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.
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.
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.
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.
Refrigerators and freezers can be some of the biggest energy hogs in your home. They draw electricity around the clock, not just when the kids leave the door open – as much as 18% of your energy costs each year. And we often forget to clean the mechanical parts, making the compressor and radiator work harder with each passing year. Energy efficient refrigerators don’t need to be brand new. We have tips on how to get the best performance out of what you already have.
Got one that looks like this? It may still be running, but it’s costing you much more than it should. According to Efficiency Vermont’s home appliance energy usage infographic, a 20 year old, 22 cubic foot refrigerator draws 1,475 kWh per year, costing you $236.
Have a slightly newer fridge? A 10 year old, 22 cubic foot model will draw about half the electricity, 857 kWh, and save you $100 per year on your bill. Brand new models offer even more savings: 537 kWh per year and an annual cost to operate of just $86!
But even if you’re not in the market for a new energy efficient refrigerator you can take a few steps to improve your kitchen energy efficiency.
Keep it clean.
Dust and grease can build up on the back of the refrigerator, making it more difficult for air to vent from the mechanicals and circulate around the unit. Wipe the exterior surfaces down when you clean your other appliances, and use a can of compressed air to remove dust if needed.
Keep it cool.
Your refrigerator’s job is to keep things cool, but we often place them next to the oven, or in direct sunlight. Any heat source will make the fridge work harder. Giving a little extra time to planning your kitchen can make your fridge’s life – and your own – easier.
Keep it closed.
We all know not to leave the refrigerator or freezer doors open, but even closed doors can let cold air out and warm air in. There’s a simple test to check how tightly your refrigerator doors are sealing: open the door and put a piece of paper inside. Now close the door. If you can pull the paper out easily, the door is not tightly sealed.
Fill ‘er up?
Keep it full, but not too full. Refrigerators are designed to use the food and drink inside them to help maintain an even temperature. An empty freezer or fridge will work harder to keep itself cool. But air need to circulate through the inside, so don’t fill it up all the way.
You don’t have to invest in new energy efficient refrigerators to save money on your home energy bills. A few simple changes to the way you use your appliances can make a big difference.
If you are in the market for a new fridge or freezer, be sure to consider an Energy Star rated model. Energy Star rated refrigerators and freezers are certified to use less electricity and save you money every month, and every year, you own them.
Home lighting technology has come a long way from Thomas Edison’s heated filament incandescent bulbs. Today, people like you are replacing their inefficient incandescent bulbs with CFL (compact fluorescent light) and LED (light emitting diode) bulbs, and saving hundreds of dollars at the same time.
The incandescent light bulb loses as much as 90% of its energy as waste heat. New technologies have made efficient CFL and LED light bulbs competitive choices for most home lighting needs.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs use an integrated ballast to energize chemical vapors. These vapors then produce ultraviolet light. That ultraviolet light strikes the fluorescent coating inside the bulb’s glass housing, which produces visible light. CFLs have been around for decades, and can now create everything from the warm glow of your favorite reading lamp to clear, bright light perfect for your kitchen or home workshop. CFLs cost as little as $2.00, and can last for 5-8 years.
Light emitting diode bulbs are newer than CFLs, and they promise to last an extremely long time in normal usage. These bulbs create light when energized electrons pass from the negative to the positive charged layer in a semiconductor. Because they draw very little electrical current a 60 watt equivalent bulb may only use 7 watts of electricity! This makes them very inexpensive, and it also makes them suitable for use in antique lamps with ow power draws. LED bulbs can cost as much as $60 for a 60 watt equivalent, but they will last for decades – and the price is dropping every year.
Are CFL and LED light bulbs the right choice for you?
More than property taxes or interest on a loan, energy costs are where most homeowners will spend their money each year. The average American family spends more than $2,000 on home energy each year.
Surprised? Think of all the electrical appliances; the heating, cooling, and ventilation (HVAC) system; the gizmos we leave plugged into power strips day and night. It all adds up, and that’s before we even think about air leakage around windows and doors, attics and crawl spaces. But what if we had an idea of home energy costs? How would that change our home buying and selling decisions?
An energy mortgage for all homes
Energy efficient mortgages have been around since the early 1990s. The US government’s FHA Insured Energy Efficient Mortgage Program launched in 1992 and was widely available by 1995. This program, and others like it, use an energy efficient home’s projected annual utility costs to allow homeowners to pay more for a mortgage. That means homeowners can afford a better home, or they can complete energy efficient home improvement projects that are included in the mortgage payment.
The 2013 study “Home Energy Efficiency and Mortgage Risks”, by the University of North Carolina’s Center for Community Capital and the Institute for Market Transformation found that:
The risk of mortgage default is one-third lower for energy-efficient, ENERGY STAR-rated homes… American households spend around $230 billion each year on energy, not including transportation, and the residential sector accounts for 20 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States. Energy efficiency in the residential sector has a potential to save $41 billion annually, according to research by McKinsey & Company.
Energy efficient homes don’t just save homeowners money, they build stronger neighborhoods and communities.
Energy efficient mortgages, or energy mortgages, have been getting a lot of attention lately, and not just from homeowners. The Sensible Accounting to Value Energy Act, or SAVE Act, is co-sponsored by Senators Michael Bennet and Johnny Isakson. The proposed bill would require federal mortgage underwriters to include annual home energy costs when calculating the value and affordability of any home, not only energy efficient homes.
The SAVE Act will help all home buyers understand the total cost of home ownership, the PITI+E payment: Principal, Interest, Taxes, Insurance, and Energy. Home sellers will benefit from knowing their home’s energy consumption and cost as well. They can make energy efficient home improvements, replace inefficient appliances and HVAC equipment, or offer buyers a credit for that work. It’s an energy mortgage for all homes.
Green creates green
Smart mortgages, mortgages that account for a home’s annual energy cost, are popular with homeowners. When buyers understand a home’s annual energy cost they can make a better, more informed decision about where to buy. Home sellers can use annual energy consumption and cost information to make their homes more attractive to buyers. Energy efficient homes sell faster, and for higher prices, than unimproved houses.
No matter where you live, a greener home means more green in your wallet.
Home energy performance rating creates value for consumers by helping them understand the energy costs of home ownership. Homeowners can use their home energy performance rating to immediately cut costs and increase comfort and health with do it yourself weatherization projects. Their baseline of home energy performance can be the start of a long-term plan for professional maintenance and retrofit work.
Homeowners can track their dollar and energy savings at each step of the plan by checking their performance rating. This record of work performed and savings achieved creates additional value for the homeowner by allowing them to recoup the cost of energy efficiency investment at the time of sale. Homes with energy efficiency improvements sell faster and at a price premium compared to unimproved homes.