Home Energy Audit 101

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Kissairis Munoz
December 1, 2010

Is the temperature between two rooms in your home significantly different? Do your energy bills remain high even when you make a concerted effort to reduce your family’s electricity use? Have you noticed mold in a room other than your bathroom?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are the perfect candidate for a home energy audit.

A home energy audit (also known as a home energy assessment) is the first step in determining how much energy your home is using. By pinpointing exactly where energy — and money — leaks are occurring, you can identify improvements that will make your home more energy efficient and comfortable while saving money and reducing long-term maintenance problems. The U.S. Department of Energy suggests that every $1 invested in an energy improvement project can save up to $4-7 in energy cost savings over the lifetime of the improvement. Those dollars can add up to significant savings.

How an Audit Works

During an energy audit, a professional auditor visits your home to do a room-by-room examination to evaluate how and where your home is losing energy. A professional will use equipment to test three different aspects of your home: its thermal envelope, which includes your home’s ceilings, doors, skylights, walls and windows to measure their resistance to heat flow; its leakage rate to discover how much outside air is infiltrating your home; and finally, your home’s mechanical systems, including HVAC systems and water heaters.

While there are guides to do-it-yourself home audits, there are advantages to having a professional come into your home. While you might overlook something like discoloration against a wall, an audit professional would know that it might actually be a sign of an unsealed gap letting in cold air. Professionals can also perform more detailed audits with advanced tools like infrared scanning and thermal imaging.

Choosing a Professional

Ready for your energy audit? First, contact your local utility company. Often times they might offer discounts or have recommendations for a particular auditor.  If not, a good place to start looking for one is at the Residential Energy Services Network or the Building Performance Institute. Don’t be reluctant to ask for references and contact them. Find out if others were satisfied with the work.

Get the Most Out of Your Audit

Once you’ve chosen your auditor, there are a few things you can prepare to ensure you get the most out of the visit. Before the professional arrives at your home, have your latest utility bills at hand and a list of any specific concerns. Also be ready to chat about your family’s lifestyle. Knowing these things beforehand will allow you to give the auditor a clearer picture of your home and tailor their recommendations based on your family’s needs and budget.

After the audit, the professional should provide you with detailed information on their recommendations and what improvements you can make. Some might be simple, low-cost solutions while might require more of an investment. Be sure to find out how long it will take for improvements to begin “paying for themselves.” And keep in mind that while the auditor can make recommendations, the progress and savings ultimately rests on what changes you choose to implement.

Remember, you don’t pay for energy you don’t use. By getting a thorough assessment of energy gaps in your home, you can make your home more energy efficient, lower your bills and be more comfortable. Happy auditing!