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 first of a three-part series on the experience.
Last month as I stared out over the poorly insulated expanse of my attic, I contemplated the irony of the situation: I had spent several years ‘greening’ my home by using non-toxic paints, formaldehyde-free Forest Stewardship Council certified floors, recycled countertops…the list goes on.
But there was this one thing that was bugging me – I knew my home was not energy efficient. It was drafty and the bills were high. Fear of the unknown had paralyzed me, but after seeing bare floor in my attic where insulation should be, I decided it was time.
Not knowing what to do first, I contacted my local green building store, Indigo Green and received a recommendation to call an energy auditor to get a better understanding of where my home’s energy problems really were. So, I followed the expert’s advice and contacted Green Energy Options. I was able to get an appointment within a few days and our journey began!
I opted to go for the full home energy analysis; I figured that if I am investing in getting these questions answered, I might as well get them answered completely. I am so glad that I did. It takes about four hours to do a full assessment, although mine took about six, as I followed them around pestering them with questions. For those that want to do a quick assessment of your home’s energy use, try the Home Energy Yardstick.
The auditors tested for air leaks throughout our house; checked our ducts and insulation; the safety of our gas fueled appliances, and more. My favorite part was when they used an infrared camera to look at the walls to determine areas where insulation was missing, or air sealing was poor. I got to play with the camera and confirm what my husband always claimed: he has cold feet!
Besides geeking out on the cool equipment, I learned a lot from the energy auditors; they answered my questions, and took me on an energy tour of my home.
They turned up a number of serious issues, most worrisome being our old furnace; which was pumping carbon monoxide into my garage at an alarming rate. Carbon monoxide is odorless and deadly, and letting that furnace run was a serious hazard to my family’s health. We immediately turned it off, put on jackets, and made plans for a new one.
Following the audit, they sent me an 18-page document describing our energy use trends, summarizing issues in my home and prioritizing what we should do first. There were 6 items on the list in order of priority:
- Air conditioner/furnace upgrade
- Air sealing
- Attic insulation
- Duct and air handler sealing
- Low-cost no-cost measures
- Window replacement
I was surprised that the first thing on the list wasn’t buying new windows and doors; but getting a new heating and cooling system was on the list, due to safety issues with my furnace. (It was 22 years old so not a complete shock).
I was also surprised I wasn’t overwhelmed by the list. I was actually excited because now I knew what needed to be done, and what was most important.
My biggest lesson from this part of the process was how important it is to work with professionals who can easily identify problem areas, and address both safety and energy efficiency. The company we worked with charged a fee, but in some states, this service is free or subsidized. Be sure to check out what rebates and incentives are available from your local utility company, as well as state and federal programs. For low-income families, the Weatherization Assistance Program is a great option to reduce energy bills.
I learned so much about energy efficiency, safety, and low-cost changes that will lower my bill and reduce my family’s carbon footprint. I am going to continue to share my journey of making my home energy efficient through a multi-part blog series. Stay tuned for my next post about how we followed through on the auditor’s recommendations, as well as some tips to improve energy efficiency in your home without spending much money.
(Image: Energy auditors test Stephanie’s hot water heater for carbon monoxide. Image credit: Photo by Stephanie Wear)