What to expect from an energy audit

| 22 Feb 2012 | 05:03

    Now that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is offering a free or low cost home energy audit, people are signing up to see how they can reduce energy consumption and save money. But many are unsure what an energy audit entails. An energy audit is a detailed inspection of the home, inside and out, usually lasting a few hours. After interviewing the homeowner, auditors check indoor air quality. They also inspect insulation levels in attics, walls, basements, crawl spaces, and garages. With the furnace and hot water heater turned off, they test for air leaks by using a blower door. This temporary insert contains a powerful fan which blows air out of the house, revealing places where air can enter or escape. If outside temperature conditions are suitable, an infrared camera might also be used. An auditor will check for: Air leaks. Adequate insulation. Efficient lighting. Carbon monoxide, gas leaks and downdrafting. Adequate attic ventilation. Age and efficiency of appliances and HVAC (Heating Ventilating Air Conditioning) equipment. Window and door efficiency. How you can help the auditor: Turn woodstove or fireplace off for 24 hours before the audit. Provide utility bills (electricity, natural gas, oil or propane) for at least a year. Describe heating and cooling systems and what temperature settings are used. Describe appliances and how they are used. Point out drafty areas, hot spots or cold spots. Describe air quality concerns (moisture, mold, etc.). Although you might not get a written report immediately, discuss all the findings at the time of the audit. The auditor can explain what the blower door test means, what insulation levels have been found, and whether there are any safety or health issues. Later, you will get a list of items that might be fixed, their cost and the estimated energy savings. Sealing air leaks should be done before, or in addition to insulation, since air can leak around some kinds of insulation. Any safety issues should be addressed as soon as possible. Many retrofits lead to a 30 percent reduction in energy use, but this will vary with the house and the measures that can be done cost-effectively. Many weatherization projects pay back their investment in months or a few years. Auditors can provide information on expected savings, incentives and tax credits for energy projects.

    Essential information
    See www.getenergysmart.com for information and participating contractors.

    How to apply for a free or reduced cost audit
    Download and fill in the application found at www.energysmart.org.
    On the application fill in the name of an energy auditing company from the list of approved contractors at the Web site.
    Submit it with a year’s electricity and gas bills (available from www.oru.com). If you use oil and/or propane, also send a 12-24 month summary obtained from your supplier.
    Notify the company you selected that you have submitted the application.

    Bill Makofske received his Ph.D. in physics from Rutgers University and has been a faculty member at Rutgers University, University of Minnesota and Columbia University.
    His main area of interest has been on physics and the environment where he has focused on the environmental impacts of energy production, computer modeling of environmental systems, alternative energy sources, radon, and global climate change.
    He has been a visiting scientist at the Building Research Establishment in England and at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.
    In 1999, he received a Fulbright Fellow in alternative energy and environmental protection in Germany.
    He teaches courses in the physics, environmental science and environmental studies majors.
    He and his wife are residents of Warwick.