If you are sick of high home energy bills, Dr. Energy has the remedy. Start with a Home Energy Audit (HEA) to diagnose and evaluate the symptoms of high energy bills.
I was not always Dr. Energy. I had to learn so I had to start somewhere. I started with a Home Energy Audit (HEA). I was working with an HEA auditor, Stewart, on an Energy Star home we were building for a customer. I started to ask him questions about the problems I was having with my home. He said you need to diagnose the whole house. So Stewart came over and audited my house inside and out. Three hours and $400 later I knew all the leaks, gaps, deficiencies, and energy problems my home had.
What is a Home Energy Audit (HEA)? It is the stethoscope, the tongue depressor the tool that will diagnose and evaluate the symptoms your home is having. Typical symptoms are: one or more cold/hot rooms in the house, drafty areas of the house, moldy or mildew odors, and of course high energy bills (electric, propane, oil). My master bedroom was hotter than the rest of the house in the summer and colder than the rest of the house in the winter. There were drafty areas in the house and my propane bills were a lot more than I wanted them to be.
I will explain the basics of a HEA. There are technical jargon and practices that are done that I will not go into. But I want everyone to have an idea of what an HEA should be. The four basic areas that and auditor will cover are the exterior, the combustion devices (propane/gas heater, hot water heater, fire place, gas range, etc.), and the interior. They should also go over your energy bills with you to understand what your consumption is and how to reduce it.
Stewart started with a walk around the exterior of the house to determine how many penetrations were in the house. For every vent your home has such as the range or cook-top, bathroom, dryer, fire place, and plumbing there is a hole or penetration in the home’s exterior walls and roof. And those are places for possible leaks.
The next are the combustion devices. Since my hot water heater and heater were newer models and had sealed systems he could only check to make sure they vented properly to the outside. He also tested the systems to make sure that no carbon monoxide was going into the house. If my hot water heater and heater were older models he would make sure that they were igniting properly and burning properly. If there had been any problems at that point he would instruct me to contact our heating and air conditioning contractor.
The third area and probably the one that is the most dramatic is testing the interior of the home with a blower door test while using a thermal imaging scanner. This is like a blood pressure test on your body. It will tell you how sick your home is. It tells you how air tight your home is. The tighter the better!
It can get very technical so I will make it as easy to understand as possible. The blower door test basically takes all the air out of the house (depressurizing the house) to a certain level or base line. Remember from science class whenever you test something there has to be a baseline. For those in the audience who are interested it is 50 Pascal for a home up to 3,000 square feet. The test is really to determine how many times old air is being changed for new air in your home. So, picture a big fan at the front door pulling air out of the house. By doing this you can feel with your hands and see with the thermal scanner where the leaks are. In my house the leaks were around all the bathroom fans, the front door, by the fire place that is in the family room, and gaps in the wall. With the house depressurized each room can be tested separately to determine how bad the leaks are. For example if you open a door half way and it closes by itself that means there is a serious leak in that room.
While the house is depressurized Stewart walked around with a gun like device called the thermal imaging scanner. Basically it reads the heat (thermal) areas that you point it at. Everything has a level of heat. This scanner showed everything in black, grey, and white. It has a small monitor on it so you can actually see what it is pointing at. It looks like a little black and white TV for those of you who remember them. The black is the hottest and white would be cold. When I did my HEA it was spring so it showing more black than white. One of the first audits I did was for a friend, Gary, and he said it was like watching a horror movie of his house. His house was very leaky and the scanner showed these dark grey streaks across his ceiling and on some of his walls. It almost looked like things were growing on it but it was actually showing the air flow across those areas. On my house there were gaps in the walls and ceiling that appeared dark because they forgot to insulate in those areas or they did not block those areas to the outside side air. The pictures here are of my home. They are kind of scary.
Finally, Stewart looked at my energy bills and we talked about what my goals were in dealing with what I had just learned. He gave me a report that listed the problem areas and suggestions on how to fix them. It was well worth the time and money to learn what I do not want to know but needed to know. It took me about six months to address most of the problems. The only thing that I do different than Stewart when I am performing a HEA is that I start with the energy bills. I have that discussion first to understand what the expenses have been and how, as I go through the whole HEA, I can address them. To me it is all about reducing the energy costs of operating our homes.
Since I started the learning process of home energy I have reduced my energy bills by 15%. I am still testing and trying new techniques and technologies to get my bills lower. As I learn I will share. This can only help you save money and reduce our need for energy.
Please visit our TAPA Energy Efficient Homes website for further information.