The 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.
In 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.
The 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.
After 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.