Our local electric utility, Seattle City Light, offers subsidized home energy audits. Since we knew we were going to be doing upgrades on our house, we decided to take advantage of this opportunity to get some help prioritizing our efforts to make our house more energy efficient. It’s kind of a no-brainer: making our house more energy efficient will save us money, reduce our environmental impact, and make the house more comfortable to live in. We put in our request with the city, and I think it may have been about 6 months (maybe longer, I wasn’t keeping track) before we got the green light. They sent over a voucher for a full home energy audit (typically a $400 service) for only $95 out of our pocket, along with a list of certified home energy auditors. I decided on Charlie Rogers from Habitat Home Energy Specialist because he has excellent reviews on Angie’s List and also because he doesn’t offer any services other than auditing. That might seem counter-intuitive at first, but it eliminates any potential conflict of interest. An auditor working for a company that also does insulation and duct sealing has an incentive to advise customers that those upgrades should be at the top of their list. I think it’s better if the auditor has nothing to gain from recommending certain upgrades over others.
The audit was done in March (yeah, it took me long enough to blog about it). It took a couple of hours and we really enjoyed it. Maybe that’s because we’re obsessed with remodeling our house and we always enjoy talking about that with people, especially people who are knowledgeable and give us advice about it. It might also have something with all the cool gadgets Charlie brought along. He didn’t mind us geeking out over his infrared camera and asking to use it to look at our dogs napping in their crates. What? - you know our dogs are our other obsession.
Charlie asked us some questions and then checked out every room of the house plus the crawl space and the attic. He did a blower door test using a fan and a computer to see how “leaky” the house is. Turns out it’s pretty leaky, but we now have a prioritized list to help us seal it up nice and snug (but not too snug - Charlie says the minimum is 0.35 ACH, which means 35% of the air in the house should be replaced with fresh air from outside every hour). This brings back some fond memories of calculating ACH in industrial hygiene class. But I digress.
Then we sat down and talked about his findings and recommendations, which was great because we could ask questions and discuss alternatives, like our fireplace-insert-as-furnace plan which is currently in motion instead of a super efficient but decidedly unromantic electric heat pump. We were already under agreement with the gas company to heat our house with gas, and if we don’t we would have to partially pay them back for installation of the gas line to the house. Not to mention how excited I am about the whole fireplace thing. Later that day, Charlie emailed us a 16-page report which included the following:
- annual estimated energy use and fuel costs (current home compared to what it could be if we do upgrades)
- summary of energy performance related elements (how good our house is with regard to air leakage, insulation, windows, appliances, etc.)
- a To Do list in order of cost-effectiveness
- some resources for info on tax rebates and rebate offers from local utilities for energy efficiency upgrades
- a very detailed list of recommended energy upgrades, including descriptions of the current condition of our house, what the upgrade would entail, typical cost of upgrade, expected savings in $ and kWh, and no-cost or low-cost strategies to make a dent without doing a full upgrade
Here are a few highlights from the report (sorry they’re hard to read at this size, but click ‘em for larger versions):
We could cut our energy costs by almost 50%. That would be pretty sweet.
In case you don’t feel like clicking to read that, it says Matt did a good job insulating the walls when he re-sided the house, and that for the full effect we should also insulate the wall between the house and the garage. In the infrared photo on the left, it shows the studs in the walls (dark color means cold - wood is a terrible insulator but there’s not much you can do about that) and the nicely insulated bays between the studs (light color means warm). The infrared photo on the right is much more interesting. The corner of the house sticks out a few feet beyond the garage, and you can see that Matt insulated the exterior wall but not the wall between the house and the garage.
The notes in red were added by me in case you’re curious what we plan to do. There is a lot more detail in the report, and it will be very helpful in planning our projects. A couple of the specific recommendations are things I wouldn’t have thought of and don’t show up in generic lists of energy upgrades. Our gas company also offers rebates like 50% off the cost of insulating floors and ceilings. We will be doing that as soon as we’re done messing around in the attic and crawl space.
If you want to save money and tread a little lighter on the planet, a home energy audit is a great first step. Check if your electric or gas company offers a program like this. It’s a good investment and kind of fun. Especially if your auditor is nice enough to send you infrared dog pictures. Thanks Charlie!