Environmental concerns and skyrocketing oil prices have caused Americans to reevaluate their next steps forward. While the home seems like an impenetrable fortress, there are many spaces which create drafts, waste energy and allow expensive heat to escape. Homeowners have all different goals and budgets, but increasing home energy efficiency is a possibility for everyone. According to CNN Money Magazine, "A typical home energy audit and retrofit costs $5,000 to $8,000, which generally shaves 20%-40% off the monthly energy bills." The Department of Energy says that there are also smaller, more affordable upgrades that can help improve the home's energy profile. "Even the most basic upgrade puts money in our pockets, puts Americans back to work and puts energy waste on the run," Lane Burt, manager of Building Energy Policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. "It's a triple play on a more efficient future."
One type of energy audit for homeowners is conducted by professionals. An auditor will do a room-by-room inspection to assess your potential home energy savings. Most audits cost around $200 and utility companies may pay part of the tab. Within the first six months of renovating your home, you will gain this money back anyway.
Professionals do what is called a "calibrated blower test," which attaches a fan to the outside door to lower indoor air pressure and reveal where leaks might be occurring. Another test called a "thermographic inspection" uses infrared cameras to identify where heat is escaping. Auditors will look at heating and cooling systems, insulation, appliances, electronics and other areas where you may need to energy monitor a bit more closely. Before hiring a contractor, you should assemble your last 12 months of energy bills, make a list of suspected problems, ensure the contractor is licensed and insured, and check the Better Business Bureau for the company's client satisfaction rating.
The do-it-yourself method is another type of home energy audit. Before you begin to assess your home, take a look at your energy bills from the last few years and compare them month-by-month to look for trends. For instance, you may notice your energy consumption spikes during the winter months, which may indicate the need for better sealing or heating. Or you may see that your swimming pool's filtration system is sucking up way too much electricity. Perhaps the months when your college students are home for the summer result in drastic electricity spikes because they're leaving their lights, their computers and their TVs on all the time. One tool you can use for an energy comparison can be found at www.hesw1.lbl.gov, where you'll enter your zipcode to see how much the average energy bills are in your area and you'll also see what the most energy efficient homes are getting as well. Then, by answering less than 20 questions, you'll get recommendations based on your money-saving goals.
If you decide to complete major home improvements following your home energy audit, be sure you consider all avenues of financing. You can visit www.energy.gov/taxbreaks.htm to learn about government programs to encourage energy conservation. The Weatherization Assistance Program has helped more than 64 million Americans protect their homes against the elements. In some cases, your energy company may cover the cost of the audit. Private companies like Clean Power Finance have also assisted consumers in paying for improvements.
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