Energy audits help you save money

Consumers gain valuable information and can chart an energy-saving course of action after doing an energy audit of their home.

Before making decisions on major purchases like new windows, a furnace or insulation for your home, conduct an energy audit. This type of audit is an assessment of your home, appliances and family practices related to energy use. It gives valuable information about cost-effective ways to conserve energy and become more energy efficient. The information allows you to make decisions about alternatives and develop a thoughtful plan if you, like most people, cannot make all needed improvements at once.

Energy audits take different forms. You can do a free, self-directed, online audit on the U.S. Department of Energy website. Many utility companies have free online audits as well. These audits give you an idea of your energy usage in various parts of the house and inexpensive ways to reduce consumption.

Many utility companies also provide free or low-cost audits in which an auditor tours your home, analyzes your utility bills and makes general recommendations. Companies usually give away light bulbs and other energy-saving devices as part of this service.

While not as accurate as a professional energy audit, you can do your own audit. The Iowa Energy Center in an excellent, interactive Home Series website showing how to search for air leaks and strategies to seal the leaks. Look outside for gaps where different materials meet – brick and siding, brick and wood, wood and siding. Look outside for openings around vents, cable television and phone lines, electrical and gas service entrances. Look in the attic and basement for drafts and openings.

According to the Guide to Home Energy Assessments from the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Information Center, a professional energy audit involves a blower door test and infrared camera scan. The auditor will also inspect the heating and cooling system, test for natural gas leaks and check for proper ventilation.

A calibrated blower door test measures the amount and location of air flowing in and out of a building. A large fan is mounted into an exterior doorway and depressurizes the inside space. Air then flows into the house through cracks and openings. The auditor uses a smoke pencil to see the location of drafts. An infrared camera measures differences in temperatures coming from the walls, ceilings and windows. Warmer areas show up as whiter images; cooler areas are darker. An audit report will describe the findings, recommendations and return on investment (cost of improvements divided by yearly savings equals the payback time). Use these results to map out a plan.

Find a certified energy auditor through your utility company. The cost varies depending on the size of your home, but will be in the $350 to $500 range. Utilities may offer rebates for the audit and for certain energy improvements that are done as a result of the audit.

An energy audit provides objective information to make good decisions and avoid expensive mistakes. For example, many homeowners are sold replacement windows as a way to save money on energy when in fact attic insulation would be more effective. Or, people replace an old appliance to save money on energy when their real problem is an unused plugged-in gaming system drawing excess power.

Before you can solve a problem, you need to define it. An audit in any form can help you understand your energy use and decide what to do to save money and energy.

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