What is a home energy audit - and is it worth it?
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Chances are you’re spending too much on your electric bill each month. In fact, your money is probably going right out your window - literally! One of the best ways to reduce your energy bills is by making energy-efficient upgrades around the house, but it can be hard to figure out where to start.
That’s where home energy audits come in. A home energy audit will help you see the big picture of how your whole house uses energy, so you can start transforming it into an energy-efficient home.
In this article, we’ll go over what a home energy audit is, how much it costs, and if it’s a worthwhile investment for you.
A home energy audit, sometimes referred to as a “home energy assessment”, is a whole-house inspection that assesses how your home uses energy. During an energy audit, a professional auditor will complete a walk-through of your entire house and conduct a few tests to find ways for you to improve your home’s energy use.
Some of the most common tests completed during a home energy audit include blower door tests to measure air leakages through doorways and thermographic inspections with infrared cameras to find hot and cold spots in your home. Home energy auditors will also complete air quality tests to detect signs of carbon monoxide and mold, which may indicate that you need to improve the airflow in your home.
You can also expect auditors to take a look at your windows, hot water heater, HVAC system, and look for gaps and air leaks around fireplaces and floorboards. Be sure to look for auditors with either a Building Performance Institute (BPI) or Home Energy Rating System (HERS) certification.
Once the inspection is complete, the auditor will have a better understanding of your home energy consumption so you can determine what energy efficiency upgrades will be most beneficial to you.
Investing in a home energy audit has many benefits, including:
The average homeowner can expect to spend a minimum of $100 to about $500 for an audit, but it can cost upwards of $1,000 depending on the home.
Typically, you’ll see that home energy audits are billed on a per-square foot basis with rates that range from $0.10 per square foot to $0.40 per square foot. So, the larger your home, the more expensive an audit will be.
The cost may also vary depending on the types of tests that the inspector performs. For instance, a blower test to look for air leaks could increase the price of the audit if it’s not already included in the initial price.
A home energy audit can expensive, so if it’s not in your budget to hire a professional, the good news is - you can do the inspection yourself!
Keep in mind though, you won’t have all the same tools and training as a professional auditor, so while you might save on the upfront cost of the inspection, you might not see as big of savings on your energy costs.
When you’re conducting your own home energy audit, you need to look at five key things:
Check air conditioning filters as well as duct lines for any evidence of holes or gaps. Make sure to get a regular HVAC tune-up. You might also consider a smart thermostat to improve the temperature in your home.
Look for gaps and feel for air leaks around the edge of your flooring, baseboards, electrical outlets, light switches, recessed lighting, windows, doors, and fireplaces. These issues can usually be fixed by completing air sealing improvements like weather stripping or caulking.
Check bathroom ventilation fans and dryer vents for any blockages to reduce the risk of mold and fire. Look for signs of mold or moisture in your attic, as you may need to improve ventilation.
If your attic floor joists are visible, you likely need more insulation. Also make sure your attic access door is properly insulated and check behind wall outlets to see if outer walls are properly insulated.
Consider improving your home performance with Energy Star appliances which use up to 50% less electricity than conventional models. Switch light bulbs to LEDs, which will last longer and use substantially less electricity than incandescent bulbs.
You can read more about simple energy efficiency upgrades that will cut your electric bill here.
If you complete all of the upgrades suggested during your home energy audit, you could end up saving 30% on your electricity bill! That means you could potentially drop your $150 utility bill down to $105, just by improving your home’s energy efficiency.
However, this will take a significant amount of upfront investment. Here are just some of the costs and savings associated with energy-efficient upgrades for the average American home:
|Improvement||Cost||10-year energy savings|
|Energy Star refrigerator||$1,500||$150|
|Energy Star washer and dryer||$1,500||$580|
|Installing LED light bulbs||$100||$3,000|
As you can see, in less than 10 years you will save just as much as you spent on your energy-efficient home improvements! Of course, you should keep in mind that the actual costs and savings you will see depend on your home, the appliances you choose, and the contractors you go with.
You also don’t have to make all of these energy-efficiency upgrades all at once, or even at all! What that means is, if your refrigerator is working just fine and you can’t afford to replace it just to use a little less electricity - don’t sweat it.
Many of the simpler (and cheaper) energy-efficient fixes like replacing light bulbs and weather stripping your doors will save you way more money - without clearing out your wallet. Maybe just plan to go for the Energy Star model when your fridge does eventually break.
Pro tip: When you are looking to make some of these energy improvements, check to see if your state or utility company offers any energy-efficient rebate programs, like the Mass Save program in Massachusetts.
For most homeowners, doing a DIY home energy audit should suffice. You can identify and implement efficiency improvements like changing light bulbs or weather stripping doors to prevent energy losses on your own without having to pay for an inspection.
However, if you have an older home, you might want to consider hiring a professional. Older homes tend to experience much higher energy losses through things like drafts and are more likely to have issues with mold and air quality than newer homes. If this is the case for you, hiring a professional to conduct tests would be worthwhile.
You may also want to consider hiring a professional home energy auditor after you buy a home as part of your already-planned home renovations. This way you can identify any problems with air leaks, the HVAC system, or air quality issues right from the get-go, and incorporate them into any projects you were already planning to complete before moving in.
Whether you choose the DIY route or opt to call up a professional auditor, you’ll be saving energy and saving money. Plus, you’ll be making your home a safer and healthier place to live.
If you want to cut down on your electric bills even more, consider installing home solar panels. Solar panels can completely eliminate your utility bills, all while powering your home with renewable energy. It doesn’t get better than that!
Some solar installers use inflated estimates of utility price growth to make it seem like savings will be higher than they likely will. It’s time to stop.