If you’re bracing for cold weather, you might want to do more than think about covering yourself up. Your home might need a little winter gear, and the best way to know what it needs is to have an energy audit.
Not convinced? Ask yourself these questions: How do your energy bills compare to your neighbors? Do you feel drafts when you move through your home? Are some rooms warmer or colder than others? Do you have any concerns about the quality of the air you’ll breathe once the storm doors and windows snap closed?
An energy audit can help identify what is causing the issues, how to correct them and how long it will take to get the return on your investment. Professional energy auditors offer comprehensive testing and analysis to determine the health and safety of a home, along with its energy usage.
“An energy audit is essentially is a very detailed, prioritized list of things you can do and how quickly you can be paid back for the changes and improvements you make,” says Tony Pray of Energy Savings Professionals in Lenexa, Kan. “When I come on site, the first thing I do is interview with the homeowner and get detailed information about their concerns. Then, I do a combustible appliance zone safety check. That’s actually the very first thing required for most safety audits. We check for gas leaks, carbon monoxide production from the furnace, hot water heater and any combustion appliances. We check for draft pressure in the furnace. If we do decide to tighten up the house, we don’t want to tighten it up so much to cause health problems, like backdrafting from carbon monoxide.”
After the combustion safety check, most auditors follow with a series of tests, including blower door tests, in which a fan is placed in the doorway to depressurize the inside of the home to help determine air leakages; testing of ductwork, humidity levels, air infiltration and insulation levels.
“When I turn on the blower door, it depressurizes the house,” says Albert Schinazi of Home Chek in Indianapolis. “I can walk around with a smoke stick and go room to room to see where the leakage is and immediately identify where the leak locations are.”
Often, the remedies to make the home more energy efficient can be simple, inexpensive fixes.
“In (the Midwest), for example, air sealing – weatherization – is a very quick payback,” Pray says. “(Think of air sealing as putting) a jacket over insulation. Something like putting a hot water heater blanket on a water heater might pay for itself in less than a year. It might cost you $30 and might save you $30 in less than a year; where replacing all the windows in the home might cost $6,000 and take 10 years to pay back, so it’s not as good of an investment. People think they need new windows, but unless they’re exceptionally leaky, they might only be part of the problem, but it might not be the entire problem. An energy audit will diagnose what the problems are and how to go about fixing them so you get the biggest bang for your buck.”
For many homeowners, there are additional incentives to have an audit done besides the potential energy savings. Though an energy audit can cost between $300 and $800, depending on the size of the home and scope of the testing, many utilities offer free or discounted audits or incentives to have them done. Pray, for example, says some utilities in Missouri are offering rebates to customers to pay for the cost of an audit and some qualifying homeowners can even have the energy improvement work done for free.
It’s important to do your research when seeking out an energy auditor. Some auditors offer to sell other products and services, like insulation, which poses a potential conflict of interest. Check the auditor’s history, ask for references and check certifications to ensure they’re properly trained to identify energy efficiency problems. Pray is a certified building analyst through the Building Performance Institute (BPI). Schinazi is certified to perform energy audits on existing homes by the BPI and on new homes by the U.S. Green Building Council.
“Be careful of what company you’re dealing with and make sure it’s a reputable firm,” Pray says. “One of the things I’d be careful of is an auditor that is tied to a particular company; one that’s there to sell insulation, windows or whatever that might be. I’m basically only selling my expertise.”
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, the nation’s most trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to healthcare.