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Why Home Energy Audits are Important, Especially for Solar Homes

Energy audits range from complicated to relatively basic, depending on your needs. For example, professionals can actually use infrared leak detectors and factor that into the cost of energy it takes to make your house livable, from the water heater to your leaky door.

Audits aren’t all about electricity; they center more on how that electricity is being used and how it could be used more efficiently. Energy audits are a good idea for everyone, since we all need to do our small part, no matter what’s on our roofs. For those with PV systems, however, audits are crucial. If you don’t know how your energy is being wasted, how on earth do you know the minimum PV installation size you need to cover your real costs? And if you don’t know, the price you pay for your system may be much greater than is needed.

Here are the basics.

For the Hiring Kind:

  • Make note of presently uncomfortable rooms and rooms with excess condensation.
  • Have copies of your yearly energy bills (all of them) for the review of your professional.
  • Make sure you ask for references from your auditor. Contact them and use the company only if the previous customers are satisfied in the long run.
  • Make sure the auditor uses a Calibrated Blower Door Tester (a device to check for leaks).
  • Make sure they do thermographic inspection to establish the efficiency of your insulation.

A good source of information is the EnergySavers.gov site all about this topic. There you will find links to further information and a more comprehensive explanation.

I’m not sure how effective this is, but it’s a device called The Energy Detective (TED). Basically, it tells you how much electricity is being consumed and estimates how much you’re paying for it. Coupled with the above steps, it could be a wonderful addition to your energy efficiency monitoring. Here’s a SolarAtHome (part of Scientific American) post that concerns TED.

And here’s a free online home energy calculator called The Home Energy Saver Calculator. The calculator is sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Energy and takes into account a great deal of devices and consumptions. It even takes climate areas into account when calculating the efficiency of your current home. It’s really interesting and the reports are apparently as detailed or user-friendly as you require.

For the Do It Yourselfer:

  • Walk through your home and record the leaks or areas in need of repair. This helps prioritize what needs upgrading to increase your energy efficiency. Pay special attention to fireplaces, base boards and switch plates, along with the usual suspects, such as doors, windows and air conditioning units.
  • Fix the simple leaks with caulk and spray foam. Other materials work well. Old denim can patch the old place up and Morlite makes a neat putty-like strip that presses into place around windows or doors. It’s a fairly easy fix.
  • If you can’t find the leaks, shut the doors and windows, turn off gas-burning appliances and then use the exhaust fans you have (stove blower for instance) to create a draw. This should help pull air through the walls, unless your house leaks like my rental.
  • Inspect your insulation, heating and cooling equipment and lighting. Upgrade as necessary and do this once a year. Heaters and water heaters definitely do not last forever and aren’t as efficient as they age.

For a well-detailed do it yourself home energy audit, visit EnergySavers.gov, part of the US Dept. of Energy.

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