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Why You Should Get a Home Energy Audit Before You Go Solar

Avatar for Hatham Al-Shabibi
Published on 06/27/2019 in
Updated 11/08/2019
Home Energy Audit graphic

In short: Home energy audits save you money, and reduce your impact on the planet by identifying the root causes of high energy consumption in your home, so you know what to do to reduce your demand. Energy audits are especially useful before a solar installation; by replacing, upgrading, or simply tweaking energy-draining features in your home, you can install a smaller system and save even more money over the next 25 years.

What is a home energy audit?

Sometimes when people hear “audit” they start worrying about flashlight-wielding IRS investigators in their attic digging through boxes of receipts. But unlike tax audits, the purpose of a home energy audit is to save you money (it still might involve someone in your attic, but they’ll just be checking the insulation).

During a home energy audit, a trained, professional assessor visits your home and performs an in-depth examination of every room, their conditions, what factors could be driving your power bills up, and your utility bills. The assessor inspects the lighting, wiring, vents, insulation, window condensation, piping, and performs the infamous blower door test.

The audit may also include behavior-related questions, like:

  • Is anyone at home during the day?
  • What’s your average thermostat setting for each season?
  • How many people live here?
  • What do you do when a room isn’t in use?

The audit usually takes 1 to 4 hours to complete. When the assessor is done, they’ll give you a detailed summary of how your home could be improved to reduce energy usage and save you money. In some cases, they’ll even install LED lighting and efficient shower heads for you!

Examples of issues found in an energy audit (ranging from “mostly benign” to “whoa that’s bad”):

  • Doors that have outside air blowing in from under them. Depending on time of year, this could be warming your home up in the summer and making it even colder in winter. Your heating and cooling systems have to work harder, resulting in more energy consumption and higher bills.
  • A roof with air or water leaks. It may also be poorly insulated.
  • A dirty furnace filter and hot water pipes without insulation.
  • Issues with wiring or vampire appliances causing excess electricity usage.
  • Mold and mildew creeping into your home due to excess water vapor and air getting in. Though these aren’t related to energy usage, they are important if you like to breathe. An assessor will identify problems like this so your home is safer.
  • Ducts in bad condition or with poor flow rates, which can cause wild fluctuations in temperature and consume a lot of energy.
  • Lighting that uses standard, inefficient bulbs. Several energy audit assessors will install LED lighting for you.

How will an energy audit benefit me?

The three most direct benefits to getting an energy audit are the money you’ll save by reducing your energy consumption, knowledge of the causes and places of your high energy usage, and the positive impact reducing that energy will have on the world around you.

Energy audits save you money.

If your heating and cooling system is working overtime to keep your home warm or cool because your windows are leaking air, you’re paying for that overtime on your monthly power bill.

We’ll give an example calculation. Since it’s summer and an ice cold drink goes a long way on a 95-degree day, we’ll use a refrigerator.

refrigerator with food

I wish my fridge looked this good.

My refrigerator was manufactured between 2002-2004, has around 21 cubic feet of space, and could use an upgrade. Oregon’s energy rate as of this writing is $.1045 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Based on Energy Star’s calculator tool, my always-on fridge is using 651 kWh per year. My fridge alone, not including any other appliances or devices in my house, is costing me nearly $70 a year. If I were to invest in an Energy Star fridge, I’d save $125 over five years ($25 per year) and remove 400 pounds of carbon pollution from the air.

This table provides a great snapshot at annual savings when you follow multiple energy-saving recommendations.

They tell you where and how your home is using energy you don’t benefit from.

As we covered in the beginning, there can be seemingly benign or unnoticeable issues in your home that’s costing you money. A trained assessor will find those issues that normal folk like us may not notice, and will give you practical steps to address them.

They help you reduce your impact on the planet.

Reducing your energy consumption is a win-win for everyone, even your power company. They would love to reduce the wear and tear on technical resources (like transmission lines) to deliver unneeded power to your home.

Listing all of the environmental benefits of lower energy usage would require a robot army of copywriters (solar powered, of course). But we do want to highlight that by reducing your energy use (and maintaining those habits), you can invest in a smaller solar system, which saves you even more money!

Where can I find a home energy assessor?

The first place to look is your power company. In several states, they’ll have their own assessors. If they don’t, they’ll recommend ones in your area.

The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) provides a list of certified, professional assessors.

You can also do a simple Google search. If you take this route, do your homework! Check the business’s certifications, ratings, and reviews before booking them.

The best assessors will conduct thermographic inspections, which use infrared to measure surface temperatures (usually to ensure insulation is installed correctly).

Can I perform my own home energy audit?

You can! We’ll safely assume you don’t have a combustion analyzer laying around (used to sample gases in appliances), but you can conduct your own audit with a keen eye and the ability to upgrade some of the items in your home:

  • Upgrade old appliances to newer, more efficient ones (such as Energy Star), and unplug them when you’re not using them.
  • Replace your old lighting with modern, LED bulbs and turn them off when not in use.
    Check your windows and doors for leaks. Air coming through may not seem like a big deal, but when that’s happening 24 hours a day your heating and cooling prices are skyrocketing!
  • Check the insulation of your attic. We found a great video on how to do that, and perform other home energy checks.
  • Install ‘smart’ or programmable thermostats so your heating and cooling systems aren’t working overtime all day, when you’re not home. Heating and cooling systems are the highest energy consumer in your home, according to the US Department of Energy (DOE), and can make up nearly half your power bill!
  • According to the DOE, water heating is the third-largest heating expense in your home. Look into high-efficiency water heating systems, or consider going geothermal.
man opening pipe with money flowing out

Your pipeline to saving more money starts with an energy audit.

Does my state have any audit programs, rebates, or incentives?

Depending on where you live, several programs may be available to help offset the costs of energy audits and upgrades. DSIRE, a database managed by the DOE and North Carolina State University, provides a convenient and fast way to filter programs in your state, learn more about them, and apply.

If there are no audit rebates available, don’t fret! If you’re looking to invest in renewable energy systems, like solar, there are several rebate and tax programs available depending on where you live.

Are energy audits related to the Home Energy Score?

The short answer: yes. A Home Energy Score assessor is performing an energy audit on your home in order to provide the score, so if you’re in the market for a home and notice a Home Energy Score, that home was audited.

More cities are requiring homeowners to disclose their Home Energy Score when listing their home for sale. We’re writing this article from Portland, Oregon, where the Home Energy Score disclosure requirement took effect in January 2018.

The Department of Energy likens the score to a miles-per-gallon rating on a car; it’s essentially a unified, consistent way to inform a potential buyer of a home’s efficiency. It also calculates projected savings if all recommendations in the score are followed.

Can I leverage technology to reduce my energy usage?

hot and cold water piping under house showing geothermal power

Simply put, geothermal heating and cooling is awesome.

Absolutely!

There are some obvious tech-savvy ways to reduce energy and save money, like investing in a home solar system, but there are other ways to increase your home’s efficiency that are gaining steam. For example, you can:

  • Invest in a geothermal heating and cooling system. National Geographic has a great myth-busting article on geothermal power. Long story short, geothermal energy systems use the earth itself, deep down (around six feet), as a heating source since temperatures below the surface don’t change that much. Geothermal systems require little maintenance and can last decades.
  • Insulate your home and roof, or improve existing insulation. Most homes in the US aren’t properly insulated; sealing and insulating your home can result in some serious savings on your power bill. This article explains the different types of insulation and their pros and cons. Your assessor will also help you choose the correct insulation for a DIY project, or can help recommend a professional to do the work.
  • Invest in Energy Star/high-efficiency appliances and smart thermostats (or programmable ones). Ecobee, Nest, and Honeywell are popular smart thermostat brands, and you can recoup the retail cost via energy savings in around two years.

Last modified: November 8, 2019

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Brian Denne
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Thank you for adding to the article information on the Home Energy Score program. If you should ever need more information regarding this program, stats on homes Scored so far, or just have some general questions… please feel free to reach out to our company. We’ve Scored over 2,000 homes in Portland since the mandate took place.

Thank you,
HomeEnergyScore.com
Brian

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