Home Energy Audit - What are you waiting for?

Blower Door Test

Blower Door Test

A key step to understanding how you use energy in your home is doing a home energy audit.  An energy audit usually means you walk through your home and analyze all the systems that impact how you use energy.  There are two ways to approach a home energy audit: finding a professional or doing your own.

Scientific American's "Solar At Home" Blogger George Musser had a great blog discussing the tools needed to do your own energy audit. In addition, the U.S. DOE has a nice section related to doing your own home energy audit.  The main strategies they list for people doing their own home energy audits are finding air leaks, looking at insulation, inspecting heating/cooling systems, and looking at lighting.  TheDailyGreen has a nice post on the DIY home energy audit that include a nice checklist to use as a guide (although it leaves off lighting!).

While you can learn a lot from doing your own home energy audit, you gain a lot more by having an energy audit done by a professional.  There are probably three things that a professional brings to the home energy audit that most people just can't do on their own:

  • Experience - professionals have done this many, many times, so they know how to make the biggest impact
  • Blower Door tests - equipment that measures how air flows through your home
  • Thermographic Scan - equipment that shows where heat leaves your home (the high-tech/whole-home equivalent to the Black & Decker thermal leak detector)

For obvious reasons it is a must that a professional energy auditor have the first requirement, but you should question them if they dont have the second and third requirements.  In addition a professional home energy auditor will develop a detailed report for you detailing his/her findings.  While it's hard to verify, chances are a professional energy auditor will save you more money in energy savings than what  their services cost.  It's like a personal trainer; sure, you could do it your self, but you'd benefit that much more from an expert!

Energy Circle, which is a site with very similar goals to Mapawatt, had a great blog related to the top ten lessons learned in doing energy audits.

An energy audit usually only takes a few hours and provides a great understanding of what you're doing well and what needs improvement.  I would recommend doing an energy audit twice a year, if not more.  It is important to benchmark how you use energy so you will know how to improve.  In between energy audits, make sure you monitor energy usage to get further tuned in to how you use energy on a daily basis.

If you aren't ready to hire a professional home energy auditor that's fine.  At least take a few moments and walk around your home while thinking about where your energy dollars go.  Energy audits are like a car inspection, they help you see how you can perform better, save more energy and save more money!

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Tom's findings are typical. The expensive items such as new furnace/ac or windows are usually not where major improvements are made. The duct system and air infiltration are where we often see improvement opportunities of 30% or more...much more.
Chris -- two points on your great post... First, I think an energy audit is a little more than a car inspection (or even a home inspection) -- it's really an action plan for saving money and energy. I have written several posts on my blog over the last from months detailing the process, and results of our energy audit (and published my side-by-side before and after pictures and results this week). I had spent the last 13 years using my common sense to find and fix what I believed to be the causes of our remarkably inefficient house -- after spending $400 on a top rate energy audit, I have made changes that cost very little and are resulting in dramatic changes (far more dramatic than replacing windows, replacing my boiler, and insulating my house). Indeed, about half of the benefit came from knowing where to caulk, foam and do other super-simple air sealing. The results are pretty amazing. Second, and related, I learned more than just some numbers from having a blower door test combined with infrared photos -- walking around with a highly informed professional who can point to problems and really help you understand not just what's wrong, but why the fixes suggested will work helped me see why my less directed attempts, if well-meaning, we kind of ... well, wrong. I don't think I can overstate the value many people living in anything other than houses designed explicitly to be efficient will gain from a professional energy audit. Yes, you also have to follow up, but you can do so in a way that fits your cash flow, and often the most effective changes are very inexpensive.
Tom, I actually saved the link from your post on EnergyCircle of your before and after pictures. Great job!
Good and useful article you have. Your site looks like it will be valuable fo rmy readers so I have added it to my blog roll.
We learned a lot by having a home energy audit on our home back in late 2007. We couldn't find back then much information on exactly what it was, what type of information would be in the energy audit report we would receive, etc. So, we wrote about our own energy audit experiences and published the different parts of our own reports so others could see that it was beneficial: It also motivated us to learn more about energy savings and start to collect suggestions from others on how to reduce a home's electricity, home heating, home cooling, water heating and even clean water usage. So far we are up to 500+ of their energy savings ideas. I hopt that helps. Dan
Dan, Great comment. Your site looks like it has some great information on it.
Birney, You have a great blog and I've enjoyed seeing all the great energy saving information you have. You have about 40 years of experience on me, so I think I can learn a few things :)

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