Energy audits take the guesswork out of making a home more energy efficient (and heating bills lower)Before his home energy audit Monday, Bill Mulek blamed old windows for much of the energy loss in his home. Mulek was only partially correct. While his old glass windows are colder than his walls, it’s the gap between the window frame and the wall that is the bigger culprit.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Before his home energy audit Monday, Bill Mulek blamed old windows for much of the energy loss in his home.
Mulek was only partially correct. While his old glass windows are colder than his walls, it’s the gap between the window frame and the wall that is the bigger culprit.
In fact, when energy auditor Karl Rosenau hooked up a blower door – which sucked air out of the house, creating a vacuum that would suck more air in – Mulek could actually feel a small breeze coming in from the gaps behind the ground-floor windows of his 1920s-era home.
“It looks like I have a caulking project coming up,” Mulek said, adding that he had previously applied caulk around the window glass, but hadn’t thought to look behind the window frames themselves.
Rosenau, owner of the local Pro Energy Consultants franchise, said customers are often pleasantly surprised when they learn how they can significantly lower heating bills by making low-cost fixes like Mulek’s caulking job.
“It’s generally not the windows,” Rosenau said, noting that having an energy audit done takes the guesswork out of where to spend energy-efficiency dollars. “There are often other things in the house causing problems – a series of small steps homeowners can do themselves – and windows are very expensive to replace.”
Like anything, home energy audits run the gamut from free do-it-yourself checklists to the deluxe versions (which can cost several hundred dollars, depending on how much square footage) offered by companies like Pro Energy.
Tina Koecher, Minnesota Power energy efficiency manager, recommends folks looking to save on energy costs check out the company website at www.mnpower.com and look under “Power of One” and “One Home.”
“Understanding how you’re using energy is important,” she said, “and the first step to really understanding how to make your home more energy efficient.”
Minnesota Power customers can download and do their own “energy report” as a first step to figuring out their own energy usage. Minnesota Power also offers a basic in-home energy analysis – an electricity-use audit – free of charge. The analysis, however, doesn’t include the more advanced diagnostic tools that a professional home energy audit normally utilizes.
For those who do the energy report and know that there are problems with the “shell” of the home but want to know exactly what needs more insulation, caulking or replacing, a professional energy audit can pay for itself in a few months of lower heating and cooling bills, provided the homeowner follows through on the recommendations.
“[A professional energy audit] can be a significant investment, but it helps identify what areas to focus on,” Koecher said.
Through the use of a blower door and infrared camera technology in a professional energy audit, a trained energy auditor can look behind the walls and ceilings to pinpoint where conditioned air is “leaking” out of the home. Following the energy audit, homeowners should receive a list of prioritized, recommended improvements to solve any comfort and excessive energy usage issues.
An energy audit by Rosenau includes the blower door set up, along with images from an infrared camera showing temperature variations, smoke pencils (which visually demonstrate air flow) and a follow-up report and phone call.
Rosenau said he likes to have the homeowner follow him throughout the house while he does the audit, so he or she can see and/or feel the air flow in problem areas.
After walking through the basement, first and second floors in the Mulek’s home, Rosenau identified a range of issues. Using the infrared camera, he noted that the temperature at the corner of the attic hatch was 27 degrees Fahrenheit.
“In summer, the attic is the hottest part of the house, so hot air will be moving into your upstairs then,” he said, explaining that hot air moves to cold. “In winter, all that warm air that you’re paying for is going up into the attic.”
That warm air escaping upwards is replaced, he explained, by cold air coming into the lowest levels of the house. In Mulek’s home, Rosenau said he would recommend using polystyrene insulation (cut to fit) and caulk to seal non-insulated spots in the basement where the wooden frame of the house meets the concrete basement walls. He also recommended sealing the furnace ducts with mastic rather than duct tape, which he said is a misnomer.
“Duct tape doesn’t belong on ducts,” he said. “There is heat tape you can buy, otherwise mastic (which is like a thick paint specially made for this purpose) is the best because it moves (shrinks and expands) with the ducts.”
He would also recommend that Mulek add insulation to the outside walls of his home.
“In old houses like this, you really don’t know what’s in the walls [for insulation],” Rosenau said. “Sometimes it’s nothing, sometimes newspapers. I’ve even heard of old coats being stuffed in a wall.”
While Rosenau is happy to work with a contractor to pinpoint problem areas, he doesn’t offer any building services
“What you get is a good,
objective assessment,” he said. “I’m not trying to sell you