Energy Audit: Worth the $100?

by Lynn B. Johnson on July 18, 2013

Energy AuditMy husband and I bought a 1950s-era home last year and sank quite a bit of money into updating it. Even though our contractor and my husband have added rolls and rolls worth of insulation to our home, our utility bills have been higher than reasonable: particularly our gas bill in the winter (for heating) and our electric bill in the summer (for air conditioning).

We’ve gone through parts of our home squirting “Great Stuff” insulating foam sealant into the visible cracks but what more could we do? At our wits end to determine just where the heat/AC was leaking from our attic and sunroom, we contacted our electric utility supplier for a home energy audit.

Most electric utilities have some sort of an audit program; if you qualify for low-income status, you might even be able to sign up for free. As it was, we paid $100 on the day of our audit, and had to supply our technician with our recent utility bills.

Then began 2.5 hours of an intense walk-through of every portion of our home. This is not a process you want to undergo if you have any secrets in your house. Our auditor scoured our home from the basement to the attic and everywhere in between.

He asked permission to exchange our remaining non-CFL light bulbs with CFL bulbs, which we granted. We can expect to enjoy a savings of $29 per year due to these upgraded bulbs — and they were included for free with the audit. Not bad, considering they would have cost nearly $45 at my local home-improvement center. Suddenly, my $100 audit cost was reduced to $26.

The worth-its-weight moment was when he attached a door blower to our front door and switched it on. It brought air from all the parts of our home through the front door to outside. We felt a breeze from every room in the house: not a great sign.

The technician pointed out the particularly drafty areas of our home and recommended improvements to reduce our home air leakage “from 4765 CMF50 to 2200 CMF50,” which would allow enough fresh air after we implemented energy-saving improvements.  He suggested that we weather strip and insulate our attic doors and hatches, seal the plumbing duct shafts (“in a typical house… about 20% of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks and poorly sealed connections”), and seal the old milk door that is allowing our precious heat and AC to escape to the wind.

After talking to us about air sealing, he then showed us where we needed to add insulation. Turns out, the answer was “pretty much everywhere.” Although we’d been vigilant about updating the insulation in our home before and after we moved in, our efforts were paltry compared to every place that new insulation is needed:

  • Attic knee wall
  • Rim joist
  • Above grade wall
  • Vaulted ceiling
  • Three-season room (the reason we’d done the audit in the first place)
  • Attic

The estimated cost of which came out to $4,570. Ouch. On the bright side, we would recoup more than 10% of that cost in energy savings the first year. Also, it made the $100 we spent on the audit itself look like chump change. The technician left a report of specifically recommended improvements, including the number of inches of each specific type of insulation necessary for each area.

To ease the sting of that news, our energy audit also included a listing of health and safety measurements, which found 0ppm of carbon monoxide, no gas leaks, and an otherwise safe description of our home’s potential trouble spots.

All-in-all, while the news wasn’t terrific as far as our insulation is concerned, it was great to know that our HVAC systems were installed fewer than 10 years ago, and that they’re unlikely to kill us as we sleep. If you are concerned about the safety or energy-inefficiency of your home, I strongly advise you to contact your utility company today about scheduling an energy audit.

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