An article in the Aug. 5 edition of AdVantage News tells the story of a Godfrey couple who were chased out of their home by an all-but-forgotten carbon monoxide detector.
The problem was eventually tracked down to an unsafe flue design that was venting CO into the house instead of outside. Even though the obvious purpose of an energy audit is to save energy and money on your utility bill, this is actually the best reason to have one done.
Every professional energy audit begins with a safety inspection, including a test for natural gas and carbon monoxide leaks in the house. This protects you and your family from fires, explosions and lethal poisoning by these gases, which happens all too often in homes that use gas for air or water heating, clothes drying, cooking, or in any wood or gas fireplace. The CO and natural gas detectors that energy auditors use to test for leaks are much more sensitive than any you may have in your home.
Otherwise, an energy auditor’s most important tool is the blower door that fits into an outside door frame. A built-in fan pulls air out of the house, while a manometer keeps track of the indoor/outdoor pressure difference as it measures how much air is moving through the fan. This equals what’s coming in through all the home’s air leaks to equalize the pressure, which in the average house could add up to a 3-foot by 3-foot window that’s open 24/7. Once we know how “leaky” the house is, the fan is kept running as we search for all those leaks, followed by tips on how to seal each one. This is called weatherization, and some fixes will be easy and cheap while others will be harder and more expensive, but almost never require new windows. You decide how much you want to do and what you want to spend, but even the simple ones will quickly pay for themselves and the audit. And the more you spend now to weatherize your home, the less you’ll spend every month for as long as you own your house, which could total in the tens of thousands of dollars.
At $50 per hour, the audit’s total cost should be no more than $200, although I have had clients who kept me longer to learn more. And it’s always a good idea to get a second energy audit after weatherization is complete, even if it’s just to find out how well you did. Plus, once the big leaks are plugged, it’ll help to locate the simple ones that were too small to find before.
The third and final reason for an energy audit is that the less carbon-based energy we use, the better off our children, grandchildren and planet will be in the future. Because our buildings account for half the energy we use and carbon we emit, making them more energy-efficient and replacing unsafe fossil fuels with clean renewables are two of the most effective methods to end climate change.
For more information, visit our booth at the Mississippi Earthtones Festival on Sept. 17 or visit BetterBuildingInstitute.org.
Don Dieckmann is the founder and president of Better Building Institute Inc., a nonprofit Building Performance Institute (BPI)-certified energy auditing and consulting corporation. He is also a contractors’ instructor for the Illinois Home Weatherization Assistance Program (IHWAP); a volunteer for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Workforce Quality, Training, and Certification Guidelines Team at the National Renewable Energy Lab; a presenter for the Climate Reality Project; Energy & Climate chair of the Sierra Club Piasa Palisades Group; and co-chair of the Glen Carbon Citizens Climate Lobby group.