Recently when I was talking about our one year utility analysis, I mentioned that we had signed up for a home energy audit from the utility company. This service is provided by our utility free of charge (which was awesome) and is done so that the homeowner can figure out what sort of energy saving measures get the most ‘bang for their buck’. It’s also done to help the utility company tamp down demand (mainly during peak times). If you are conserving what the utility gives you, then they are reducing the demand over what your home took before, allowing them to allocate that demand elsewhere in the system (or keep it in reserve for the hot summer days when everyone turns on the AC). The unfortunate thing about utilities is the have to be able to meet peak demand at a moments notice, even if that peak demand is 15% higher than the normal demand for that day. On the one hand, they can just build more power generation facilities, or on the other, they can simply reduce demand.
What is a Home Energy Audit?
A home energy audit is when someone (typically certified by someone like BPI) comes to your house and examines it. They are looking for things like insulation in your walls, attic, around your ducts and on the floor joists, the efficiency of your windows and doors. They look for air leaks around the doors and windows that can be easily sealed that are letting cold air in (during the winter) or letting warm air in (during the summer). They also look at your hot water heater and your furnace, to see how efficient they are. They also look at lighting to see where you can make any improvements. After they do all this, they sit down with you and tell you what they were looking for and explain the audit.
What does a Home Energy Audit Say?
This obviously will vary from house to house, but I’ll let you know what they told me. We have no insulation in our house, save for a small amount in one of the rooms. We were told that insulation would be the problem most easy to correct, and would also be the most cost effective (meaning we would derive the greatest energy savings from the smallest cost). They recommended an r value for insulation in our ceiling of r60, and one for the walls of r13. I knew they were going to recommend that, so I wasnt surprised at all. They also mentioned that our water heater was “nearing the end of its useful life”, and suggested we went with a more energy efficient model when the time came. (There is a consumer behavior aspect of this that I wont get into, but it makes selecting an energy efficient model difficult in most situations). The auditor also went over what assistance was available from our utility to make the upgrades recommended.
Well, now that we’ve gotten a home energy audit, we have decided to take some action on what the auditor said. Keep in mind we were planning to increase the efficiency of our house through these measures anyway, mainly because even without the rebates, the payback period is pretty good and H and I don’t want to be wasteful if we dont have to. In addition, it will save us a lot of money, as I estimate the payback period on the insulation to be just under 2 years, which is pretty good. Hopefully, it will also knock our gas bills under $100/mo during the winter months (last years high mark was ~$120-$130.
Now that the audit has come through, we’re having (more) work done on the house. This isnt like last summer where we have to live in the basement again, but it’s still something. We are having insulation blown into the attic and the walls, which the utility is paying for about half of. Our cost is ~3100 and they are rebating us 1600+, which put our total cost somewhere in the 1400 range, which is really, really good.
In addition to the insulation being put around the house, we also have decided to get new windows. If you recall from last summer the time we had a window person out and they quoted us north of 10k for 1 window, and our subsequent balking at that, we decided to keep an open mind when someone else came by and asked to talk to us about our windows. As I mentioned, we have something like 23 windows in the upstairs of our house, so we knew it would be a large pill to swallow when we did it.
We decided that we should forgo the 8 windows in the front room, and focus on the windows in the rest of the house for now. After looking at everything we decided to go for it and replace 14 of the 23 windows that we have in the upstairs of our house. We also found out the point at which we would take out a loan for new windows. Even though we have the money in savings, we took the offer of 0% for the windows for a full year, and plan to pay it off (with credit cards for the points) before the interest rate changes. I couldnt believe they were offering such a low rate for that, and feel great about taking it. I know this is new debt, but we plan to pay it off as soon as the windows are actually installed (sometime in august/september) and enjoy the miles from the cards sometime next summer.
All in all, once the insulation is blown in and the windows have been installed, we should have a visible improvement in energy efficiency in the house, lowering our monthly bills quite a bit, as well as reducing our use of fuel. This will go a long way in completing our plan of lowering our monthly bills as much as possible before we consider renewable energy.
Readers: What energy efficiency improvements have you made recently? Were they big projects or something that you could quickly do yourself, such as change a light bulb? Would you have taken the 0% interest for 12 months on the windows, or would you have just paid cash for the whole thing on the spot?