Energy Audits – what are they and should you get one?

An energy audit, sometimes called an energy assessment can help to find out where heating dollars are going. An energy audit shows how a home uses energy, including where it’s being wasted, so homeowners can make targeted upgrades. Should you have an audit done, we have some tips to help you decide.

When I was little, cold weather meant sledding parties, hot cocoa, and days off from school. I still love cocoa, but after we bought an old farmhouse, winter also meant icy drafts, rattling windows, and painfully high heating costs.

A friend recommended we get an energy audit, sometimes called an energy assessment, to find out where our heating dollars were going. An energy audit shows how a home uses energy, including where it’s being wasted, so homeowners can make targeted upgrades. For instance, we learned that our walls are well insulated, but our attic wasn’t.

Signs you might need an energy audit:

  • Your house is more than 50 years old
  • You’re breaking the bank to buy firewood, pellets, or heating oil
  • Drafts blow in around your windows and doors, or through chinks in the walls
  • Your windows or doors rattle in their frames
  • No matter how much the stove or furnace runs, your house feels chilly

Still not certain? You can run a quick Do-It-Yourself assessment, with some help from the federal government. You’ll need to know your past 12 months of utility usage, which is probably on your electricity bill or heating oil statement.

Some nonprofits offer free or low-cost energy audits, which usually consist of feeling for drafts, checking for rattling windows, and looking for visible signs of leaks, such as condensation on windows or loose ductwork.

A professional energy audit will cost $200 to $500 – the price varies depending on the size of your home and how many auditors in your area are competing for business – but will use some very interesting tools to give you a detailed look at your home’s trouble spots. (Tax subsidies can offset some or all of the cost.)

My favorite instrument was the thermographic scanner, which showed in vivid color exactly how heat was escaping my house – and even let me peek inside walls to see where the lath-and-plaster construction gave way to better-insulated studs with fiberfill. Most professional audits also include a blower door test, which can reveal all the leaks that New England’s older homes are famous for.

Afterward, you will get a detailed report outlining exactly where and how your home is losing energy, plus the measures that you can use to make your home more energy efficient – and even tell you how cost-effective each will be.

For instance, our energy auditor explained that if we added a foot of insulation to our attic, it would cost about $800 up front but would save us about $150 per year in heating costs, so it would pay for itself in six years. Replacing our rattling windows, by contrast, would cost $200 to $400 per window, and doing all 20 windows in the house would save only about $100 per year, so might never pay for itself. Caulking up gaps between old wooden beams costs only a few dollars per tube of caulk, but can make a huge difference in comfort and heating costs. And so forth.

Not only will you learn the best way to spend your winterizing dollars, getting an energy audit can qualify you to get tax credits for your energy efficiency upgrades.

After our energy audit, we decided to insulate our basement and attic, apply caulk liberally, and make a few other changes. The result is that not only does our house feel warmer, our heating costs also dropped enormously — we buy less wood, less heating oil, and our electric bill for the winter months dropped by about half.

For most homeowners, making the upgrades identified in a home energy audit can save you 5 to 30 percent on your monthly energy bill, according to the US Department of Energy.

If you’re ready to shrink your heating bills, get rid of spine-chilling drafts, and find cost-effective steps to a warmer home, an energy audit could be your next step.


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