Energy Audits: What Homeowners Need to Know

A home energy audit can help you save money and energy. Here’s what experienced energy rater Ken Riead had to say about the process.


| May 27, 2009



Window and Insulation

An energy audit can help you determine which home energy improvements are worthwhile for your home. For example, many people consider installing more energy efficient windows, but adding insulation to your home is likely to save more money and energy.


ISTOCKPHOTO/LANICA KLEIN

Finding ways to heat and cool your home more efficiently has many benefits. To name a few: Home energy improvements can lower your heating and cooling bills, reduce your carbon footprint and make your home more comfortable. What’s not to love?

But while some energy improvements are cheap (changing your furnace filter), others are expensive (buying a new furnace). And although some of those larger projects may end up saving a lot of energy and money, it’s not always easy to know whether a specific project makes sense for your home, or which projects you should tackle first.

This is where an energy audit comes into the picture. An energy audit can help you decide which projects should be your highest priority, and which ones you might not want to do at all. So what’s involved in a home energy audit, and does it make sense for you?

To answer these questions and more, I talked to a home energy rater, Ken Riead of Hathmore Technologies, LLC in Independence, Mo. Riead does energy audits and has trained other energy auditors and energy raters.

So who should have an energy audit?

Everyone. In fact, new houses typically aren’t as well constructed as the older houses. They can leak more air, causing health and comfort problems, and the quality of the wood and other building components can be poor. Insulation is often very sloppily installed and, in many cases, missing entirely. Most homeowners aren’t knowledgeable about how to look for these problems and how to properly correct them if they find them. Actually, the same problems found in single family homes also occur in duplexes, townhomes, condominiums, apartments and other forms of residences. However, to keep things simple I will use the terms “home” or “residence” from here on.

I would submit that unless your home is an Energy Star home or has undergone energy testing you will likely experience high energy bills and comfort problems, so it is well worth doing an energy audit.

doris honeyman
6/24/2011 11:23:42 AM

When you book an energy audit, be sure to tell them if you have vermiculite insulation in the attic. They were unable to do the blower fan door test at my home because of this. Had I known this beforehand, I would not have gone ahead as I only got limited info from it at a considerable price.


jo _4
8/25/2010 1:31:46 PM

I think it is great that many local energy companies are providing free or low cost energy audits. In my area, they are also providing assistance to make some of the recommended updates. Just a word of warning though. You still need to be aware of who is paying them, even if it is the power company. I recently had one funded by the local gas company. He did a great job looking at my heating system, water heater, and shell of the house, the things that affect the gas usage. But, he ignored the electric usage. I have 24 cam flood lights. They produce a ton of heat. In fact, they are the only heat in my finished basement and it only takes about 10 minutes with 6 of them to make it comfortable down there. He never even mentioned the type of light bulds in them. Just be sure you understand what you are getting so you are not surprised. These guys are very knowledgable. Ask them lots of questions. Most of them are willing to answer specific questions.


mike rogers_1
6/14/2009 8:22:21 PM

Good post and recommendations. The energy audit alone won’t save you energy–making the recommended improvements will. I particularly like your caution about new windows. And regarding the audit it’s important to get the right audit–accurate and actionable and including key areas like combustion safety, infiltration, and duct leakage. For a bit more background and additional links, follow my post at http://greenhomesamerica.wordpress.com/2009/05/07/home-energy-audits-2/ Thanks, Mike


shelley r
6/7/2009 8:04:33 PM

I work with BPI certified contractors who provide free audits for low income homeowners through a state grant program. The energy audits offered through HUD or Department of Energy funded grant programs are normally conducted by certified, experienced individuals who are being fairly compensated through the grant program (est. $500 - $750 per audit, as stated in your article). Consumers should beware, however, of renovation companies offering very low cost or "free" audits. These audits are "loss leaders", to get their sales people into private homes under the guise of helping to save on energy bills. Many of these companies are BPI accredited, and will conduct the audit exactly as described in your article. The catch is that they are also receiving incentive payments (essentially corporate kickbacks) every time they sell a specific brand of Energy Star rated product. The software used to interpret blower door and other audit results can easily be manipulated to predict an inflated return on investment. This is often the case with windows, which, as your article points out, often do not translate into significant energy savings. Energy audits are an excellent tool for saving on heating costs and reducing our carbon footprints, and I certainly do not wish to discourage anyone from accessing this invaluable resource. Homeowners should be cautious of free or low cost audits, unless the audit is part of a reputable state or federal grant program. Low interest loans offered by local power utilities are NOT grants, and the incentives paid to the auditor/sales person are often the same. Honest, unbiased home energy assessments are conducted by individuals who are being fairly compensated for the audit itself, so paying less than $400 should be a red flag for homeowners. You do get what you pay for, and too many people pay for their free energy audits with expensive renovations that will not actually bring energy savings.


terry bladorn
6/3/2009 10:49:09 PM

Wow! who let mark tyrol (above) out of his spam cage? anyway, shameless advertising aside...I had an energy audit done in 2007 and just the top three suggestions from the energy rater saved pretty big on heat (about $400 my first heating season). They recommended bringing my attic insulation up to R50 (Done with blow in celulose), replaceing the 25 yr old furnace with a direct vent (Ouch this cost $4K) and plug and stop using the prefab fireplace (plugged it with a chimney balloon and I do not use it anymore). Payback will take a few years but to save $400 even though the price per therm went up...that was pretty good.


b knight
5/29/2009 8:51:41 AM

Very good article. An official energy audit is always worth getting. Check into rebates and grants before booking an audit to see if the grants require your auditor to have a specific certification. If you only want a "small" DIY job, there are plenty of sites on the internet that show you how to perform your own air-leak test.. ( http://www.greenterrafirma.com/diy-home-air-pressure-test.html ) and how to follow-up with sealing air leaks... ( http://www.greenterrafirma.com/InsulateShell.html ) Professional audit, or DIY... either way, the important first step is to get " around to it" !


mark tyrol
5/29/2009 5:13:12 AM

Imagine leaving a window open all winter long -- the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan or AC Return, a fireplace or a clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day. These often overlooked sources of heat loss and air leakage can cause heat to pour out and the cold outside air to rush in -- costing you higher heating bills. But what can you do about the four largest “holes” in your home -- the folding attic stair, the whole house fan or AC return, the fireplace, and the clothes dryer? Attic Stairs An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an attic stair cover. An attic stair cover provides an air seal, reducing the air leaks. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling. Whole House Fans and AC Returns An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan cover. Installed from the attic side, the whole house fan cover is invisible. Cover the fan to reduce heating and air-conditioning loss, remove it when use of the fan is desired. Fireplaces A recent study showed that for many consumers, their heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the air leakage and wasted energy caused by fireplaces. An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a fireplace draftstopper. Available from Battic Door, a company known for their energy conservation products, a fireplace draftstopper is an inflatable pillow that seals the damper, eliminating any air leaks. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used. Visit www.batticdoor.com for more info.


mark tyrol
5/29/2009 5:12:23 AM

How To Stop Drafts and Save On Energy Bills Imagine leaving a window open all winter long -- the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding pull-down attic stair, a whole house fan, a fireplace or clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day. Drafts from these often overlooked holes waste energy and cost you big in the form of higher energy bills. Drafts are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home. Drafts occur through the small cracks around doors, windows, pipes, etc. Most homeowners are well aware of the benefits that caulk and weatherstripping provide to minimize energy loss and drafts. But what can you do about drafts from the four largest “holes” in your home -- the folding attic stair, the whole house fan, the fireplace and the clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes. Attic Stairs When attic stairs are installed, a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood. Your attic space is ventilated directly to the outdoors. In the winter, the attic space can be very cold, and in the summer it can be very hot. And what is separating your conditioned house from your unconditioned attic? That thin sheet of plywood. Often a gap can be observed around the perimeter of the attic door. Try this yourself: at night, turn on the attic light and shut the attic stairway door -- do you see any light coming through? If you do, heated and air-conditioned air is leaking out of these large gaps in your home 24-hours a day. This is like leaving a window or skylight open all year ‘round. An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an insulated attic stair cover. An attic stair cover seals the stairs, stopping drafts and energy loss. Add the desired amount






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