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Home Energy Inspection
The rise in home heating costs have many people concerned. Heating oil in the Lower Hudson Valley was recently selling at an average of $4.25 a gallon. That's more than 4 times what it was selling for just a few years ago. Electricity, natural gas and propane costs have gone up as well. If you have a pre-1980's home, chances are you are spending a lot of extra money unnecessarily on energy. Poor or missing insulation, air gaps and leaks, and a cold winter will have that home guzzling heating fuel like the big gas-guzzler cars from the same period. Many of the newer homes use construction and design techniques that allow for drafts, cold rooms and soaring energy expenses. A home energy inspection can help reduce your heating / cooling costs and increase your home's comfort.
After the first energy crisis of the 70's, people started giving some new thought to weatherization. Advice from that era consisted of things like "add insulation to your attic", "caulk your windows", "wrap your hot water heater". These were good starting points but they were often a 'shotgun' approach. You could spend a lot of time and money working on areas where there really may not have been much of a problem. Or worse, you may have missed very important areas that really did need to be fixed -- they continue to waste your energy dollars needlessly. Even today, most people's efforts to improve their energy efficiency are hit-and-miss, based on guesswork and intuition.
There are two critical pieces of equipment most people don't have that can tell them exactly where their home energy can be improved. I use both to provide precise, high quality and detailed energy analysis.
The first piece of equipment is an infrared camera. With its special lens and circuitry, this camera converts normally invisible infrared heat emissions into the visible light spectrum on its viewing screen. By accurately detecting thermal boundaries, the camera can be used to see where insulation is doing a poor job, where it has settled, or where it is missing from behind walls, soffit areas, and other areas. It can also detect heat loss from windows, doors, etc. The camera has the ability to record digital images; infrared photographs showing exactly where heat losses are occurring can be included on the inspection report.
The second critical piece of equipment is a calibrated blower door. Mine is manufactured by Infiltec, Inc. This unit is used to depressurize the building. I draw slight vacuum in the building (about 40 to 50 Pascals) so that all the air leaks are exaggerated and can be easily and precisely located using a smoke pen and the infrared camera. Natural air exchange rates are also measured against recommended levels, and determination made of the effectiveness of the home's pressure-thermal boundary.
Additional tools I use are an anemometer to analyze forced-air heat distribution, ultrasound diagnostic trap equipment to help locate leaking HVAC ducts, and a combustion analyzer to test heating system efficiency. I can also help analyze electrical usage through the use of a specialized watt-meter.
Here are some FAQs about the home energy inspection:
How long will it take? The audit process will take about two and a half to three hours, give or take, depending upon the size, age and style of home, set-up requirements and number of problems found. A report will be mailed to you with the specific findings and recommendations. Or, if you are a 'do-it-yourselfer', you can save some money on the cost of the inspection by opting to take your own notes.
Who makes the repairs? Fortunately, most problems can be fixed you, the homeowner, with just a few tools and insulating/sealing materials. Or, if you prefer, I can provide you with recommendations for qualified contractors in the area who specialize in this work.
How much can I expect to save? That will vary by the home and the nature of the findings. On average, I can find about 25% or more savings for the homeowner on their annual heating and cooling costs. Most homeowners may expect the majority of the cost of the inspection and repairs to be offset by the resulting savings within the first year. Going forward, savings can be many hundreds of dollars year-after-year. The inspection can pay for itself many times over!
How do I know if I need this inspection? Nowadays, virtually every home can benefit from this inspection. Homes built before the first energy crisis of the '70s are particularly big energy-wasters. Regardless of when your home was built, if you go around all winter wearing sweaters or sweatshirts to save on heating fuel, and you have rooms that just never seem to get warm, you also might be a good candidate. Perhaps all you really need to do to decide is just look at your heating bill.
Special Note: I hear this one often: 'I don't need an energy inspection -- I'm buying a woodstove.' Burning wood is 10% to 40% efficient at best -- most of the heat is lost up the chimney. Unless you have access to unlimited, free, seasoned wood, you are just going to trade expenses from one heat source to an alternate (smoky, dirty, less-efficient) heat source. You'll end up with one room that is stifling hot while the peripheral rooms get even chiller. Buying a woodstove or pellet stove because your house is inefficient is like buying a skateboard because your car needs a tune-up.
Your home was designed to work with your main heating system. Have the energy inspection done, make the repairs, and re-gain cost-efficient comfortable living.
What will the inspection cost? The cost is typically less than a realty inspection and is based upon square footage and age of the home. For the average size home, the inspection with a full report will run about $475. if you take your own notes, $375. Weigh that against annual savings, on average, of 200 gallons or more of heating oil at $4.25/gal (or equivalent in gas or electric). There is no better investment you can make in your home.
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Last modified: May 30, 2013