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My Home Energy Audit – Keeping warm and saving money

8 Comments

Ridgid foam insulation added in the attic dormerThe cold weather this winter made me follow up on something I had been thinking of doing for a while - have an energy audit done for my home. Before starting this process I knew that my home, built in 1913, had some cold spots, but I assumed it would do pretty well on the audit because it had been entirely remodeled less then 10 years before with new insulation and drywall through out. But what I learned about my house from the audit made me wish I had done it years ago.

A basic level audit involves energy professionals conducting tests on your house to determine what changes you should make to help your heating system work more efficiently, and keep the heat inside your home longer. Making the improvements suggested by the audit can help you save energy and money on heating bills, as well as makes your home more comfortable.

Blower door testIn Oregon we are uniquely lucky because a basic home energy audit can be obtained for free through the Energy Trust of Oregon. In addition the Energy Trust offers cash incentives for many of the improvements you can make to improve your homes efficiency. The first step to get started is to contact the Energy Trust to find a "trade ally" who can do the testing. It is important to use a trade ally, who is a contractor trained and licensed by the Energy Trust, if want any of the improvements you make to your home to be eligible for cash incentives from the Energy Trust. You can use the search tool on the Energy Trust's web site to find a trade ally that can perform an energy audit by entering "Home Performance" in the search field.

For my energy audit I worked with Green Energy Specialists, Inc, a contractor who specializes in weatherization. The first test they conducted was called a "Blower-Door Test", which tested the leakiness of my house. The test involved attaching a large, high-powered fan fitted into a tight gasket across my front door. The fan sucks air out of the house at a high velocity, which pulls outdoor air in though all the cracks and gaps in the outside walls. The result is that you are able to walk around the house and feel a distinct (and in some places quite significant) breeze in all the places where the house leaks. I was absolutely amazed by the amount of air that was coming in around the window trim, though electrical outlets and recessed can lights, the built in box-seat and worst of all the dog-door. My house was so leaky that it was difficult to get a proper read-out on the test. The result of all of these small cracks and holes was equivalent to leaving a large window open all year long.

Mastic used to seal the joints in the duck workThe second test conducted was a "Duct-Blast Test" where equipment is used to test how much of the air coming from our furnace is lost through leaks and joints in the ducts before it ever reaches the space it is meant to heat. Although the physical evidence of this test was not as impressive as the Blower-Door Test, the test found that an astounding 30% of our heat was being lost into our unheated basement! The final part of the energy audit involved a physical inspection of our house in general, as well as our furnace and hot water heater. Part of this inspection found that the dormers in our finished attic contained no insulation at all.

At the end of the audit it was determined that there were a lot of easy improvements that could be made to our house, and the good news was that the Energy Trust offered financial incentive for most of them - including weatherization and sealing of leaks, duct sealing, insulation and replacing windows. The estimate from Green Energy Specialists estimated that about 75% of the work they were proposing would be covered by either the Energy Trust incentives or Oregon tax rebates.

Caulk used to seal air leaks around windowsAfter the audit I followed up with the recommended improvements, and I can't believe the difference it has made. The work included sealing up all of the joints in our duct work with a pliable substance called mastic, caulking around all of our windows and other leaky areas, adding insulation to the attic and creating a weather-tight seal around the dog-door. The very first time the furnace kicked on after the ducts had been sealed, it was immediately obvious that there was much more air coming out of the heating vents. As a result the house heated up almost twice as fast, requiring the furnace to run for half as long. In addition, with the weatherization and sealing around our windows and doors, we are not loosing all the warm air as quickly either.

In the end, the work we had done, after the Energy Trust incentives and tax rebates cost less then $1,000. Obviously every house is different - so the amount of improvements required and the amount of incentives available form the Energy Trust will vary. In addition, some of the incentives for air and duct sealing are based on the amount of improvement achieved (a second Blower Door Test and Duct Blast Test is conducted at the end of the process to measure the difference). Currently the amount of money available from the Energy Trust is quite high, but is likely to go down over time as more people take advantage of their programs. So if this is something you are considering doing to your own home, there is no better time to get started.

To contact the Energy Trust visit their web site at www.energytrust.org or call (503) 493-8888. If you have questions about energy improvements you would like to make to your home and you think might need a permit, contact BDS to learn more.

Debbie Cleek,

Development Services

8 Comments

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1

Battic Door

February 24, 2009 at 2:44 AM

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 of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling.

Whole House Fans and Air Conditioning Vents

Much like attic stairs above, when whole house fans are installed, a large hole (up to 16 square feet or larger) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only the drafty ceiling shutter between you and the outdoors.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan shutter seal. Made from white textured flexible insulation, the shutter seal is installed over the ceiling shutter, secured with Velcro, and trimmed to fit. The shutter seal can also be used to seal and insulate air conditioning vents, and is easily removed when desired.

Fireplaces

Over 100 million homes, in North America are constructed with wood or gas burning fireplaces. Unfortunately there are negative side effects that the fireplace brings to a home, especially during the winter heating season. Fireplaces are energy losers.

Researchers have studied this to determine the amount of heat loss through a fireplace, and the results are amazing. One research study showed that an open damper on an unused fireplace in a well-insulated house can raise overall heating-energy consumption by 30 percent.

A recent study showed that for many consumers, their heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the drafts and wasted energy caused by fireplaces.

Why does a home with a fireplace have higher energy bills? Your chimney is an opening that leads directly outdoors -- just like an open window. Even if the damper is shut, it is not airtight.

Glass doors don’t stop the drafts either. The fireplace is like a giant straw sucking your expensive heated or air-conditioned air right out of your house!

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a Fireplace Plug to your fireplace. Available from Battic Door, a company known for their energy conservation products, the Fireplace Plug is an inflatable pillow that seals the fireplace damper, eliminating drafts, odors, and noise. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after.

Clothes Dryer Exhaust Ducts

In many homes, the room with the clothes dryer is the coldest room in the house. Your clothes dryer is connected to an exhaust duct that is open to the outdoors. In the winter, cold drafts in through the duct, through your dryer and into your house.

Dryer vents use a sheet-metal flapper to try to reduce these drafts. This is very primitive technology that does not provide a positive seal to stop the drafts. Compounding the problem is that over time, lint clogs the flapper valve causing it to stay open.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a dryer vent seal. This will reduce unwanted drafts, and also keeps out pests, bees and rodents. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.

For more information on Battic Door’s energy conservation solutions and products for your home, visit www.batticdoor.com or, to request a free catalog, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to P.O. Box 15, Mansfield, MA 02048.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark D. Tyrol is a Professional Engineer specializing in cause and origin of construction defects. He developed several residential energy conservation products including an attic stair cover and an attic access door. Battic Door is the US distributor of the fireplace plug. To learn more visit www.batticdoor.com

2

Dog Door

February 24, 2009 at 12:07 PM

The http://www.radiofence.com/dog-doors/petsafe-extreme-weather-pet-doors.htm might solve the problem. I got one and love it!

3

Sloan

February 26, 2009 at 2:07 PM

Hi Debbie - Congrats on your toasty new house! We love your story because it shows how small improvements quickly add up to major comfort improvements and cost savings.

We did want to offer one small clarification - the free Home Energy Review that you reference can be scheduled simply by visiting our Web site at www.energytrust.org/HER or by calling 1-866-368-7878. This is a great first step for homeowners to begin understanding their home's energy use and their options for greater energy savings (and to have up to 10 old incandescent light bulbs switched for free to compact fluorescents!). Then, if they'd like to pursue the more in-depth testing of a paid Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® - which includes a Blower Door Test, Duct Blaster test and personalized action plan - they should find and contact one of our trade ally contractors by visiting www.energytrust.org/findacontractor or by calling 1-866-368-7878.

Sloan Schang
Manager, Web Communications
Energy Trust of Oregon

4

mike rogers

May 16, 2009 at 5:30 PM

Good recommendations--there are a lot of simple things people can do. And there are deeper improvements that make homes more energy-efficient (and safer and more comfortable at the same time). Regarding the home energy audit, it’s important to get the right audit–accurate and actionable and looking at the right things like duct leakage, air infiltration, and equipment efficiency and combustion safety and an analysis of utility bills. For a bit more background on audits and additional links, follow my post at http://greenhomesamerica.wordpress.com/2009/05/07/home-energy-audits-2/

Thanks and good luck!
Mike

6

Manny

November 9, 2009 at 10:34 AM

wow, thats amazing! after reading this article, I called for an energy audit on my own home!
http://doitonabudget.com/start

7

Jack B

January 16, 2010 at 10:46 AM

How does one become a trade ally of the energy trust? I am taking my bpi certification at Portland state next week with this BPI Affiliate: http://www.everblueenergy.com/ and I am interested in pursuing full time work as an energy auditor. Thank you.

8

Libby Rollins

March 15, 2010 at 10:27 AM

That's so great you have free energy audits. Its been extra cold this winter and my house has some cold spots I've been avoiding. I'd like into fixing those for next time!
----
Libby Rollins
http://www.insuladd.com/paint-additive.html

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