Back in September, I wrote about my decision to join my town’s Neighborhood Energy Challenge. The challenge was set up to encourage homeowners to insulate and take other steps to less energy to heat, cool, and power their homes.
Depending on how energy-efficient your home is, it will be certified “light green,” “medium green,” or “dark green.” I almost didn’t sign up because I figured with everything I’ve done over the years to save energy (described for Moms Clean Air Force here), my house would undoubtedly already fall into the “dark green” category.
Boy, was I wrong! In fact, I’ve just had an energy audit done of my entire home, and I can’t believe how much energy (and money) I’m wasting. Fortunately, the fix is pretty straightforward – though it won’t be cheap.
To discover where my home was leaking, I hired EcoBeco to come in and give my place the once over. My local utility subsidizes the cost of EcoBeco’s services so that the audit fee is only $100. But for anyone who enters the energy challenge, our city reimburses the fee.
Filling out a simple online form and providing a year’s worth of electricity and gas bills, I set up an appointment.
When the two-man team arrived, they immediately conducted a visual inspection of my two attics and crawl spaces. To my dismay, they found several spots where gaping holes around the pipes and wiring were letting significant amounts of cold air seep inside while heated air easily escaped. They also measured how much actual insulation was in the attic.
After their visual inspections and physical measurements, they opened up my front door, flipped open a ceiling panel with a hole in the bottom – then inserted a fan called a manometer into the hole. The point was to put my house under negative pressure by sucking air from the inside out. That done, air from the outside began finding its way back into the house through any openings in the roof, floors, walls and windows.
They used an infrared camera to pinpoint exactly where the cold air was entering the house. Those would be the places that would require the most insulation.
Often, things like attic hatches pull heated air up into the attic and out of the rooms that are supposed to stay warm. Recessed lights and uninsulated electrical outlets can do the same. My attic hatches are pretty snug, but the recessed lights? Not so much.
While one member of the team was taking the infrared photos, the other tested my gas stove and gas hot water heater for carbon monoxide (CO) leaks. CO can build up in super insulated homes if there’s a small leak and not a lot of air flow. Fortunately, my appliances were fine.
As an added bonus, the team installed four new compact fluorescent light bulbs and one LED bulb, for a savings they said could amount to $72/year in electricity costs. They also replaced two showerheads with energy- and water-saving models that automatically turn off when the water gets hot but nobody has hopped into the shower yet. Brilliant!
Here’s what I learned:
- My home’s air leakage rate is “substantially higher” than the optimal rate.
- I have a surprising number of air leaks around the ductwork in my house, like the ducts that move hot air from the furnace to the living areas, or cooled air from the air conditioner.
- My attic, wall, and crawl space insulation, which I thought was more than adequate, is only 6” thick and therefore considered only “moderately insulated.” It should be at least double that.
- Both my furnace and my central AC are old and should be replaced with more efficient models.
EcoBeco provided me with a complete report detailing where all available energy gains are and what it would cost if they made the improvements. The price tag is significant. On the other hand, when I decide to sell my home, earning a “deep green” designation will increase its market value significantly, as I noted in this article on “Secrets to Buying or Selling Energy Efficient Homes.” I can also roll the cost of the improvements into the sales price of the house. Plus, I will be able to deduct many of these costs from my taxes when I sell, since they are not cosmetic but improving the structure of the home.
I’ll take all of this into consideration as I ponder next steps, which could include insulating the crawlspace, attic and walls. Another improvement would be to switch to a clean energy provider and to install my own solar panels. I have already switched to an electricity provider that delivers wind energy, which is good. But my home is surrounded by tall, shady trees. That helps cool in the summer, but limits my home’s ability to take advantage of solar. While solar can still be expensive, solar energy prices overall continue to fall rapidly, reports the New York Times. Twice as many Americans work in the solar industry as in coal mining now, and last year one-third of new electricity generation came from solar power.
I wish my home were more efficient than it is. But now that I know where I stand energywise, I can take action. I want to create my own Clean Power Plan; this is definitely a step in the right direction.
JOIN MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE