Home energy audit

Is your home too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter? Did your heating or air conditioning bills take you by surprise last year? You might need a certified professional to conduct a home energy audit.

A whole house energy audit will help you understand your home’s energy consumption and performance, air leakage, and a room-by-room assessment of how you can save money on your heating and cooling energy bills. You may even be eligible for a free or discounted home energy audit based on where you live or your utility company.

What’s involved?

According to RESNET, the Residential Energy Services Network:

A general energy audit is also known as an energy assessment, standard energy audit or detailed energy audit. It expands on the home energy survey by collecting more detailed information regarding the home’s energy usage, as well as a more thorough financial analysis of its energy costs.

The general energy audit also includes diagnostic testing using specialized equipment such as a blower door test, duct leakage tester, combustion analyzer and infrared camera. These tests are done to determine:

The location and number of air leaks in the building envelope.
How much leakage is occurring from HVAC distribution ducts.
How effective is the insulation inside walls and ceilings.
Any existing or potential combustion safety issues.

home infrared image

Is a home energy audit the right choice for you? Get your home’s full energy assessment today: it’s fast and accurate and will give you actionable information to take the next step.

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Insulation

Improving your home’s insulation by insulating raw spaces, or upgrading to newer and more energy efficient products, can not only save you money on your heating and cooling bills, it can make your home healthier for your family. You’ll feel more comfortable year ’round with improved insulation.

fiberglass insulation

The Department of Energy recommends home insulation as one of the most important steps you can take to make your home more energy efficient:

A qualified home energy auditor will include an insulation check as a routine part of a whole-house energy assessment. An energy assessment, also known as a home energy audit, will also help identify areas of your home that are in need of air sealing. (Before you insulate, you should make sure that your home is properly air sealed.)

Insulation is graded according to an R-value. The R-value indicates the insulation’s ability to resist heat. The higher the R-value, the greater the heat resistance. Choosing insulation with a higher R-value will save you money on your heating and cooling costs. It will also make your home more comfortable and healthier, because better insulation also acts as an air filter in your walls.

Some types of insulation, like spray foam, also act as a barrier against moisture, insects, and pests. Based on your home’s location and construction, a home performance professional will make recommendations to meet your needs and budget.

Improving your home’s insulation doesn’t have to be an expensive project. Focusing on the most important areas of your home, like the attic, will yield a result on your next utility bill. Insulating your home is commonly a one time project. Fiberglass and spray foam insulations can last longer than your mortgage, so your work will pay for itself quickly, and give you a high return on your investment over the life of your home.

The Department of Energy’s “Years to Payback” equation can help you determine your exact return on investment. A good rule of thumb is that insulation projects will pay for themselves in 3-5 years. A professional home performance contractor can complete the job in a day or two. You’ll start saving money immediately.

Your cost will vary depending on the type of insulation you choose and the size of the space you are insulating. The good news is that you may be eligible for tax rebates from your state government, or incentive programs from your utility company, for home energy efficiency upgrades and retrofits. Your home performance contractor can help determine your eligibility and provide you with required documentation.

spray foam insulation technician

Is improved insulation the right choice for you? Get your home’s full energy assessment today: it’s fast and accurate and will give you actionable information to take the next step. Click here to use your assessment data and save even more time.

Want more ideas on how to save money on your home energy costs? Just sign up for our Home Energy Efficiency Newsletter. It’s full of the information and ideas you need to make your home less expensive to operate and more comfortable – and healthier – to live in.

All of the above: a home energy strategy for everyone

Tuesday’s State of the Union Address gave President Obama a chance to remind the country of his “All of the Above” energy strategy. This strategy, announced by Obama in 2012, “develops every source of American-made energy” with the goals of reducing energy costs, growing the energy sector of the economy, and reducing the effects of climate change. These are admirable goals, and we’re doing our part for home energy efficiency, so it was good to hear that Obama believes that his strategy is working. It got us thinking about our own energy strategy at home and how we can adapt All of the Above for home energy efficiency.

We can make simple behavioral changes, like turning off the lights in empty rooms and turning down the thermostat a degree or two in the winter.

Simple changes around the house, like swapping incandescent light bulbs for CFLs or LEDs, take just minutes and will save you money for years to come. Looking for the best deals? Shop 1800Lighting.com for a wide selection of energy efficient light bulbs for every fixture in – and outside – your home.

When an old appliance breaks down, replacing it with an Energy Star rated appliance can save big money: up to $100 each year for the lifetime of the appliance!

Time to remodel? Buying a home? It’s the perfect time for a home energy audit. A home energy audit is performed by a home performance professional to assess how much energy a home uses and find areas to improve the comfort and lower the energy cost of a home. Many states and utilities offer discounts on home energy audits, and winter is a good time to get it done.

An all of the above home energy strategy can work for everyone. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or cost much money. Best of all, you can see the results – lower costs – on your next energy bill.

Shaheen-Portman, the SAVE Act, and the All of the Above Energy Policy

Shaheen-Portman, the SAVE Act, and the All of the Above Energy Policy

Last month we reported on President Obama’s “All of the Above” energy policy following his State of the Union speech. Especially important for the home performance industry are proposed laws like Shaheen-Portman and the SAVE Act. These will help homeowners take basic steps, like performing home energy audits, and undertaking weatherization, air sealing, and HVAC retrofit and upgrade work, that can be part of everyone’s personal energy policy.

Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz wrote a letter to BreakingEnergy.com explaining why and how “All-of-the-Above is Making a Difference Across America.” Dr. Moniz focused on generation in his letter, noting that California’s Ivanpah solar thermal plant will power 100,000 homes thanks to a successful public-private partnership and a loan from the Energy Department.

In Waynesboro, Georgia, a $6.5 billion loan will help start construction on advanced nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, powering “1.5 million homes while preventing 10 million tons of carbon pollution annually.” Projects like these will satisfy the supply side of the energy equation. But what about the demand side?

Residential energy efficiency, energy costs focus of new laws

Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and Portman (R-OH) reintroduced their Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act on Thursday. The bill focuses on enhancing energy efficiency in residential, commercial, and federal buildings. Senator Shaheen told New Hampshire Public Radio that “energy efficiency is the cheapest, fastest way to deal with our energy needs.” She’s right.

On the home front, Shaheen-Portman provides for expanding proven programs like weatherization of existing homes, and a new amendment would pay for the SAVE Act. This bill would require federal mortgage underwriters to account for a home’s projected energy costs when calculating mortgage affordability. This simple rule change would finally tell homeowners the true cost of home ownership, the PITE Payment: Principal, Interest, Taxes, and Energy. Why are energy costs so important to home ownership?

Utility bills are usually larger than either real estate taxes or homeowners insurance, but they are currently ignored in mortgage underwriting.

We agree with the Institute for Market Transformation’s assessment of the SAVE Act, and we support both Shaheen-Portman and the SAVE Act. Shaheen-Portman, the SAVE Act, and the All of the Above Energy Policy together will help grow the home energy efficiency market, and they will help us make our homes more affordable, more comfortable, and more energy efficient. And that’s an “All of the Above” home energy policy we can all agree with.

All of the Above: US Energy Policy in Action

Last month we reported on President Obama’s “All of the Above” energy policy following his State of the Union speech. Especially important for the home performance industry are the parts of All of the Above that apply to residential energy efficiency. Performing home energy audits, and undertaking weatherization, air sealing, and HVAC retrofit and upgrade work can be part of everyone’s personal energy policy.

Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz wrote a letter to BreakingEnergy.com explaining why and how “All-of-the-Above is Making a Difference Across America.” Dr. Moniz focused on generation in his letter, noting that California’s Ivanpah solar thermal plant will power 100,000 homes thanks to a successful public-private partnership and a loan from the Energy Department.

In Waynesboro, Georgia, a $6.5 billion loan will help start construction on advanced nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, powering “1.5 million homes while preventing 10 million tons of carbon pollution annually.” Projects like these will satisfy the supply side of the energy equation. But what about the demand side?

Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and Portman (R-OH) reintroduced their Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act on Thursday. The bill focuses on enhancing energy efficiency in residential, commercial, and federal buildings. Senator Shaheen told New Hampshire Public Radio that “energy efficiency is the cheapest, fastest way to deal with our energy needs.” She’s right.

On the home front, Shaheen-Portman provides for expanding proven programs like weatherization of existing homes, and a new amendment would pay for the SAVE Act. This bill would require federal mortgage underwriters to account for a home’s projected energy costs when calculating mortgage affordability. This simple rule change would finally tell homeowners the true cost of home ownership, the PITE Payment: Principal, Interest, Taxes, and Energy. Why are energy costs so important to home ownership?

Utility bills are usually larger than either real estate taxes or homeowners insurance, but they are currently ignored in mortgage underwriting.

We agree with the Institute for Market Transformation’s assessment of the SAVE Act, and we support both Shaheen-Portman and the SAVE Act. Shaheen-Portman, the SAVE Act, and President Obama’s All of the Above Energy Policy together will help grow the home energy efficiency market, and they will help us make our homes more affordable, more comfortable, and more energy efficient. And that’s an “All of the Above” home energy policy we can all agree with.

Home energy efficiency program success and challenges

Home energy efficiency program success and challenges

City’s energy efficiency program falls short of goals.” A recent article in the Greensboro, NC News & Record by observed the performance of Greensboro’s “Better Buildings” home energy efficiency program. Lehmert found that 1,280 homes owned by low income homeowners received benefits of $4.7 million: a free home energy audit and $2,000 to $3,000 worth of improvements to their home. That sounds like a pretty good success, but what happens when you look behind the numbers?

Greensboro’s Better Buildings home energy efficiency retrofit and upgrade work focused on the high impact, high return on investment areas of the home: air sealing, insulation, HVAC improvements. One homeowner saw an immediate savings of $50 on his heating fuel bill. He told all of his program-eligible family members. They applied to the program, and received the home energy audit and retrofit work. These families are saving money this heating season, and will for years to come, because of the program. What works?

  • Qualifying homeowners through an initial screening process
  • Hiring local home performance contractors to conduct whole house energy audits
  • Hiring those contractors to make effective repairs and upgrades to the building envelope
  • Using the homeowner’s heating fuel bill as quality assurance verification

These steps are replicable in home energy efficiency programs everywhere, and the homeowner’s immediate savings and word of mouth advertising prove that this approach works.

Residential energy efficiency programs create the market

Greensboro officials estimated that the average homeowner would see a 17 percent reduction in home energy consumption and a corresponding savings in home heating fuel costs. That’s a good deal for any homeowner. Demand was high. At the end of the program 400 low-income families were on a waiting list for 70 remaining contracts. That tells us that a market exists for “bundling” home energy audits and retrofit work.

But that market may be unsustainable. City officials reported that higher-income homeowners who were eligible for rebates and low-interest loans did not participate at the expected rate. 950 fewer households applied for the rebates. 600 homeowners qualified for program incentives but did not hire contractors to do the work. These homeowners were to subsidize part of the program. Their low participation put the program’s overall goals at risk.

Lehmert concludes that

the lack of interest from homeowners who could pay their own way gets to the crux of Better Buildings’ shortfall in private investment and job creation.

Greensboro-area home performance contractors, on the other hand, suggested that a lack of awareness about the program among higher-income homeowners also played a role.

How a home energy efficiency program succeeds

Greensboro’s Better Buildings program did succeed in connecting home performance contractors and low-income homeowners. These homeowners received a free home energy audit, typically a $300-$800 expense, and up to $3,000 in home energy efficiency retrofit and upgrade work. These homeowners will receive long term heating energy cost savings. Additionally, they will find their homes are more comfortable and their families are healthier, thanks to air sealing and HVAC system improvements. All of these are quantifiable measures of the Greensboro Better Buildings program’s success.

Future programs should do a better job of marketing available incentives to higher-income homeowners. These homeowners may not know how to start a home energy efficiency project, but they have the means to undertake larger projects, and create local jobs.

Programs can use performance based home energy assessment tools to quickly qualify existing homes and prioritize projects based on the estimated return on investment. This also helps home performance contractors schedule their teams and equipment to work more efficiently.

Programs should devote resources to business development for home performance contractors. Public-private partnerships help create sustainable markets after program funds are exhausted.

It’s well known that once homeowners pick the low-hanging fruit of home energy efficiency they are likely to take additional steps, including major retrofit and upgrade work. Home performance contractors should look at program participants as future customers.

Home energy efficiency program success and challenges are a major part of our larger energy efficiency debate. We know there is strong demand for home energy efficiency, and that there are steps everyone can take to make their homes cheaper, healthier, and more comfortable. Greensboro’s program is a good case study for future programs and for industry professionals looking to grow their businesses.

Home energy efficiency opportunity in 2014

Residential energy efficiency gained momentum throughout 2013, with technology advances in programmable and Internet-connected thermostats, affordable CFL and LED light bulbs, and a strong effort by home performance professionals to help their customers go green. In addition, many homeowners and property managers took advantage of a federal tax credit and replaced inefficient HVAC system components with Energy Star rated appliances. Although this tax credit expired on December 31st, many state governments and utilities committed to funding their residential energy efficiency rebate programs throughout 2014. And many of these programs will expand to be available to a greater number of homeowners, thanks to successful test programs in 2013. All of these developments point to a healthy and growing home energy efficiency market in 2014.

2014 means opportunity for home performance professionals

The first step for homeowners who want to go green in 2014 is to be aware of their home’s energy performance: its consumption and costs. With these numbers in hand, which can be found from a single utility bill with our Home Energy Performance Calculator, home performance professionals can recommend comprehensive strategies for homeowners: everything from the way they live in their homes to extensive retrofit and upgrade work is on the table.

Energy efficiency products and services will always be in demand from homeowners, but these aren’t the only opportunities for home performance professionals. Helping consumers understand their home’s energy performance is a key step in winning their home improvement business. Pike Research estimated that the home energy auditing market will grow to $23.4 billion this year, and it all starts with homeowner education. When a homeowner understands energy consumption and costs, a home performance professional can explain the benefits of a whole house energy audit, retrofit and upgrade work, and rebate programs to create a less expansive, more comfortable, healthier home. Who doesn’t want that?

Simple behavioral adjustments, like running the dishwasher during off peak hours, can help, along with turning off the lights in empty rooms. These changes, which can become habit in as little as two weeks, along with easy Do It Yourself projects are the low hanging fruit of home energy efficiency. Home performance professionals are in the best position to educate homeowners and guide their quest for energy efficiency. The Wall Street Journal reported “after they pick all the low-hanging fruit and see the results, people start seriously considering more significant engagement.” That means a whole house energy audit and professional retrofit and upgrade work.

As the benefits of residential energy efficiency gain traction with homeowners the prices of DIY upgrades like light bulbs, programmable and learning thermostats, and weatherization kits are likely to fall. Professional retrofit and upgrade installations and service, such as HVAC systems, insulation, and windows and doors, are the logical next step for the engaged homeowner. This is an organic and sustainable market for home performance contractors.

The “perfect storm” of increased homeowner awareness, high efficiency products at affordable prices – with and without rebate programs, and a strengthening real estate market, is an excellent opportunity for our industry. Pike Research also estimated the energy efficiency home improvement market will exceed $50 billion. We expect homeowner demand for all energy efficiency products and services to strongly grow throughout 2014.

2014 year will bring a lot of opportunity to the home performance industry as homeowners learn more about residential energy efficiency and its benefits, including a more comfortable, less expensive, healthier home. Home performance professionals are in a great position to reconnect with past customers and win new business thanks to strong demand from homeowners who want to go green in 2014.