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Answering all those burning questions you didn’t know you had about home ownership.

Home Energy Audit: Is Your Home Leaking Cash?

Picture of Jessica Dabkowski

Jessica Dabkowski

Helping you with all things homeownership!

In this 3-part series, Greening Your Home, I share tactics to make your home more energy efficient, which can save you money (and save the earth) in the long run. In this first article, I cover how an energy audit can help you solve some of your homes energy dilemmas. Caring about the environment and being green” can be easier than you think as a homeowner.

A home energy audit may sound like an unnecessary hassle, but it really can save you money on energy bills and even discover small hazards, such as small gas leaks.

Having your home audited is a great idea if you have ever wondered:

  • Why is one particular room always either too hot/cold compared to other rooms in my house?
  • Are new windows worth the investment?
  • How can I find more ways to make my home “green” and more energy efficient?

If you have never stopped to consider an energy audit before now, let’s dig into why you might want to take an energy audit under advisement.

What is an Energy Audit?

An energy audit, sometimes called an energy assessment, of your home is the first step to capture the full picture of your home energy use (or dare I saw “misuse”?).  An energy audit identifies the areas of your home which are consuming the most energy and determine potential mitigation actions.

How Do I Get One?

In the metro-Detroit area, DTE will complete a free home energy consultation in your home.  The specialist walks through your home with you to check on windows, doors, ventilation and home energy uses for efficiency. 

According to DTE, 

The specialist will install FREE, energy-efficient products and create a personalized home energy profile:

* Find out where your home uses and loses the most energy.

* Take advantage of energy saving opportunities for every room to save money and increase the comfort of your home.

The free products vary, but may include items such as LED light bulbs, a programmable thermostat, and energy efficient shower heads.  Consumers Energy has a similar program.

DTE’s freebie is a great place to start. If you want something more in depth, you will want to call in a professional. You can schedule an energy audit with a reputable company to complete a thorough examination of your energy uses.  This experience would be the upgraded “bring on the gismos and gadgets, dig in and find all the problems” audit.  Think thermal imaging cameras, blower machines and the like.  

Ask lots of questions when you call the company to schedule your audit. If the technician is not going to complete a blower test and use thermal imaging, keep looking.  If you are paying a company to come out to save you money in the long run, you want the whole shebang.  

This service will usually run you several hundred dollars.  However, if your home is hemorrhaging heat in the winter and A/C in the summer, the cost to find out you have a fixable problem is probably worth it.

Once the assessment is complete, you can decide what your next steps will be in terms of improving or fixing issues within your home. Information is power!  You now have more thorough information to make the right, cost-effective energy improvements to your home.

What to Expect

During the energy audit, a technician will come to your home and spend a few hours going from room-to-room, from top to bottom, both inside and out to detect sources of energy loss.

And we’re talking about inspecting everything energy related — electrical, gas, lighting, heating and cooling!  They’ll use special tools and technology that will help them identify areas of your home where there are any energy leaks or waste. You may get a cool (hot?) thermal image of the outside of your home showing where the air is leaking out.

The technician also will ask you about your family’s energy use, such as if anyone works from home, how many people live there, how each room is used, and what temperature you set your thermostat in the winter and summer.

Get Ready

Before your audit, gather one to two years worth of utility (gas and electric) bills. The technician may want to analyze these to get a sense of your baseline energy use. Easily pull your last year’s worth of bills by logging into your utility provider’s online portal.

Prepare a list of any issues you have detected on your own, such as drafty rooms, poor heat or cooling distribution between rooms, not enough hot water in the shower, or condensation on a room’s wall.

You know these areas, right? But write them down so you don’t forget to tell the technician.  I can’t speak for you, but my track record for remember things on the spot is…poor, just straight-up poor.

Inspection Musts

Here is a general breakdown of checks which will be done during an energy audit of your entire home.

Check for major air leakages. Look for drafts from chimneys, bypasses, recessed lighting, outlets, and HVAC ducts. Conduct a blower door test to help determine your home’s overall airtightness. Use a thermographic scan to detect thermal defects and air leakage from windows, walls, doors, and entire home. (Maybe find a ghost or two while you’re at it!)

Check heating and cooling. Inspect insulation; test for fuel leaks in furnace and its blower; examine duct system, filters and even dryer venting. Check thermostat setting and insulation on water heater tank. Inspect your fireplace and chimney. See what type of thermostat you use and its usual setting.

Assess your electrical systems. Check your appliance energy use; examine light fixtures and wiring; use a watt meter to measure energy use of other devices in your home; look for electrical hazards.

Check for moisture and water vapor in your bathrooms and kitchen. Note any water leakage; inspect your vent fans; look for condensation on walls.

Examine gas appliances and gas heating/cooling systems. Measure temperature, leaks and any carbon dioxide in its exhaust.

Whats Next?

After the technician’s visit, you will get a comprehensive energy report which will summarize:

  • how you use energy,
  • where energy is being wasted, and
  • what you can do to improve your home’s energy efficiency.

The report may suggest some small DIY energy fixes such as LED light bulbs, caulking or weather-stripping windows, improving your lighting needs with sensors, dimmers or timers or upgrading to a more energy-efficient dishwasher.

The report may also suggest more expensive fixes such as buying an energy-efficient water heater or replacing your old windows with new energy-saving ones. It is up to you how much you want to take on or fix at this point.

Save Energy = Save Money

If you’re concerned about your budget and hiring professionals, remember that the upfront costs could be worth it in the end in two ways:

1. Rebate programs from local utility companies.

Both DTE and Consumer’s Energy provide various rebates for some of the work you may get done after the audit. 

For some rebates, the energy audit company will send out a technician after any weatherizing or upgrades are done to do a “test out” to see if the work was effective.  The utility company then will send you a rebate check once the company certifies the results.

For others, you can submit a rebate request on behalf of yourself.  For example, we added a smart thermostat to our home last year.  (Yes, Big Brother is unfortunately alive and kicking in our home.)

By submitting the receipt along with a rebate application to both DTE (our electric provider) and Consumer’s Energy (our gas provider), we received from $50 rebates from each!  That was $100 for doing an upgrade we would have done regardless.  

Other rebates are available for upgrading your furnace, A/C, washer, dryer and some other items.  

2. Save money on your homes energy bills.

You can save 5% to 30% on your home energy bills once you make any of the audit’s suggested changes to your home. Even the little things will make a dent in your lighting, cooling or heating costs.

In 2020, the average household electrical bill in Michigan was $109.86, which is equal to $1,318.32 for the year. If you shave off 10% of your bill, that totals $131.83 per year. After five years, you have saved at least $650! And that is a low-ball estimates because energy rates go up almost every year. Last summer DTE requested to raise natural gas rates by 11%.

As always, reach out if you have any questions about a home energy audit or would like a recommendation. I am here to help you with all things homeownering!

Photo by Moja Msanii on Unsplash

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