Energy Audit, Part 2: Ducts and Leaks and Monoxide, Oh My!

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Published on February 19th, 2011  |  Discuss This Article  

Stephanie Wear recently had a complete home energy audit and took steps to ensure her home was as energy efficient as possible. This is the second post in a three-part series on the experience. You can read the first post here.

I recently posted about having an energy audit done in my home to identify what was causing our high utility bills every month. My answer? Through the roof!

Whatever conditioned air my aging furnace was able to produce, seemed to go straight to my barely insulated attic, in some cases, directly through holes in my ceiling that were hidden by light fixtures. By the end of the audit, I had a new relationship with my house. I thought I knew it well – but the veil was lifted – its secrets were revealed to me in the form of charts and graphs and photo evidence.

Fortunately, my energy auditor provided me with exactly what I needed: priorities!

Faced with dropping temperatures, even in Florida, we knew that our first priority was to replace the heating and cooling. The energy auditors were clear: we were not to turn on our furnace due to safety issues related to toxic fumes. So we immediately called three companies and went through the competitive bidding process.

Even though I am a big comparison shopper, I found it extremely difficult to determine the most cost effective option. One message that came through repeatedly was that it was all about the installers, and so we finally went with the company we felt most confident about.

Need help deciding? Check out some great tips for choosing a contractor.

Within 2 weeks of the audit we were back in business with a new high efficiency system that promises to reduce my bills substantially. I’ll be putting that to the test all year as I track and compare bills over the year. As part of the installation, we also had our ducts repaired and sealed (and called an exterminator for the rats that had apparently chewed holes in our ducts…I wondered if the good news would ever end?)

Repairing ducts is something that can be done yourself with just a bit of guidance from your local do-it-yourself store. I should note that we were lucky to have this done in 2010, when the Federal government and our local utility company were offering big incentives to improve the efficiency of your home. This cut our costs by about 30 percent overall.

With air leakage being one of the biggest energy hogs in a home, (accounting for up to 20% of the heating and cooling bill), we knew we needed to tackle the other air leaks next. Many leaks had been identified throughout the house – the priorities being those that leak directly to the attic, since we needed to address those before installing insulation. We were in a hurry, so we hired a professional to seal air leaks and prep the attic for insulation.

Finally — to the insulation. I can’t figure out how my home passed code and multiple inspections with so little insulation.  Lesson learned: don’t assume you are as insulated as you should be based on a realtor’s home inspection. Find out!

I can’t even count the number of hours I spent looking at insulation options and comparing cellulose to fiberglass.  Originally I had planned to insulate my attic with blue jeans; I imagined an attic full of Levis that had once wandered the earth and lived a good life. A call to my local green building store, Indigo Green, squashed that vision.

For my situation, a blown-in insulation was best, and the storeowner recommended GreenFiber, a newspaper-based product. I wanted a green option and to avoid products that had cancer-warning labels. After reading pros and cons, I was confident going with the cellulose option. And, there was added good news: for once, the greener option wasn’t more expensive!

Even though you can install this insulation yourself, we opted to have a professional installation because of family asthma issues (cellulose is dusty). We insulated to R-38, which is what the Department of Energy recommends for where we live (check out their map to find out how much you need).

The R-value indicates the thickness of the insulation. It should be noted, that we initially received installation estimates for R-19, which was the minimum. If you work with professionals, be sure to make your insulation goals clear.

It took about 2 hours, and voila… instant cozy home. It was hard to believe at first what a difference all that insulation made, but we have quickly gotten used to it. For the first time ever, I am looking forward to my utility bill – I can’t wait to see the results! Stay tuned for my next blog on 21 low-cost ways to improve efficiency and other tips.

Read part one of this series here.

(Image: Insulation roll. Image credit: Flickr/Chimothy through a Creative Commons license.)

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4 Responses to “Energy Audit, Part 2: Ducts and Leaks and Monoxide, Oh My!”

  1. Thrifty Shopper says:

    So how much did all of this cost? Sounds expensive. Did they estimate any energy bill savings or are you just doing this to be green?

    This matters a lot to some people.

  2. Stephanie Wear says:

    @Thrifty Shopper: You are absolutely right – cost is a huge factor! In our case we had to get a new HVAC system – that was the biggest cost. We were able to take advantage of rebates and reduced those costs significantly. It is important to look into local incentives when you consider energy improvements. We are already seeing significant savings in our bill – down $80 last month. In my next blog I describe ways to improve efficiency ranging from no cost to low cost to bigger ticket items. Stay tuned!

  3. Kurt Johnsen says:

    Stephanie,

    Thank you for running this blog. Many folks will find it helpful and inspirational. It sounds like you are hiring independent contractors for each phase of the work. There are dangers to this approach that you may want to alert your readers to. If you do new air conditioning first you may get the standard size for your house which will be way over-sized after you do all of the energy efficiency improvements you mentioned. That would waste money and leave you with a clammy, uncomfortable house because the unit will not run long enough to remove the humidity. If you put deep cellulose insulation in your attic it will be very difficult to add or remove recessed lights, add a solar tube, or do anything else up there. An experienced contractor can recommend things that you may not have thought of and help to avoid the mistakes you might make trying to go it alone. I hope you will consider or at least mention solar hot water and or solar electric as ways to close out the gap in your energy bills that can’t be done with energy efficiency improvements alone.

  4. Stephanie Wear says:

    Kurt-
    Thank you for your comments. You point out some important aspects of this sort of endeavor. It is very important to work with professionals that know what they are doing so that you avoid the problems you describe. There are some things that are clearly ‘do it yourself’ – but in our situation – we left the things you describe to the experts. Before installing insulation – we considered all possibilities in terms of future lighting and solar tubes. In the tips that are posted next, we don’t include solar water heaters as an option – but would appreciate it if you would post your recommendation in the comments. I will look at including a special blog on solar water heaters as our journey continues to increase efficiency in our home. Thank you for your comments here!

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