Save Money with an Energy Efficient Audit

Nino Marchetti, editor of EarthTechling.com, had tips for performing an energy audit on your home.

Home Energy Audits: What You Need To Know
by Nino Marchetti, EarthTechling

Home energy audits are one of the most efficient, and usually cost effective, things consumers can do to cut down their yearly energy costs and also help better the planet. The U.S. Department of Energy noted that consumers spend over $240 billion each year on using energy in the home. A good amount of this is due to inefficiencies within the home which, if corrected, could could cut this number well in half.

The typical American family spends around $1,900 a year on home utility bills. Residential electricity usage here in Oregon alone puts our state dead in the middle of the pack in terms of consumption. Improving energy efficiency in the home could not only help cut down these energy bills, but also ease energy usage on the greater power grid as a whole.

The way to start down this path of a greener, more efficient home that saves you money both in the short and long term is what is called a home energy audit. This is basically a series of tests done at your home which help you locate problem spots that can be causing your dwelling to literally be leaking energy into the environment around you.

One can conduct a home energy audit in one of two ways – either in a do it your self fashion if you are handy around the home, or through using the services of a licensed contractor who understands what to look for.

In the do it your self model, there are a number of tests you can do around the home to give you an idea of where your energy leaks and such are. The U.S. Department of Energy makes it easy to understand how to do some of these tests on its website, and there are also books once can purchase to help in this undertaking. In a nutshell, you want to locate air leaks around the home in places like windows and fireplace dampers, making a list of what might need to be closed, caulked or weather stripped.

You can also check up in your attic and other crawl spaces to see if you have proper insulation and, if you don't, there are services that can put insulation in for a fee. You also want to check your heating and cooling equipment annually, though this is usually best done by a professional. At the minimum, you can switch out air filters on your furnace at least every other month.

Finally, and this is one of the simplest things you can do, is to check the lighting around your home. Still using those old, inefficient light bulbs? Consider replacing them as they expire with more efficient CFLs or LED bulbs, which provide the same amount of lighting, but use considerably less electricity in the process.

If you find through self assessment what you need to do for the home is too much to handle, or just want to skip directly to the professionals route, Oregon is a good state to live in for this type of home upgrade. We have a wonderful program in state called Clean Energy Works of Oregon that makes it easy to get a home energy audit and also finance the cost of whatever upgrades might be necessary to make your home more energy efficient.

Clean Energy Works of Oregon is a non-profit program that lets Oregon homeowners finance up to $30,000 in home energy upgrades, with the resulting financing appearing as a small bump in one's month to month utility bill. I'm going through the initial stages of doing one of these myself and can say I'm pretty happy so far with the process.

With regards to Clean Energy Works of Oregon, they have some interesting goals in mind. They are hoping to complete 6,000 home energy efficiency upgrades in the next several years, which they believe will significantly save energy and cut carbon dioxide emissions as well as creating plenty of local green jobs.

In a program like this, the first step is that a licensed contractor or efficiency expert comes out to your home, usually for just part of one day, to conduct some efficiency tests. These tests can include: an air blower test, which measures the volume of air leaking from the home as well as the locations; an infrared camera test, which is used to find areas with hot and cold spots that might need insulation; testing of your HVAC equipment; and a direct inspection of attic, crawlspace and other areas to find obvious leaks.

After this assessment is completed, usually the contractor or representative of a home energy audit program will provide the homeowner a detailed home energy consumption report and suggested action plan for home improvements. Typically items that might be suggested as improvements include adding insulation, installing more efficient windows, upgrading HVAC equipment to more efficient models, sealing small gaps/leaks where air gets in/out and improving the quality of one's water heating systems.

Not all of these upgrades need be done to improve the efficiency of one's home – some items, like updating windows, for example, can sometimes be cost prohibitive. To help with costs, there are often incentives and tax rebates offered from federal, state and local governments as well as non-profits and manufacturers. These incentives and rebates often have a limited shelf life though, so it is good to have your research done on what you plan to spend and how much you think you can get back before plunging into one of these projects.

With financing and plan in hand, the efficiency upgrade process can now begin. From start to finish of the entire process, including the items I've already mentioned, it can take anywhere from 1 to 5 months to complete. A lot depends upon how much work you want done.
 

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