ourselves for weeks – should we do this? Did it even make sense to make these energy efficient improvements since our energy consumption is low? We sent Dunn neurotic emails with detailed questions. he gave detailed answers.
We ended up going for it, but we’re still trying to choose between the three options. It’s exciting to think about getting as energy efficient as possible and hopefully qualifying for a tax credit and PG&E rebate while we’re at it.
Jasper also learned a lot from this process. The other day he was working in his play kitchen. “I’m checking my kitchen,” he said. “I found some leaks.”
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her on Twitter.com/danahull.