Supplement to Kentucky Living’s 2011 Energy Guide
So, what happens on a home energy checkup, anyway?
When you schedule a home energy checkup, you can expect the advisor to investigate the following basic areas of your home. The entire process usually takes about an hour, or an hour and half if a blower door test is done. Before your audit, be sure to discuss with your advisor your main areas of concernï¿½whether itï¿½s working toward greater energy savings, better indoor air quality, improving the safety or comfort level of your living space, or all of the above.
During an energy checkup or audit, energy advisors will check:
- Building Type: manufactured/stick-built/apartment, condo, or duplex/other
- HVAC Equipment: age; whether it is pulling the correct amount of amps; the temperature of supply and return air
- Type of Heating System(s) Present: geothermal/heat pump/electric furnace/baseboard/gas, wood, propane/other
- Type of AC System(s) Present: geothermal/heat pump/forced air/window units
- Ductwork: physical condition and inspect for air leaks in either intake or outtake vents
- Basement: type (crawlspace/slab/finished) and quality of insulation
- Attic: insulation levels and areas of air leaks
- Roof Ventilation: working status of ridge vents and soffit vents, check for obstructions
- Insulation: levels in ceiling, floors, basement, and around rim or band joists if accessible
- Water Heater: age, type (free-standing/point of use/electric/gas or propane), and presence of insulation
- Thermostat: setting, presence of programmable thermostats
- Air Quality: quality of HVAC filters in place; need for replacement?
- Windows and Doors: physical condition and the air seal around them (done with blower door test)
- House Exhaust Fans: presence in bathrooms, for dryer, and stove/grill
- Building Tightness: are large air leaks (i.e., around can lighting or doors) visible to the naked eye?
- Air Sealing: a blower door test may be done to determine percentage of air leakage per hour
- Temperature Differential: some auditors may use infrared cameras to identify areas where conditioned air is leaking from the home (i.e., near attic entryways, unsealed ducts or vents, or poorly insulated doorways, etc.)
- Appliances: age, presence of ENERGY STAR
A do-it-yourself energy checkup is the first step toward lower costs and cozier homes.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Americans could save between 5 and 30 percent of their annual energy costs simply by conducting energy checkups of insulation levels, assess heating and cooling equipment performance, and locate and eliminate air leaks throughout their homes.
The goal of energy checkups, also known as energy audits, is to save you money without sacrificing indoor comfort. Conducting a basic energy checkup is a simple process that can lead to savings on monthly energy bills, and increase in-home comfort levels at the same time.
WHAT YOU NEED
- Time to conduct a thorough, room-by-room walk-through of your home
- Pencil and paper to note problem areas in each room
- All doors
- All windows
- All fireplace flues
Turn off combustible appliances such as:
- Hot water heaters
- Space heaters
Dampen your hand and place it near areas where drafts may occur.
- Air passing through even small openings will feel cool against your skin
- Note: Areas where major drafts exist will be easy to locate. Less significant air leaks may go unnoticed.
FIND HIDDEN AIR LEAKS
Check for drafts
- Along baseboards
- At floor covering edges
- Bay windows jutting out from the house
- Partition walls between garage and basement
- Exterior wall penetrations for fans, electric lines, condensate lines
In areas where walls or ceilings meet:
- Electrical outlets
- Switch plates
- Window frames
- Bath and kitchen exhaust fans
- Shower/tub drain lines
- Attic hatches
- Wall or window-mounted air conditioners
- Fireplace dampers
- Fireplace inserts
- Concrete or concrete block foundations in basements and crawlspaces
IN THE ATTIC
Check for air leaks around:
If possible, look behind insulation for vapor barrier material such as:
- Kraft paper attached to fiberglass batts
- Insulation is not blocking attic vents
- Attic floors are covered with adequate insulation
IN THE BASEMENT
Check heating and air-conditioning equipment for signs of air leaks including:
- Dirt accumulation in ducts and at duct seams
- Drafts around pipes and vents
IN THE CRAWLSPACE
You should have
- Minimum 6 mil plastic vapor barrier
- Foundation insulation
LOCATE OUTDOOR DRAFT SOURCES
Inspect all areas where building materials meet, such as:
- Where siding or other exterior materials such as brick or block meet foundations
- All exterior corners
- Where siding and chimneys meet
Note any cracks or gaps in these areas.
An R-value indicates an insulation’s resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness.
If a wall is filled with R-13 insulation, explains Matt Fiscus, a senior technical field representative with Conservation Services Group, that means it will take 13 minutes for heat to transfer through it. In other words, in the winter, your home’s heated air would escape through the wall to the outside every 13 minutes. With a higher, R-38 insulation, Fiscus says, “You’re able to hold onto that conditioned air three times longer, your thermostat stays off longer, and your energy usage goes down.”
It’s surprising how much energyï¿½and moneyï¿½you can lose through an uninsulated crawlspace. Here’s a tip that can help make your home more energy efficient and comfortable while saving you money.
Uninsulated crawlspace wastes energy, increasing your utility bill. Insulating your home’s crawlspace can save you $155 a year.
How you insulate your crawlspace depends on whether it is ventilated or unventilated.
In an unventilated crawlspace, experts recommend sealing and insulating the foundation walls rather than the subfloor. There are several benefits to this approach. You will use less insulation, you won’t need to insulate piping and ductwork that are within the conditioned part of the house, and air sealing between the house and the crawlspace is less critical. However, there is a risk of damage to the insulation by rodents, pests, or water. In addition, the crawlspace must be airtight, with access located inside the home through the subfloor unless an insulated access door is built and maintained.
In a ventilated crawlspace, any and all holes in the floor above must be carefully sealed to prevent air blowing into the house. In addition, the insulation should be covered with a house-wrap or faced with a vapor barrier. Experts also advise installing a polyethylene vapor retarder over the dirt floor.
For other tips on how to save energyï¿½and moneyï¿½visit Touchstone Energy’s energy-saving Web site or call the energy experts at your local electric cooperative. Find out how the little changes add up at www.TogetherWeSave.com.
National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
Earlier this year, the Rowan County Cooperative Extension Office challenged Rowan County residents to reduce their energy use. Participants in the contest were to document their percent reduction in kilowatt consumption from January through June 2011 as compared to the same six-month period in 2010, based on their utility bills.
The three winners, Jeanetta Stacy of Morehead, a Kentucky Utilities customer; Connie Buschman of Morehead, a Fleming-Mason Energy Cooperative member; and April Haight of Clearfield, a Grayson RECC member, each won $100. And even better: all entrants reduced their energy demand an average of just over 20 percent.
During the contest period, April and her husband, John, had doubled the square footage of their home, building on a second floor to increase their living space from 1,100 square feet to 2,200 square feet. Nevertheless, they witnessed a reduction in their monthly utility bill.
April credits that to careful planning and a selective choice of energy-efficient materials. For example, the family opted to build with 2x6s rather than 2x4s to allow extra spaceï¿½and increased R-valuesï¿½for their 6-inch spray foam insulation. And they installed ENERGY STAR-rated low-E gas windows and ENERGY STAR metal roofing.
Even before the contest, the Haights had made simple lifestyle changes to reduce their energy consumptionï¿½like replacing their bulbs with CFLs (and they are now slowly replacing any CFLs that burn out with LEDs), hanging out their wash to line dry, and always turning off electronics with a surge box (to avoid phantom draws) when not in use.
They’re proof positive that little steps do add up.
“Energy reduction is something we’re always interested in,” says April Haight, who works at Morehead State University’s Environmental Education Center. “I’d rather spend my money doing something funï¿½not paying utility bills.”
Want to learn more about one of the most energy-efficient, green-friendly modular homes on the market?
Clayton Homes’ new i-house is a state-of-the art manufactured home that’s both highly energy efficient and environmentally conscious (in terms of its product choices and manufacturing processes).
“The i-house brings together the perfect trifecta: an incredibly efficient building process, green and sustainable technologies and materials, and most importantly, affordability,” says Brandon O’Connor, project manager for the Clayton i-house.
O’Connor says the home’s efficiency starts with a tightly sealed building envelope, and features insulation of R-21 in the walls, up to R-38 in the ceilings, and R-30 in the floors.
Other green i-house innovations include ENERGY STAR appliances, bamboo floors, solar panels, metal roofing, and rain water catchment systems.
O’Connor says many of the state-of-the-art processes and technologies that were developed for the i-house have also made their way into Clayton Homes’ more traditional modular and manufactured housing models, including the high-energy-efficiency lines developed through their partnership with Frontier Housing and Next Step.
The starting cost of an i-house is $91/square foot. The smallest i-house models start at roughly $78,000.
For more information, go to www.claytonhomes.com/studio/clayton-concept-homes.
Energy-efficiency information from Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, the national branding program for electric co-ops, shows you how little changes add up to big savings on energy.
At TogetherWeSave.com you can find an incredible amount of information on saving energy in your home, including:
- an interactive home tour showing you areas you can save energy
- a library of how-to energy videos
- read what other people are doing to save money by saving energy
(Note: this information was not included in all magazine versions.)
A blower door test can help determine how airtight your house is. The test is used to determine whether or notï¿½and where, preciselyï¿½you may need to work on improving the air sealing in your home.
Why air tightness matters
A tighter house means:
- reduced energy consumption due to air leakage
- reduced moisture condensation/humidity problems
- greater home comfort, by reducing uncomfortable drafts (i.e., wintertime cold air leaking in from outdoors)
- improved indoor air quality
How to prepare for a blower door test
- close windows and open interior doors
- turn off heating and air-conditioning systems and any gas appliances, including water heaters
- shut fireplace dampers, fireplace doors, and wood stove air intakes
How it works
A blower door makes use of a powerful fan that mounts into the frame of an exterior door to your home. The fan pulls air out of the house, lowering the pressure inside until the higher outside air pressure simulates the equivalent of an outdoor wind of 20 mph against all four corners of the house simultaneously. (That specification is used because it’s roughly the average for a winter wind in Kentucky, says BPI-certified home energy evaluator Jamie Clark, of Lexington’s Arronco Comfort Air.) Then, the higher-pressurized air leaks from outside flow inside through any unsealed leaks, cracks, or openings within the house. An auditor may use a smoke gun or smoke pencil to detect these air infiltrations.
Gauges attached to the fan detect the pressure differences inside and outside the home, while an airflow manometer measures the amount of air (in CFMs, cubic feet per minute) that is leaking from the house.
The results of the test will tell you what percentage of your conditioned air (i.e., heated in the winter or cooled in the summer) is leaking from your home per hour.
Anything more than 40 percent air leakage is considered too high.
“Forty percent is the minimum standard for many home energy rebate and incentives programs. I like to get it lower than that when I can,” Clark says.
But there is such a thing as getting your home too tight, Clark cautions.
“Your home doesn’t need to breathe, but the people in it do. So to maintain healthy, fresh air, you want about 25 percent natural air exchange,” he says.
Today’s building science has improved to the point that new homes often have less than 25 percent air leakage. That’s good news for energy efficiency, but the home still needs a source of fresh air exchange. Many new homes make use of an ERV (energy recovery ventilator)ï¿½an intentional exchange ventilator that brings in temperature- and humidity-controlled air from the outside. ERVs are an integral part of the heating and air-conditioning system. Put simply, they offer a controlled way of ventilating a home, while minimizing energy loss. ERVs are quickly becoming standard in new home construction, Clark says. To read more about blower door tests and ERVs, go to www.energysavers.gov and type in “blower door test” or “ERV” in the search box for the links.
Your local energy cooperative has a wealth of energy-saving tips to help you reduce energy bills and increase indoor comfort levels. Call your co-op and ask to speak to an energy advisor.
Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives bring you energy-efficiency ideas on a wide range of topics. Go online to www.simplesavings.coop to download 18 informative bulletins and four videos for residential homes. You will also find eight bulletins for commercial and industrial owners.
Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence
Offers energy-saving tips for homeowners and information about renewable energy topics.
United States Department of Energy (DOE)
Offers detailed information about everything from insulation options and how to use them, to choosing heating and cooling equipment.
For information about ENERGY STAR, how it works, and how appliances and other items qualify for ENERGY STAR ratings.
Read the Kentucky Living October 2011 Energy Guide for more information.