Saving Homeowners Money with Home Energy Audits & Home Performance Evaluations
April 28, 2014
By Daran R. Wastchak
Although “home energy audits” have been around since energy shortages and long lines at the gas station in the 1970’s, the past five to ten years have seen a renewed interest with the dawn of the “green” environmental movement. At the end of the day, regardless of the driver, homeowners like saving money and an assessment of a home’s energy consumption and guidance on how to reduce energy bills in and of itself is enough to spur them to action. That’s where home energy audits, or home performance evaluations, come into play.
A traditional home energy audit looks primarily at overall and specific energy consumption in a home. Utility bills and energy use patterns and behavior are analyzed to determine if consumption can be shifted from more expensive “on-peak” times of the day to less expensive “off-peak” times. Individual appliances, lighting, and mechanical systems (air conditioning and water heating) are evaluated and cost effective recommendations are made for upgrades to newer, more efficient equipment where it makes sense.
A “home performance evaluation” is a more comprehensive look at a house as a system which involves the use of testing equipment and in-depth inspections to determine if the structure (or building envelope) is built properly to keep heat outside in the summer and inside in the winter. Most houses have insulation, but if the structure being insulated, or the insulation itself, is full of holes or the insulation is not allowed to touch the structure in key locations, it simply does not work and heat will move freely from outside to inside in the summer and vice versa in the winter. Imagine going outside on a cold day with a large hole cut out of your sweater, right in the middle of your back. Your body heat would be rapidly escaping through that hole and you would feel particularly cold at that one location. Imagine again that your sweater was suspended a couple of inches away from your body. Rather than trapping warm air against your body, cold air would be sitting between the sweater and your body. This is exactly the problem with most older and many newer houses. And we haven’t even talked about the windows yet!
Thankfully, for new homes, programs like ENERGY STAR have been at work since the mid-1990’s to help ensure that the new housing stock is built correctly, from the start, to maximize energy efficiency. The building envelopes are constructed so insulation will work properly, the envelopes are tested for air leakage to ensure they are tight, high-efficiency low-e windows are installed, high-efficiency air conditioning systems are included and duct systems are tested to make certain that conditioned air is delivered to the house rather than leaked into the attic.
On the existing home front there is herculean amount of work to be done in order to bring all the homes not built correctly, up to a point of greater energy efficiency, and incidentally greater comfort (remember the sweater analogy). Since 2008, Arizona Public Service, jump started the Arizona Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program, followed shortly after by Salt River Project and Southwest Gas (www.AZHomePerformance.com). This program brings together qualified contractors, who understand how to conduct home energy audits and comprehensive home performance evaluations, and utility company rebates to get repair work and equipment upgrades completed for existing homes.
There is no shortage of gaining an understanding of how to make homes more energy efficient. Home energy audits and comprehensive home performance evaluations are the key to delivering this information and will help homeowners save money….and most importantly be more comfortable in their homes.