Rising energy bills and concerns about the environment are leading more homeowners to consider energy audits. A professional provides a detailed assessment of your home's energy use and energy efficiency, as well as suggestions for conservation or retrofits. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that simply sealing and insulating your home can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs (see References 1).
Hiring an Energy Auditor
The most important component in a useful and accurate energy audit is hiring a capable rater. Select one from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Home Performance list, contact your utility company or hire an energy auditor certified by the Building Performance Institute or the Residential Energy Services Network. (See References 2) The U.S. Department of Energy recommends hiring a professional who uses both a calibrated blower door and thermography. Once you have narrowed down the list to two or three potential raters, ask for references and give each a call. The energy auditor will be spending several hours in your home and both competence and personal safety are important (see References 3). You can expect to pay $300 to $500 for a home energy audit; some utility companies may offer this service to customers for free or for a smaller fee, so contact your utility first. (See References 2)
Before the energy auditor arrives, gather the information needed to help provide a complete picture of home energy issues and usage. Check with the rater for specifics, but be ready to identify existing moisture problems in your home, and provide copies of the last 12 months of energy bills plus any manuals for the heating unit, air conditioners and appliances. (See References 2)
What to Expect
The auditor will ask questions about your personal habits and perform a series of tests. Expect questions regarding the number of people home throughout the day, the number of rooms normally used and average summer and winter thermostat settings. Be as accurate as possible. The rater will conduct a blower door test, check for leaks in your home's ductwork, test and tune heating and air-conditioning units, locate cold spots and find air leaks. (See References 3)
Calibrated Blower Door Test
During the blower door test, air will be sucked out of your house by a powerful fan mounted to an exterior door. The result is that interior air pressure will be lowered and outside air will make its way back in through any available gap. Prepare your home for this fluctuation by cleaning up fireplace ash and closing the damper, turning the furnace and water heater thermostats down, closing all windows, opening all interior doors and closing fireplace doors. (See References 4)
The thermographic scan uses infrared cameras to measure surface temperature variations in your home, letting you know if insulation is adequate and correctly installed. The scan can be conducted from the home's interior or exterior and is typically performed while the blower door test is running, since this exaggerates air leakage and makes it easier to detect. (See References 3)
Suzanna Didier's work appears in online publications including the National Geographic website, SFGate and Local.com. She is an avid cook who lives on a hobby farm, direct-markets organic produce to local restaurants and has taught at the preschool, elementary and college levels. Didier holds a Master of Arts in education from the University of Oregon.