Discounted Seattle energy audits help homes become energy efficient
Seattle Angie's List member Dan Carpenter says he plans to stay in the 1924 Craftsman home he recently purchased for at least 10 years, but not without making significant upgrades. "There are all sorts of issues with the lack of insulation, and leaky doors and windows," he says.
In December, Carpenter took advantage of a Seattle City Light program that offers utility customers home energy audits for $95 - a $300 savings over typical market rates for a similar audit.
"We encourage energy efficiency because it's cheaper to save a kilowatt hour of electricity than it is to develop a new resource," says SCL program manager Andrew Gibb. The program, funded by federal stimulus dollars and introduced in 2009, offers SCL customers a comprehensive evaluation of their home's energy costs, energy loss areas and recommended improvements. Utility customers can select an auditor from a list of preapproved certified energy audit companies, which are reimbursed the difference in market rates.
Carpenter says that although he hasn't enacted any of his home's recommended improvements, such as new windows, doors and additional insulation, the audit provided a plan of action. "It identified problem areas and gave me some different ideas about how to improve my home's efficiency," he says.
Typically, homeowners don't follow through on the recommendations, says Brent Foster, owner of highly rated Northwest Infrared in Olympia, Wash. Often with energy audits, he says, inspectors place too much emphasis on upgrading high-dollar items, such as furnaces and windows, that typically take years to produce returns via energy savings. "For most people, there's not a lot of money sitting around, so I look more for short-term or immediate improvements," says Foster, who works outside SCL's service area and charges $350 for an audit.
He lists sealing leaky air ducts, stopping chimney drafts and closing off doors to under insulated rooms as the most effective short-term efficiency improvements.
Philip Showstead of Seattle took advantage of SCL's discounted energy audits by hiring highly rated Habitat Home Energy Audits in Seattle. He also followed through on the improvements by investing $4,900 in new insulation. "We noticed a huge difference in energy costs," Showstead says. "Our winter heating bill was cut almost in half."
Ryan Potter, owner of highly rated GreenPoint Home Performance in Bothell, Wash., agrees that convincing homeowners to make changes poses the biggest challenge. "If you don't have the money for major upgrades, you don't have the money," he says.
His audits evaluate major systems, Potter says, but also emphasize smaller details, such as sealing plumbing and electrical holes in walls, caulking gaps in a home's envelope, and insulating and sealing attics and crawl spaces.
When hiring a home energy auditor, Potter and Foster suggest hiring one certified by the Building Performance Institute (bpi.org) and one that's independent of companies that actually make the repairs or improvements.