As you may have heard these days, energy efficiency is in. President Obama has stressed the sexiness of efficient buildings and billions have been dedicated through various programs to help homeowners and businesses save energy (and of course dollars) through efficiency upgrades. Some programs may even have catchy names such as Cash for Caulkers. But when it comes down to it, many people are still left scratching their heads wondering where to go or what it all means to them. Many are unaware of how to take advantage of the various programs and what is involved when you decide to pick up that phone. As a proponent of energy efficiency, and an owner of a relatively inefficient home, I recently decided to walk the talk and give one of the many programs a shot. I received an audit, not from the IRS but from Connecticut Home Energy Solutions for a home energy audit.
A quick little background: The term "negawatt", coined in 1989 by Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, refers to a unit of saved energy. "Producing" negawatts (and their sister in fossil fuels, negatherms) is the intention of a home energy audit. Everybody benefits: The homeowner reduces costs; the utilities and regional community add power "capacity"; The grid stabilizes and reduces the need for an additional plant or distribution capacity. It's a win-win.
The Connecticut Home Energy Solutions (CT HES) is sponsored by the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, a partnership formed by the State's major utility companies and funded by a small surcharge on each customers electric and natural gas bills. The CT HES is a subsidized energy audit, approximately $750 in value, made available to qualified homeowners for a modest fee of $75. In a Fairfield Minuteman article dated February 17th regarding Rep. Kim Fawcett recieving an energy audit, I decided to give the provider, Green Star Insulation of Brookfield, CT, a call. They quickly got back to me and after asking a few questions about my house (age, type, size, heating & cooling types, etc), they scheduled my appointment. And with a special little nugget: Fairfield, CT, using Recovery Act funds, was subsidizing the full $75 cost!
Home energy audits can vary in their type so "audit day" approached with a little uncertainty. When Scott, Ted, and Emily from Green Star Insulation showed up at my door with a plethora of equipment, I knew I was in energy-geek heaven. The first step for the audit was for the team to get the lay of the land. I sat down with Scott for a few minutes reviewing some of the home's vital information and then he and the rest of the team took some time to walk around the interior of the house. For a home's energy performance, there are two major players: the thermal barrier (insulation) and infiltration (the home seal). Since the CT HES only allows for a short time window for the audit (3-4 hours) and a limited amount of material installation, Scott explained that they go after the "low-hanging fruit."
For our home, Scott and the team decided to first perform a duct pressure test and then a whole house blower door test. The duct pressurization test allows the team to find leaks in the duct work (we have a forced air system) and then seal them with mastic and tape. At the test and sealing conclusion, we went from a leakage rate of 250 CFM to 204 CFM, an 18% decrease.
From there, Green Star proceeded with the blower door test, a noisy but very effective method of testing the whole-house air seal. A large fan was installed in the front door, switched on to depressurize the house, and the team was able to go around the house and fix the easily apparent leaks. From spray foam and caulk to weatherstripping and Roxul insulation, the team concentrated on the two major sources of leaks: the basement and attic. And boy did they have their work cut out for them. Apparently, due to the age and construction method of our house (wood frame with tongue and groove sheathing), there are a million microscopic holes allowing outside air to infiltrate. After spending nearly 2 hours sealing the house, the team from Green Star was only able to achieve a minor 5% reduction in leakage CFM (they usually achieve 10%). Our house is just that leaky.
After installing a handful of CFL bulbs (most of ours were already CFLs) and low-flow shower heads around the house, Green Star Insulation's work was almost finished. Last came the sit-down with Scott to go over the results, rebates and recommendations. As noted above, a lot of progress was made but there are still plenty of possible energy efficiency upgrades. If we would like, we could use the available rebates to update the appliances and mechanical equipment throughout the house or install additional attic and basement insulation. But what I appreciated most was that the audit was no strings attached. Estimates for the work were given but with absolutely no pressure, just incentives to have a more efficient home.
Given the amount of energy upgrades we have made to the house over the past couple of years, the afternoon was certainly a humbling experience. But to realize what battles to fight for the most negawatts and negatherms was invaluable. Approaching this, you may feel overwhelmed on where to start improving the efficiency of your home but know there is an easy first step: A home energy audit. Who has two thumbs up and recommends giving the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund a call today to set one up? This guy.
Images provided by the author.