What Would a GBAer Do: Whole House Energy Audit

My house was built in 1905; we purchased it in 2003. Over the past decade, we’ve done a fair amount of home improvement work inside and out – on things you can see and those you can’t.

Aurora BlowerDoorHowever, with a 100+-year-old home, the list of potential energy efficiency and conservation measures is long. We’ve been checking items off that list over time using cost, comfort, and opportunity as project criteria.  While we’ve upgraded wiring, added blown-in insulation, installed all new ENERGY STAR appliances, replaced some windows and a door, and  more, there are still many things on the “to do” list.  Most importantly, with all this work, I’ve never had a professional energy audit or blower door test done. I do this type of thing for a living, so I know what needs to be done, right?  Maybe…but it never hurts to have another set of eyes on what you think you know best, as, especially with your own house, sometimes you’re too close to a problem to see it clearly.

When Duquesne Light started offering a Whole House Energy Audit for $149 as part of the Watt Choices program, I knew my time for making excuses had come to an end.  Audits of this sort usually cost $400+, so the Duquesne Light deal is a great one, applying an immediate $250 rebate to the service.  If you qualify as low income, you can even get your audit for free. These Act 129 funds are only available through May 31, 2016 (or until they run out), so if you want to learn more about your house’s energy performance and air infiltration, you should move fast.

If you’re reading GBA’s blog, I likely don’t have to extol the virtues of an energy audit to you, but just in case you might be questioning why $149 is worth it, consider what you might learn.  Such an audit isn’t just about reducing your energy use, saving money, and conserving resources, but also about improving your year-round comfort (I know you have more than a few cold spots in your house come winter, no?), getting free stuff on the spot, and possibly becoming eligible for financing to help you do that home energy improvement project you’ve been putting off for ages (up to $2,500 through GTECH’s Healthy Homes Incentive Program). That’s why I went for it without a second thought.

You can get an audit any time of year, but because I wanted the add-on service of infrared images, I chose to do my audit when it was cold enough outside to distinguish some insulation issues (i.e., November).  Prior to an energy auditor stepping foot in my home, I provided Performance Systems Development (PSD, the program manager) with my annual electricity and gas consumption.  It can be a bit of a pain extracting that information from your paper or online accounts, but you can’t manage what you don’t measure, right?  If you’re looking at energy and water consumption trends for the high-performance buildings you work on daily (like I do), why would you not look at those from your own house?

The entire energy audit process took about 3.5 hours and my auditor was Frank Ross.  He walked through the list of common services, providing a litany of testing and answering a ton of questions along the way:

  1. Aurora IRKitchen Talk (background, paperwork, areas of focus, concerns, etc.)
  2. Interior Inspection (living spaces, attic, crawlspace, and basement)
    • Heating and Combustion Equipment Safety Testing (furnace, hot water heater, stoves, fireplaces, etc.)
    • Blower Door Test (measures envelope leakage)
    • Infrared Camera Use (added cost)
    • Consumer Electronics and Plug Loads
    • Direct Installs (CFLs, smart strips, night lights, aerators, shower heads, pipe wrap)
  1. Exterior Inspection (A/C, below-grade windows, chimney liner)
  2. Air Sealing Recommendations (attics, doors, windows)

I received a ton of suggestions throughout the process and also got a final report with recommendations, cost-saving estimates, rebate recommendations, and more.  Because I added on infrared (IR) camera services, I also got some really cool, detailed photos that show me exactly why and where I am lacking insulation in certain parts of my walls.

Aurora Heating2The outcome?  When you have this type of data about your entire house, it’s not only informative, but it finally moves you to action!  On the small side, it turns out I still had two incandescent bulbs (the horror!) in concealed places. PSD replaced them on the spot, saving me an estimated $8/year.  There was one other external bulb they couldn’t replace because it had a less standard fixture; I did that myself with an LED the next week.  They also reminded me that I was eligible for a Watt Choices rebate of $25 for a dehumidifier upgrade I made in the summer (since expired).  So, that’s about $33 back in my pocket in 12 months; not a bad start on my economic payback.

With the energy audit report and results of my blower door test (3,431 at 50 CFM = rather leaky old house), I’m ready to take on several tangible home projects within the next six months.  They’re not sexy, but they need to be done (and have needed to be done for years – I’ve just been avoiding them).  If you’re a homeowner who knows building systems, you sometimes put off the “smaller” projects because you want to wrap them in with larger ones to get a bigger sustainable bang.  

So, the time has come.  No more excuses. Get your house officially audited to put some measurements and third-party evaluation behind what you likely already know – and hopefully in the process, you’ll find something you missed, make your  house more comfortable, and continue to do your part in conserving resources.

That’s what a GBAer like me would do…and finally did!

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