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  • 3) Heating/Cooling Equipment:

See section Heating and section Cooling. Inspect heating and cooling equipment annually, or as recommended by the manufacturer. If you have a forced air furnace, check your filters and replace them as needed. Generally they should be changed about once every month or two, especially during periods of high usage. Have a professional check and clean your equipment once a year. If the unit is more than 15 years old, you should consider replacing it with one of the newer, energy efficient units. This would go far to reduce your energy consumption, especially if the existing equipment is in poor condition. Check your ductwork for dirt streaks, especially near seams. These indicate air leaks, and they should be sealed with a duct mastic. Insulate any ducts or pipes that travel through unheated spaces. An insulation R-Value of 6 is the recommended minimum.

  • 4) Lighting:

See section Lighting. Energy for lighting accounts for about 10% of your electric bill. Examine the wattage size of the light bulbs in your house. You may have 100 watt (or larger) bulbs where 60 or 75 watts would do. You should also consider compact fluorescent lamps for areas where lights are on for hours at a time. Your electric utility may offer rebates or other incentives for purchasing energy efficient lamps.

Professional Energy Audits: Another option is to get the advice of a professional. Many utilities conduct energy audits for free or for a nominal charge. For a fee, a professional contractor will analyze how your home's energy systems work together as a system and compare the analysis against your utility bills. He or she will use a variety of equipment such as blower doors, infrared cameras, and surface thermometers to find inefficiencies that cannot be detected by a visual inspection. Finally, they will give you a list of recommendations for cost-effective energy improvements and enhanced comfort and safety.

All professional energy audits should, at a minimum, include a "walk-through" similar to the one above and a blower door test (discussed below). Most will also include a thermographic scan (also discussed below). Professional audits generally go into great detail. The auditor should do a room-by-room examination of the residence, as well as a thorough examination of past utility bills.

Before the auditor visits your house, make a list of any existing problems such as condensation and uncomfortable or drafty rooms. Have copies or a summary of the home's yearly energy bills. (Your utility can get these for you.) The auditors use this information to establish what to look for during the audit. The auditor first examines the outside of the home to determine the size of the house and its features (i.e., wall area, number and size of windows). The auditor then analyzes the occupants behavior: Is anyone home during working hours? What is the average thermostat setting for summer and winter? How many people live here? Is every room in use? Your answers may help uncover some simple ways to reduce your household's energy consumption. Walk through your home with the auditors as they work, and ask questions. They may also use equipment to detect sources of energy loss, such as blower doors, infrared cameras, furnace efficiency meters, and surface thermometers.

Blower Door Tests: A blower door is a powerful fan that mounts into the frame of an exterior door. The fan pulls air out of the house, lowering the air pressure inside. The higher outside air pressure then flows in through all unsealed cracks and openings. The auditors may use a smoke pencil to detect air leaks. These tests determine the air infiltration rate of a building. Several reasons for establishing the proper building tightness are: to reduce energy consumption due to air leakage; to avoid moisture condensation problems; to avoid uncomfortable drafts caused by cold air leaking in from the outdoors; and to make sure that the home's air quality is not too contaminated by indoor air pollution.

There are two types of blower doors: "calibrated " and  "uncalibrated". It is important that auditors use a calibrated door. This type of blower door has several gauges that measure the amount of air pulled out of the house by the fan. Uncalibrated blower doors can only locate leaks in homes. They provide no method for determining the overall tightness of a building. The calibrated blower door's data allows the auditor to quantify the amount of air leakage and the effectiveness of any air-sealing job.

Thermographic Inspection: Energy auditors may also use thermography-infrared scanning-to detect thermal defects and air leakage in building envelopes. Thermography measures surface temperatures by using infrared video and still cameras. These tools see light that is in the heat spectrum. Images on the video or film record the temperature variations of the building's skin, ranging from white for warm regions to black for cooler areas. The resulting images help the auditor determine whether insulation is needed. They also serve as a quality control tool, to ensure that insulation has been installed correctly.

A thermographic inspection is either an interior or exterior survey. The auditor decides which method would give the best results under certain weather conditions. Interior scans are more common, because warm air escaping from a building does not always move through the walls in a straight line. Heat loss detected in one area of the outside wall might originate at some other location on the inside of the wall. Also, it is harder to detect temperature differences on the outside surface of the building during windy weather. Because of this, interior surveys are generally more accurate, as they benefit from reduced air movement. Thermographic scans are also commonly used with the blower door is running. The blower door helps exaggerate air leaking through defects in the building shell. Such air leaks appear as black streaks in the infrared camera's view finder.

Finding and Selecting an Energy Auditor: Most energy audits take from four to eight hours and cost between $300 and $500. Any retrofit work would of course cost additional money. There are several places where you can locate professional energy auditing services. Your State or local government energy or weatherization office may help you identify a local company or organization that performs audits. They may also have information on how to do your own audit. Your electric or gas utility may conduct residential energy audits, or recommend local auditors. Also check your telephone directory under headings beginning with the word "Energy" for companies that perform residential energy audits. Another possibility is to contact the National Association of Energy Service Companies (NAESCO). NAESCO has member companies nationwide that specialize in energy audits for both large commercial buildings and homes. Contact NAESCO for information on which energy service companies are near you.

The National Association of Energy Service Companies (NAESCO)
1615 M Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 822-0950; Fax: (202) 822-0955
World Wide Web: https://www.naesco.org/

Before contracting with an energy auditing company, you should take the following steps:

  • Get at least five references, and contact all five. Ask if they were satisfied with the work.

  • Call the Better Business Bureau and ask about any complaints against the company.

  • Make sure the auditor uses a calibrated blower door.

  • Make sure they do thermographic inspections or contract another company to conduct one.

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