A Performance and Comfort Evaluation of Your Home
What is an Energy Audit?
The quick answer is an energy audit is a scientific analysis of the amount of energy your home consumes. An analysis can be a simple air leakage test and insulation inspection which will normally take but a few hours, to a very detailed and in depth analysis and observations. An in depth audit can take up to 6 or 8 hours of data collection. Information of that detail is generally entered into a sophisticated software program to create a benchmark model of your home. As you make energy use changes to your home, you will be able to locate the efficiency of energy used and locate that efficiency on a nationally recognized scale.
Why would I want an Energy Audit?
As there are the numbers of human beings, there are motivations for wanting. Maybe a home is uncomfortable due to excessive heat, cold or draftiness. There may be a concern about the safety and efficiency of the combustion appliances used to heat or cool a home, heat water or cook food. Someone may have a deep concern about their carbon footprint, or want to install a solar voltaic or water heating system. Sources of indoor air may be questionable because of unpleasant odors or chronic respiratory illnesses.
What is a Blower Door test?
A blower door is the type of test equipment used to quantify and help locate where in your home you are leaking conditioned (heated or cooled) air. Conditioned air is air that you have spent energy and money on to heat or cool, depending on seasonal climatic conditions. As this air leaves your living areas, it needs to be replaced, and that takes additional energy and money. The blower door is set up in the opening of an unobstructed entry door to your home. A powerful fan is used to depressurize (remove the air from) your home, and calculations are made which determine how leaky your home is, and with further observation, where these leaks are occurring.
What does an Infrared camera do?
An infrared camera is a tool that creates a real time picture of heat. In home energy auditing, this tool is generally used during the blower door test. As a home is depressurized, the air forcibly being removed is being replaced by a new source. As the replacement air comes into the building, an infrared camera is used to “see” it. Once a leakage point has been discovered, we can spend a little time documenting the location and severity of the leak, and use this information to prioritize repair or retrofit work. One problem with an infrared camera is that in order to “see” the replacement air, it must be colder or warmer then the air being replaced. Depending upon the sensitivity of the camera being used, a temperature differentiation of about 15 degrees is necessary. Most infrared cameras cannot be used between late spring and early fall. During those seasons, a smoke pencil, or some sort of fog or smoke generating device is used to visually track air movement.
What is a Duct Blasting test?
A duct blaster is the type of test equipment temporarily installed to your homes ducting system that is used to quantify the efficiency of delivering conditioned (heated or cooled) air to various locations of your home. The ducting of a forced air system is theoretically a closed loop, consisting of a return, which takes indoor air, heats it at the furnace (or cools it at the heat pump), and a supply, that distributes it to specific locations such as bedrooms, kitchen, etc. As newly conditioned air is supplied, older air is returned, filtered, reheated or cooled, and resupplied. The problem with nearly all of these systems is that they are made of metal ducting that is loosely fitted together, un-insulated, and leak a great deal. This would not necessarily be a bad thing if both the supply and return ducts were contained within the conditioned (heated or cooled) structure, but often portions of both supply and return ducting may be located in unconditioned area, such as an attic, crawl space, garage, or unconditioned basement. This means that conditioned air may be leaking into these areas, or return air is being sucked out of these areas. This translates into wasted energy, money, and potentially breathing unhealthy air from your attic, crawl space or garage.
What is a Combustion Appliance Zone (CAZ) test?
A CAZ test is the protocol used to determine if any of your major combustion fuel appliances such as an oil or gas furnace, gas water heater, or gas stove are functioning as safely as they are designed. Many things can affect the performance of these devices, but what a CAZ test is looking for is if any of these appliances are creating an unhealthy or even dangerous indoor environment. Through a process of elimination, we can determine if any of these fossil fuel appliances, observed under general use and worst case scenarios are back drafting, are pulling exhaust fumes containing carbon monoxide into your living area. If we find this to be the case, you are notified immediately, and remedial action recommended based upon the urgency indicated.
What is a Lighting Audit?
A lighting audit is a simple calculation of the amount of wattage your home uses for your lighting needs. Simply put, the less wattage you use to meet your lighting needs, the less your electrical bills will be. As a tally and calculation is being done, an observation is made as to which existing lamps can substitute compact florescent or light emitting diode (LED) bulbs for incandescent bulbs. Energy efficiency is the goal.
Why do you want to see my energy bills?
Viewing your energy bills has a two-fold reason. The first is that some of the diagnostic equipment requires the current rates of energy costs to calculate the amount of money some of your homes inefficiencies are costing you.
The second reason is to generally calculate the amount of savings you may realize by making your home more energy efficient. Of course occupant behavior is an equally important determinant of both energy and monetary savings realized after repairs and changes are made.
Can my house ever get too tight?
The short, uninformed answer is yes. Building science has shown that a building requires a determined amount of fresh replacement air over a 24 hour period of time. This fresh air is not for the building, it is for the health of its occupants. The amount of fresh air required is scientifically calculated by determining the volume of the building and the number of its occupants. As a general rule of thumb, the number of bedrooms in a home determines the number of occupants. Pets are also factored into these calculations.
The tighter a home is, the less energy is needed to heat and cool. But that in turn creates the dilemma of controlling indoor air quality. Below a determined threshold of building leakage, indoor air quality becomes a health issue. At that point, mechanically assisted ventilation is required. This can be provided by installing Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRV) or Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV). This then opens up a whole new approach to heating and cooling ones home. Questions such as the efficiency of an HRV or ERV come into play and how to make up for lost thermal energy do to the inefficiencies of these units. Also, what then happens to the large BTU generating furnaces and heat pumps currently installed in a home? But these are good problems. It is much better to have a tight home and regulate and control the volume, temperature, and efficiency of replacement air, then not being able to control the volume, temperature and efficiency of replacement air due to uncontrolled building leakage.
What is a Retrofit?
Retrofitting, or Weatherization, is taking the information gleaned from the above described tests and coming up with a plan to make the home safer, healthier, more comfortable, and more energy efficient. Testing will determine what needs to be done, but homeowner priorities and budget will determine what gets done first, and how quickly. Needless to say, if the results of the CAZ safety test indicate a level of danger, that problem must always be addressed first and immediately. Otherwise, discussing the results of the testing with your auditor and/or retrofitter will help map out a strategy that works for you. This may involve air sealing, insulation installation, new or retrofitted doors and windows, ducting repairs or upgrades, furnace and water heater replacement, or possibly the addition of mechanical ventilation.
What else can a Retrofit do for me?
Aside from makeing your home more comfortable, safe and energy efficient, it could also provide the following. Financially investing in lowering energy use and efficiency may at a minimum help maintain or increase the value of a home in uncertain times. Driving down monthly utilitiy costs provide a sense of security and comfort knowing your investment is actually a ‘savings.’ It’s also important to consider that a properly maintained home will probably be easier to refinance or sell when needed.
How much does an Audit and/or Retrofit cost?
The cost of our home energy audits range from $320 to $1200 depending on the size of your home and the information you want.
The cost of retrofit work varies dramatically, based on uncovered conditions and a homeowner’s needs and desires. Costs can range from $2,000 to $20,000 or more. Various federal, state and utility incentives may apply.
If you have more specific pricing questions, please call (206) 242-3974 for details.
How do I sign up?
To learn more about Energy Auditing, schedule an In-Home Consultation today.