All About Energy Audits

December 5, 2012 Written by  Comments Print
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There’s no such thing as a perfect home; nearly every home has the opportunity to be more efficient. There are many ways we can make our homes more energy efficient, some of which are simple or obvious (like CFLs) others of which are not (like air sealing an attic floor). If you’re looking to gain a better understanding of your home’s energy usage and maximize your potential energy savings, a home energy audit should be your first step.

What is an Energy Audit?

An energy audit is an evaluation of a home and its systems in order to understand the nature of energy consumption and identify opportunities for increased energy efficiency or conservation. During an energy audit, an auditor will gather data about the home, make observations through visual inspection and perform diagnostic testing using professional equipment such as a blower door, infrared camera and combustion analyzer.

Energy auditors look at a house as a system. This means that in addition to inspecting each component of a home’s energy systems - lighting, appliances, plug loads, water heating, space heating, cooling and building shell - they will also pay attention to how each system affects the others and how the behavior of home’s occupants affect energy consumption as well. By the end of the inspection, an auditor will have a clear understanding on how energy is being used in a home and what is having an impact on energy consumption. They will also be able to make recommendations for improving energy efficiency while maintaining or improving a customer’s comfort, health and safety.

What does an Energy Audit Entail?

Although every auditor has their own process, here’s greeNEWit’s approach to energy auditing:

  1. Customer Interview and Walkthrough - Learn about the customer’s interests and concerns and take a quick tour of the house to get an idea of what we’re working with.
  2. Analyzing Energy Bills - Get a benchmark of overall energy consumption and usage patterns and determine baseload energy consumption (lighting, appliances, plug loads and water heating) vs. energy consumption attributed to heating and cooling.
  3. Exterior Inspection - Get a framework of the home’s layout, start collecting data and make observations about the exterior of the home.
  4. Interior Inspection - Collect data and make observations related to interior systems such as lighting, appliances, plug loads and health and safety issues. Also start to identify insulation levels of the home’s building shell.
  5. Attic Inspection - Determine insulation conditions, find sources of air leakage and identify health and safety hazards.
  6. HVAC Systems and Combustion Testing - Inspect the home’s heating and cooling systems, ductwork and water heater. Perform combustion safety testing on heating and water heating systems that burn gas, oil or propane.
  7. Blower Door Test - Using an infrared camera in conjunction with the blower door, determine how leaky the house is and identify the sources of air leakage.
  8. Summary of Findings and Reporting - Summarize the audit’s findings to the customer and discuss next steps including available rebate programs and contractor recommendations. Follow up with a detailed energy audit report.

How to Prepare for an Energy Audit

In preparation for an energy audit, have energy bills for the past 12 months readily available so the auditor can track usage and make note of any trends or significant increases. Also prepare a list of concerns or suspected problems. Pointing out several potential problem areas will help guide the auditor to make a better assessment of the home and ensure that the auditor addresses the things that are most important to you.

How Long Does it Take? How Much Will it Cost? 

The length and cost of an energy audit depends on two main factors: the size of the home and the presence of combustion appliances like gas or oil furnaces and boilers. An average energy audit can take anywhere from two to four hours and the typical cost can range from $300-$500. The best way to find out the approximate time and cost is to know how large your home is and what types of heating system you have. Then call an energy auditor to get an estimate of the cost and time it will take for the analysis to be completed. Calling multiple auditors also allows for price comparisons to be made.

Some regions, like Maryland, have utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs where the price of energy audits is subsidized or rebated by the utility company. When scheduling an energy audit, make sure to find out what programs exist in your area and make sure that the contractor you choose participates in the program. If you don’t know, ask your contractor or your utility company. For residents of Maryland looking to get an energy audit, the state’s energy department provides contractor information. To visit the Maryland Energy Administration’s energy audit page, click here.

Click the link to view last week’s blog The Truth About Heat Pumps or check back next week for more energy saving tips.