Audit can reveal best ways to save energy

There are now new homes on the market that are getting greener with every passing week. While that’s great for those in the market for a new high-performance home, what about the thousands of us with existing homes, condos and apartments that weren’t built to the newer green standards? There are many ways to green a home.

From healthy paint to high-performance windows and set-back thermostats to Solatubes, homeowners have many options when it comes to improving the performance of their homes. However, it can be a challenge to determine just what steps to take, and in what order to take them in, that will yield the greatest benefits.

The simple things often are the best place to start. Compact fluorescent lamps are a great way to save money. If you haven’t bought them yet, you may not want to wait too long. Standard incandescent lamps will eventually become unavailable as new laws take effect banning these outmoded, inefficient devices. This may cause the price of CFLs to rise. Get them now since prices are low and the sooner you start using them, the more energy dollars you’ll save.

There are often bigger savings waiting for the savvy homeowner who knows what to do, but each home has its own unique opportunities for improving performance. There are reams of information available online these days, available to those who can sift through it. NV Energy even has an online energy audit available to its customers.

Residential energy performance is becoming a major issue as homeowners grapple with rising energy costs. Knowing the performance level of a home is useful for the existing or potential owner. In fact, some sort of home-energy audit, as yet undefined, will eventually become a requirement for all sales of existing Nevada homes by 2011.

A premium home-energy audit performed by a trained professional is the gold standard when it comes to learning how your home is performing and what can be done to improve it. The Residential Services Energy Network is a not-for-profit organization that has developed standards for home-energy testing and performance. Its Home Energy Rating System is used by certified HERS raters and uses a relative energy measuring system called the HERS Index.

According to its Web site, www.resnet.us, “The Residential Energy Services Network’s mission is to ensure the success of the building energy-performance certification industry, set the standards of quality and increase the opportunity for ownership of high-performance buildings.”

All this boils down to the fact that there is a comprehensive program using well-established techniques and trained professionals who can provide detailed written analyses and recommendations for the average homeowner.

A typical audit will include a blower door test to measure how “tight” the home is. Excessive air infiltration translates to wasted energy. A similar test can be done on the home’s heating and air-conditioning ducts to measure the leakage. Duct leakage is one of the leading causes of high energy bills in our climate.

A HERS rater will perform a detailed inspection of the home, including appliances, windows, doors weather stripping, lighting, insulation, etc. Additional tests may also include the use of an infrared camera to reveal insulation problems that are otherwise undetectable.

The findings are compiled into a comprehensive report with recommended measures for energy savings, estimated costs and payback periods. While every home is different, a premium home-energy audit can result in significant savings, turning the average home toward high performance and energy efficiency. Reports are typically very detailed yet easy to digest.

For those considering the installation of a renewable energy system on an older, non-Energy Star home, a detailed energy audit is a very good first step. Reducing the amount of energy a home uses not only lowers power bills but can reduce the size of the renewable energy system requirements, resulting in additional savings.

Energy efficiency is a major trend in nearly all industrialized nations around the world. In the U.S. there is so much potential for energy savings; it can practically eliminate the need to build any new traditional centralized electrical generation plants as we transition to a post-carbon economy based on renewable energy systems.

Each of us has a part to play. Using our best resources, including quality energy audits, we can create the change that will lead us to a future we can live with. That’s what I call green living.

Steve Rypka is a green living consultant and president of GreenDream Enterprises, a company committed to helping people live lighter on the planet. Steve can be reached via e-mail at steve@greendream.biz. More information relating to this column is posted at www.greendream.biz.

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