Kathy Blair felt like she had unusually high energy bills for her Noblesville, Ind., home compared to her neighbors, so in late 2010, Blair hired a professional energy auditor to provide a detailed assessment of where her home was losing energy. An energy audit can reveal simple and inexpensive ways to make a home safe, more efficient and comfortable, and reduce energy bills.
“I was getting very high electric bills, upwards of $300 and $400 a month,” Blair says. “That was way higher than other people in my neighborhood. We all have pretty much the same houses out here. I just felt like there was something wrong.”
A comprehensive energy audit should include a discussion between the homeowner and auditor about potential issues the homeowner has identified, as well as the homeowner’s goals from having the audit done. The auditor should then do a visual inspection of the home with the homeowner, followed by 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.
Albert Schinazi of Home Chek in Indianapolis says he can identify 80 to 85 percent of most energy problems with a visual walkthrough, but recommends complete testing for a more thorough analysis. Schinazi offers three levels of audits; a walkthrough only; blower door and duct leakage tests; and all three services, along with combustible appliance testing, which can determine if gas-fueled appliances are backdrafting poisonous carbon monoxide into the home.
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“What we do as auditors or assessors is look at the house as a whole system,” Schinazi says. “The first priority is to look at the health and safety issues. We’re not looking at components or separate parts. We’re not just looking at putting in windows, or insulation. We create a worst-case scenario to see if the house is going to backdraft. We don’t want to tighten up houses if those actions will make the house backdraft. Every time someone puts in a furnace, new windows, insulation, caulk or seals, you’re changing the dynamic in the home; the pressure, moisture and air quality. As auditors we’re looking at all of these things.”
The recommendations for Blair’s home included adding insulation and making alterations to her duct system for better performance. She estimates she saved $100 a month on her energy bills last year, despite a warmer-than-normal winter. She anticipates even larger savings this year.
“My bills were certainly a lot lower (last year), but we need another cold winter for me to see the effect overall of the savings,” Blair says. “It’s going to take some time, but I feel a lot better so far about not getting $400 bills in the middle of winter.”
Homeowners should do their research when seeking out an energy auditor. Some auditors offer to sell other products and services, posing 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. Schinazi is certified to perform energy audits on existing homes by the Building Performance Institute and on new homes by the U.S. Green Building Council. He is also a state-certified auditor.
“When I come into your home and do an audit, I’m going to tell you what I see from building science experience,” Schinazi says. “I’m not there to sell you insulation, a new heating system, windows, or anything else. In my mind, that’s a little bit of a conflict. How’s the homeowner to determine if (the company is) actually there to give them objective information? As an energy auditor, I am going to recommend products, steps and measures, but that’s strictly on the cost-benefit to the client based on my experience in the field and not on what kind of inventory I’m trying to move.”
A home energy audit should take several hours and the cost can range up to several hundred dollars, depending on the size of the home and scope of testing, but the cost of that recouped through monthly energy savings. Many local utilities offer free or reduced energy assessments, and incentives and rebates for audits. Indianapolis Power & Light, for example, offers a free online audit.
“Energy auditors will help you get to the most cost-effective, energy-retrofit measures that result in a healthy, safe, comfortable, energy efficient and environmentally sound home,” Schinazi says.