Energy audits give insight into how homeowners can make big improvements in little increments
My husband and I just bought a house in Arlington, VA. We were so thrilled to find a home that matched our style and, of course, that we could afford! We looked and looked in Arlington, Shirlington and even in parts of Alexandria, which we decided was a bit too far out for us and settled on the Nauck/Douglas Park Community just above Shirlington. The community is made up predominantly of 1940’s and 1950’s rowhouse style duplexes, but we lucked out with a nice single story rambler. I’m not used to basements, and when I saw this place, with just a slight crawl space- I was in heaven! Plus, our dogs, who are getting to be a bit older don’t have three stories of steps to trod up and down, which makes us all happy- the canines and the humans. When we finally found the house that fit our wants and needs perfectly we decided to go for it! My husband and I are both very conscientious about the environment, we wanted to spring for a home energy audit to make sure that we are doing our part to ensure that our home is not a big energy sucking monster.
Remember when Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men, Col. Jessop, said “You can’t handle the truth!” ? I do. It is a saying that resonates with many and can be parlayed into any circumstance where there is a truth to be told. I sort of had the feeling that when Chris Conway , the Green Gobbler, came into my new home that I was not going to be able to handle the truth about the possible energy sucker that is my newly purchased 1950’s rambler up above Shirlington. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be. I mean, I’d gone through other people’s homes conducting energy audits, but not my own. That wasn’t the case; Chris framed everything about our house that needed to be done in very manageable and understandable terms. Being that I come from a builder background, it was easy for me to understand what he was talking about, from the R-ratings of insulation to the E-values of windows. I did have the re-visiting of the conduction-convection-radiation story of how heat travels… and then there was the math… but Chris did it for me thank goodness! Yep, math in public…
The arithmetic of a home energy audit is in three equal parts, there is the homeowner, the mechanical system and the thermal envelope. 1+1+1=3. Easy enough. Chris starts out his home energy audit by going through the full diorama of how home efficiency chalks up to how the home owner uses their house, how the mechanical systems operate and how the thermal envelope is sealed to provide health, safety, comfort, cost effectiveness, etc. Living in Northern Virginia, for instance, home owners will more than likely be pushing their air conditioner to the max during heat spells such as the one that we’ve had for the last several days, but in a few weeks, we may just want to open our windows and let the breeze do the work for us. Since every home owner lives differently in their home, Chris takes the time to investigate how well you know your home by asking specific questions about your comfort level and how you use your space. After we’ve taken the “short course” on home energy efficiency, it is time for the tour of the house. In our tour, Chris takes the time to assess everything from the flooring systems to the draperies to see if there are any smaller scale items which would help to provide more comfort in your home i.e. thermal insulated curtains will reduce solar heat gain in the home. Hardwoods will be cooler and less apt to hold in allergens than carpeted flooring, etc. We look at recessed can lighting to see if it is properly rated. When we happen upon the mechanical closet we stop. The truth about my little house has been discovered.
Can I handle it? Yes. Chris sees that the mechanical space is wide open to the attic. Taking his handy-dandy infrared camera, he shoots an image of the attic space as being 114 degrees, and the space near eye level as being in the 80’s. Outside of the mechanical closet, the kitchen space is a cool and comfortable 75. The attic space is wide open with its heat pumping down into our kitchen. That is why it is so much hotter in the back half of our house- the attic is wide open to our house, in essence. I want answers- most of them are fairly obvious, but I want the straight dope from Chris. Patience is a virtue, right? Chris offers recommended solutions at the end of the audit with actionable solutions based on priority and cost benefit. Another “biggie” that we find in our walk through is that the addition on the back of the house has almost no insulation above it whatsoever and the lights that were installed were IC, not ICAT. This is ok, but having ICAT lights would make the back of the house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, because air would not be lost through the cans. This needs to be remedied. While walking my house, Chris gives helpful information and answers all sorts of questions that didn’t necessarily have much to do with the audit. He’s full of goodies!
After nearly four hours of detailed information, lessons and asking for and creating solutions together, it is time for the recommendations. The truth isn’t always pretty, but at least with a house, things can be fixed! I was pleased to find out that our little house that could is in good shape. We just have a few items to tweak and now, after meeting with Chris, we have actionable solutions. I have a list of items that are going to provide my husband and I cost benefit as well as comfort and safety in our home. I was able to have a very knowledgeable professional come through my home and help me assess what was going to provide us with immediate results as well as making plans for future improvement. I think that one of the best parts about having the audit done, even though I know quite a bit about home energy, high performance homes and construction science, I was sort of putting on the blinders with my own house. Not anymore… the truth is out!
Having a home energy audit may seem like a daunting thing. You have someone coming into your home and telling you the raw truth, but this means that you have the opportunity to correct things that could be costing you money, safety and even time in the future. By allowing myself to listen to what is going on in my home, I can better understand how I need to live in it, make sure that we’re still doing our part to be environmentally aware. It doesn’t hurt that we’ll be saving money in the long run after we make our few improvements. I look forward to that, for sure! If you are thinking about having an energy audit done; I suggest taking a moment to write down some of the items that you find to be distracting in your home regarding comfort and health; i.e. If you feel a draft at your kitchen window, or the basement omits an offputting odor or dampness- write it down and call a professional so you, too, can create a cost effective, actionable plan to be on your way to home energy efficiency.