Watt, Why & How e-Newsletter

My Home Energy Audit: One Man's Story

For about 5 years, I've heard about home energy audits. They always sounded great. You can find out if your home has enough insulation, if you have air leaks and even make sure you're appliances are operating safely and efficiently.

But up until two years ago, I was a renter. So…no audit.

Still, for the last two years I've owned a home. A home built in the 1960s none-the-less and not had a home energy audit. Shame on me. But no more. This year was the year.

I was really excited for the audit. I couldn't wait to see all of the crazy tech in action. Honestly, I was probably expecting more robots than I should have.

Sadly, there were no robots. The day the inspection took place was a nice 75 degree day, so I didn't even get to see the infrared in action because the indoor and outdoor temperatures were the same.

My inspector walked through my house and took notes. Just like a normal (though highly-trained) human being would.

When inspecting the safety and efficiency of my furnace and hot water heater, there was a small safety concern with the hot water heater potentially back drafting carbon monoxide back into the basement.

The potentially harmful situation was later resolved by adding a new exhaust pipe and flue liner. It took the people who did it about 30 minutes. (Mostly because I kept asking what they were doing.)

The auditor also did the blower test, which involves blocking off the front door except for a hole for a giant fan. Then closing all other exterior windows and doors.

My cat, Chaplin, was curious. And so was I.

The fan scared him a bit, but other than that, it has no ill effects (on humans or felines).

Tuna watched from a safer distance, but again, the fan doesn't send things flying round your home. It just allows the auditor to identify air leakage in your home both overall and specific problem areas.

Like this giant gap that runs the entire height of my chimney from the basement into the attic right up the center of my home.

Through all the tests, we were able to determine that the house could easily be a minimum of 10-15% more efficient with the addition of some insulation and a little air sealing.

This is not uncommon. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that the average house has air leaks equivalent to a basketball-sized hole in your wall.

Imagine trying to stay warm sitting next to a hole that size with the elements just making their way in. Not cool. Actually, in the winter, very cool…Cold even. Possibly freezing. You get my point.

The saying is that hot air always goes to cold (EXHIBITS A and B below). So in the winter, the warm air in your home tries to go out into the cold. In the summer, the hot air outside tries to get into your cooled haven.

That's why air sealing is one of the quickest and easiest ways to make a big impact on your home's efficiency. Outdoor air that can freely move into your house makes any insulation you have basically obsolete due to, you know, air just going around it.

Remember that gap along my chimney? Savor that memory, because it's no longer a gap.

During the inspection, the auditor discovered that our home (built in 1961) had less than an inch of insulation. Though that was common at the time, it's basically a thin piece of foam between us and the elements.

And in some spots, there wasn't even that.

We opted to add dense-pack blown-in cellulose insulation.

Though it's loud (and scares PJ)…The pack completely fills the wall cavity, providing far better insulation and additional air sealing. Especially compared to no insulation at all.

In the attic, they discovered the previous owner had added insulation. Which was great. The problem was, there were so many gaps the R-39 insulation was acting more like R-5.

So we had cellulose blown into the attic to fill the spaces and raise the overall rating to R-48. Or, as I like to call it, "better."

Yes, these upgrades were a bit of an investment, but the house already feels more comfortable. Maintaining its temperature better and more efficiently under similar conditions.

And with the upgrade to a smart thermostat, we're able to monitor the difference in our energy usage, which has declined dramatically since our improvements.

We opted to have our work done ahead of the summer heat. And it's been one of the most comfortable summers I remember indoors. And that's the great thing about having this audit and the upgrades we made. It makes your home more comfortable all year round with less effort and less cost.

Right, Tuna?


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