With Cuyahoga County’s Department of Sustainability announcing that all county homeowners qualify for a free home energy assessment, we look back at the experience of going through an energy audit and the efficiency measures taken as a result.
A home energy assessment is a good place to start finding out where your house is losing energy, especially, the biggest source—the energy to heat or cool a living space. From personal experience (with the Dominion East Ohio Gas subsidized $50 energy assessment), we gained many, valuable insights.
Fifty dollars was a bargain—we can only urge readers to jump at the chance to get a 100% subsidized visit from a certified “energy rater.” Ours explained how the technology used—an infrared camera and a “blower door” test—provides a way of seeing where the drafts are located in a home. The energy rater helped us understand where the worst drafts were located, and advised us on how to best stop air from leaking.
Our old home was very drafty, so it was very clear where air sealing and insulation would help. Instead of focusing on windows—which we assumed was our worst culprit for air loss—the audit was able to show where investing real dollars would have the most impact. It provided confidence in hiring a firm to air seal and strategically place insulation. A test after the work was completed showed an energy savings of 25-30%. Not only did the work translate to reductions of natural gas consumption (our latest bill is the lowest its been in years), it also improved the comfort of our home in the winter.
A good energy rater can reveal ways to reduce energy consumption. With so many advances in lighting and thermostat technology on the market, changing out lightbulbs can cut energy use dramatically. The upfront investments in new LED bulbs and smart thermostats are generally considered a safe bet in providing savings (especially with energy costs expected to rise).
When you’re ready to take a peak “behind the walls,” the assessment is a good place to start. Expect to educate yourself and come up with a plan that can include a list of priorities (that you can then put price tags on). The important thing is having the information. To paraphrase a maxim from the business world, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Even if it takes a little while to implement the items on the list, the energy audit is an important document in setting a course for change.
The county’s program seems to be focusing on the right areas—where most older homes in the Cleveland area could benefit from the “low hanging fruit” of energy efficiency. Sealing up the draftiest spots (as we did with our home—and saw instant results). Also, a focus on replacing energy hogging incandescent light bulbs with high efficiency LEDs (which stands for light-emitting diode. LEDs fit most lamps and use less than half of the energy of a traditional bulb).
p.s. It’s hard to argue with free, especially when confronting the complex terrain of home energy improvements. The thing to remember is the energy rater should be an impartial source—in other words, he or she is there to arm you with information, not to sell any one product or company’s services. In our experience, we never felt pressured by our energy rater to buy or invest in any one thing. We were happy to have the information produced by a scientifically rigorous method. The details of the “blower door” test and inspection provided a blueprint for the conversation to follow with the insulation contractors we interviewed. We eventually hired a company that paid the most attention to the assessment and our budget, and are pleased with the results.