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Energy Assesments and Audits
Last Updated: 01/09/2009
Weather changes cost money! That's not news. One thing we can be sure of is that there will be weather! But the price of oil and gas is bouncing around like lacrosse ball in a handball court. You know it’s not going to get less expensive to stay comfortable. What can you do to make your home less of an energy hog? Turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater? That will work, but are there other, longer term approaches?
The replacement window manufacturers are shouting their advantages – “SAVE 50% ON YOUR HEATING BILL!” Insulation and heating equipment contractors are claiming they have the answer. Then there are all the “widget” solutions – solar, ground water heat pumps, radiant panels. You have a bucket load of possibilities. What do you do first?
The best place to start is to know where you are. A comprehensive energy analysis will provide you with information on how well your home is working now and what steps can be taken to improve its performance. There are some wonderful tools that are like taking your house to the doctor for a physical. A “blower door” is a large fan that mounts in the doorway of your house, temporarily replacing the existing door. The technician operates the fan to pull the air out of the house, depressurizing it. Air is pulled back into the house through existing holes and cracks. How hard the fan has to work tells the technician (and you) how big those holes and leaks are and the performance can be compared to other homes of a similar size. It also tells you where those holes and leaks are so you (or a contractor) can seal them up.
A “duct fan” can do the same thing for your heating system (if your heat is distributed by warm air). The duct fan pressurizes the ducts and lets the technician (and you) how leaky the ducting system is. Keeping the air in the ducts will improve the delivery of heat to where it is supposed to go, reduce the cost of heating, and make your home more comfortable.
Infrared imaging can “see” the heat leaving your house. It is a special camera that can look at the infrared signature of a wall or roof or floor and show you exactly where insulation is missing or incorrectly installed or has settled over time. They can even show you if there is moisture behind the wall that should be address.
Furnace test equipment has come a long way in the past twenty years. These devices can show you how efficient your present furnace is and whether or not it should be replaced. It can measure leaks of deadly carbon monoxide that should be dealt with immediately for the health of all the occupants.
Some technicians have equipment to measure the pressure difference between the house and an attached garage to make sure the pollutants from the garage are not flowing into the house. Some have air flow measuring equipment to be sure that the exhaust fans in the home are moving an adequate amount of air to the outside. With all of this information you can make informed decisions on what to do first. It may be that sealing up the air leaks to the attic is the best place to start. It may be the air leaks in the duct work. Remember that the house is a system – making changes to one component will affect other components. It makes sense to reduce the energy load of your house before your replace the heating system. Replacing the heating system and then reducing the load will mean that the heating system will be oversized and won’t run efficiently.
Some utilities are providing free energy assessments, and as you can imagine, they are pretty busy at the moment. You will want to ask for a “comprehensive” energy audit and ask if they do blower door testing. Independent contractors can charge from $200 to $1,200 for an assessment or audit depending what they are required to do and how busy they are. It is a very worthwhile investment. Houses are complex and a major investment. Their purpose is to keep you comfortable and healthy and protect you from the elements. It’s worth investing a few dollars to know how to keep it running right. It’s good for you and good for the planet.

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