What To Expect During A Home Energy Audit?

What to expect during a home energy audit?

A home energy audit is a detailed inspection and analysis of a home’s energy usage and energy efficiency. Homeowners get energy audits done to identify areas where their home is losing energy unnecessarily and to find solutions to reduce their energy use, save money on utility bills, and make their home more comfortable and energy efficient (The Importance of a Home Energy Audit). By conducting a thorough inspection and using testing equipment, energy auditors can locate air leaks, areas lacking insulation, and other problems that cause energy waste in a home. The audit report provides homeowners with recommendations for cost-effective energy efficiency improvements they can make to fix these issues.

Before the Audit

Before conducting a home energy audit, there are some preparations homeowners should make to ensure the process goes smoothly. Here are some tips for getting your home ready:

– Clear clutter and tidy up areas the auditor will need to access like attics, crawlspaces, and utility rooms. Remove stored items that may be in the way (source).

– Have at least 12 months of utility bills on hand so the auditor can analyze your home’s energy use over time. Make copies you can provide to the auditor (source).

– List any problem areas in your home, like drafty rooms, moisture issues, or places you suspect lack insulation. Share this with the auditor so they know what to focus on.

– Plan for all HVAC systems, appliances, electronics, and lighting to be accessible and turned on during the audit if possible. This gives a more accurate picture of energy use.

– On the day of the audit, keep pets contained and out of the way. Make sure all areas of the home can be accessed including the attic, crawlspace, basement, and utility closets.

Types of Energy Audits

There are a few common types of energy audits that home energy assessors typically perform:

Walkthrough Audit

A walkthrough audit, also known as a simple audit, involves a quick visual inspection of the home. The auditor will look for obvious issues such as leaks, insulation problems, and equipment that needs to be upgraded. They may use some simple tools like a thermometer or infrared camera. This type of audit can provide a good overview of areas that need improvement.

Targeted Audit

A targeted audit focuses on specific areas or systems in the home, such as the HVAC system. The auditor will do a more thorough examination of those areas, using diagnostic tools and tests. This type of audit is a good option if you already know certain areas that need attention.

Comprehensive Audit

A comprehensive, or detailed, audit examines the whole home. It involves blower door tests to detect leaks, thorough inspection of insulation, diagnostics on mechanical systems, and an overall energy use evaluation. It will provide a complete energy profile of the home.

This type of in-depth audit may take several hours to complete. It provides the homeowner with the most complete recommendations for upgrades.

The level of detail needed will determine what type of energy audit is best for your situation.

What the Auditor Checks

During a home energy audit, the auditor will do a thorough examination of the entire home, looking for areas that need improvement. Here are some of the main things an energy auditor will inspect:

Insulation levels – The auditor will check the insulation in the attic, exterior and basement walls, ceilings, floors, and crawl spaces. They will measure insulation thickness and look for gaps or areas with little to no insulation. Proper insulation helps prevent heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer.

Windows and doors – The auditor will examine all windows and doors noting air leaks, condition of weatherstripping, and type of glazing. Energy efficient windows and doors with proper weather seals help reduce drafts and improve overall efficiency.

Heating and cooling equipment – The age, type, and condition of heating and cooling systems are documented. The auditor may run tests to evaluate efficiency and capacity of the equipment. Proper maintenance and upgrades can optimize performance.

Ventilation – Auditors will assess ventilation, including kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans, looking for ways to improve indoor air quality. Proper ventilation reduces humidity and prevents buildup of pollutants.

Appliances and lighting – The energy use of appliances and lighting fixtures will be examined. The auditor notes ages and types of appliances and may recommend upgrading to ENERGY STAR models for better efficiency.

Air leaks – Any air leaks found in the home are documented, usually by conducting a blower door test. Sealing air leaks can greatly improve comfort and energy efficiency.

Diagnostic Tools Used

Energy auditors use a variety of high-tech diagnostic tools and equipment to thoroughly inspect a home. Some of the key tools include:

Blower door test: This test uses a powerful fan mounted in the frame of an exterior door to lower the air pressure inside the home. The auditor can then detect air leaks as they observe how the house responds to the lower pressure. According to the Sustainability Education Academy (https://sustainabilityeducationacademy.com/energy-audit-tools-ea-basics/), a blower door test helps identify locations where sealing air leaks could lead to substantial energy savings.

Thermal imaging camera: These special cameras detect infrared radiation to see heat patterns and temperature differences on surfaces. They can identify areas of air infiltration, missing insulation, moisture intrusion issues, and more. As Green Building Advisor notes (https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/article/an-energy-auditors-toolkit), thermal imaging provides visual confirmation of energy loss from the building enclosure.

Combustion gas analyzers: Auditors use these devices to measure levels of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and other gases in flue emissions. This helps assess the safety and efficiency of heating systems and water heaters.

Other common tools include humidity, temperature, and pressure data loggers, energy measurement devices, smoke pencils to detect drafts, inspection cameras, moisture meters, and more. The right equipment allows auditors to thoroughly evaluate a home’s efficiency.

Interviewing the Homeowner

A key part of the home energy audit process is the homeowner interview. This allows the auditor to ask important questions to understand the home’s energy use patterns and any areas of concern. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the homeowner interview is a “discussion with your home energy expert to identify any specific comfort issues and understand typical living patterns in your home” (source).

Some common questions the auditor may ask the homeowner include:

  • What are your main comfort and energy concerns?
  • How long have you lived in the home?
  • How many people live here and what are your living patterns?
  • Do you have any existing health conditions affected by home conditions?
  • Which rooms seem drafty, too hot/cold, or have moisture issues?
  • Have you noticed issues like ice damming, mold, or condensation?
  • Do you have any concerns about safety issues like gas leaks, asbestos, lead paint?
  • Have you done any upgrades like insulation, air sealing, new windows?
  • Can you show me previous utility bills?

The homeowner responses help the auditor tailor testing and recommendations to the specific needs of the household. This information gathering process is an essential first step in conducting an effective home energy audit.

After the Audit

Once the home energy audit is complete, the auditor will review the results and prepare a detailed report for the homeowner. This comprehensive report is a key part of the audit process, as it provides a complete summary of the auditor’s findings and recommended upgrades ([“Things to Know About Home Energy Audits,” 2022][1]).

The report will include an overview of how the home is currently performing in terms of energy efficiency. It will identify problem areas, such as places where heating and cooling is being lost. The auditor will use diagnostic tools like blower door tests and infrared cameras to detect leaks and drafts. All of this data will be compiled into energy performance metrics and scores ([retrofoamofmichigan.com, 2018][2]).

In addition to diagnosing problems, the report will provide a prioritized list of recommended upgrades to improve the home’s energy efficiency. Common recommendations may include adding insulation, sealing air leaks, upgrading HVAC systems, replacing appliances, and installing energy efficient windows and doors. For each recommendation, the projected costs, energy savings, and payback period will be analyzed.

The report allows homeowners to make informed decisions about which energy efficient upgrades to implement first based on their budget and goals. It serves as an action plan for cost effectively enhancing the home’s performance.

[1]: https://www.forbes.com/home-improvement/home/ask-the-contractor-home-energy-audits/
[2]: https://www.retrofoamofmichigan.com/blog/what-to-expect-during-professional-home-energy-audit

Implementing Recommendations

After receiving the home energy audit report, the next step is to start implementing the recommended upgrades and improvements. It’s important to carefully review all the suggestions and create a prioritized plan for completing the work. The auditor may provide guidance on sequencing the upgrades for maximum benefit.

Typically, it makes sense to start with the simpler, more affordable fixes before taking on major renovation projects. This allows you to achieve some energy savings right away while budgeting and planning for larger investments. The audit report should indicate the estimated costs, potential energy savings, and payback period for each recommendation.

Some examples of easier upgrades to tackle first include:

  • Adding weather stripping around doors and windows
  • Sealing air leaks with caulk or spray foam
  • Installing programmable thermostats
  • Upgrading to LED light bulbs
  • Adding insulation to the attic

More complex and costly projects that require significant planning might include replacing appliances and HVAC systems, installing solar panels or double-pane windows, and upgrading insulation in the walls or basement. It’s wise to get several contractor estimates before proceeding with major upgrades.

Many utilities and state/local governments offer rebates and incentives for energy efficiency improvements, which can help offset the upfront costs. Taking advantage of these programs is a smart way to maximize savings from your home energy audit.

Government Rebates

The federal government and some state/local governments offer rebates and tax incentives to make home energy upgrades more affordable. The main federal programs are:

The Energy Efficient Home Improvement tax credit allows for a credit of up to $500 for installing qualified energy efficient improvements like insulation, windows, doors, roofing, and HVAC systems. This credit applies for tax years 2022 through 2032.

The Federal Tax Credit for Residential Energy Efficiency allows for a credit of up to $2,000 for installing qualified solar electric systems, solar water heating systems, small wind energy systems, geothermal heat pumps, and fuel cell systems. This credit is available through 2032.

Some states and utilities also offer rebates and incentives for energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy systems installation. These can help further defray the upfront costs of improvements.

Benefits of an Audit

Getting a home energy audit can provide many benefits that help cut costs and improve home comfort. Some key benefits include:

Saving money on utility bills – An audit will identify areas of energy waste and inefficiency. Making recommended upgrades can reduce energy usage by up to 30%, saving homeowners hundreds of dollars per year on utility bills. 1

Improving comfort – Sealing air leaks, adding insulation, and upgrading to efficient HVAC systems can make a home quieter and help maintain more consistent temperatures year-round.

Prioritizing improvements – Auditors provide a detailed list of recommended efficiency upgrades ranked by cost-effectiveness. Homeowners can use this to strategically plan upgrades within their budget.

Accessing rebates – Many utilities and governments offer rebates and incentives to homeowners that complete energy efficiency upgrades after an audit. Audits are often required to qualify for these programs.

Increasing home value – Efficiency upgrades can increase a home’s value. One study found homes increase in value by an average of $20 for every $1 in annual energy savings. 2

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