Sunday, April 27, 2014

Is Your Home in Need of an Energy Audit?

 If you own your own house and you have drafts that you can feel or high energy bills or are unsure whether your walls are insulated or not, it might be worth it for you to get a home energy audit. 

A home energy audit is a process in which your house is assessed on its energy uses versus the overall efficiency of your house with energy conservation as the final goal.  We've only been in our house a little over two years and now know enough about our energy uses (extreme waste because of baseboard heaters) that we decided to bring in some professional help to guide us in steps to make our house as efficient as possible.   It's not free where I live, but it is heavily subsidized to encourage you to take part.
I was directed by the City of Tacoma website to Sustainable Works, a non-profit contractor in the Pacific Northwest that specializes in energy audits and energy efficiency programs.  They come out to your house for about 6 hours and it only costs $150.  Normally, it would cost up to $1200 but because they are a non-profit, they receive grants to help offset the costs. 

The first thing they do is set up a calibrated blower door test. This is a machine that tests the airtightness of a building.  Basically, they can measure up all the gaps and cracks and uninsulated spaces letting cold air the house and let you know what would be the equivalent size of having an open space leaking out your heat all day long.

Usually they use the front door but ours swings on a pivot so they had to use the door leading to the garage instead.   Our results were incredibly surprising to us.  Our house is insulated a little better than recommended!  We were shocked.  Why is our house so cold and hard to heat? 

It turn out, something which we were already suspicious of, that our roof is the culprit.  We live in a mid-century modern house with a flat-as-a-pancake roof and it has zero insulation!  As the inspector was found of repeating to me over and over, wood is not a good insulator. 

After the blower test, they inspected areas for insulation levels with a very cool infrared heat detector that also worked for checking hot water temperatures.  Then, they checked pipes and water heaters to see if they working efficiently and insulated as well.  Normally, they would fix leaky ducts and add insulation in your crawl space or attic but since we have no crawl space or attic, they had it pretty easy.  They did point out some rusty pipes and some light fixtures that could be upgraded.  They left me with a big stack of CFL bulbs to replace any old incandescent still being used and a thick report about the findings on our house. 

The main technician came back a couple of days later to measure if we could handle a ductless heat pump and is going to give me a bid next week on installing one.  
But we have already decided, we don't need a new heating system: we need to fix the bigger problem of all the heat escaping. 

So I have a roofing contractor coming next week to give me a bid on redoing and insulating the roof and also a solar contractor coming to give us a solar audit so we can see if solar panels would be a good way to provide electricity for our house!  My fantasy is to re-do the roof and add solar panels on and then we wouldn't need to worry about running the baseboard heaters.  And then, an electric car! 

OK, that is a little more into the future.  In the meantime, if you are interested in an energy audit, head over to Sustainable Works and fill out their online form.  They will call you asap to set up the audit. 

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