With rising energy costs and growing concerns about climate change, North Americans are increasingly looking at ways to improve the energy-efficiency of their homes. This is especially true for people who live in houses that were built before the 1980s, when building codes began to reflect higher energy-efficiency standards. A home energy audit from a certified energy advisor is a necessary step to ensure that the most cost-effective improvements are undertaken.
Of course, there are a few low or no-cost measures that homeowners can undertake on their own to realize immediate savings, such as turning down the thermostat or installing compact fluorescent lighting.
However, to realize deep energy savings, some major retrofit work may be necessary. Increasing attic, wall or basement insulation, replacing windows, draft-proofing and upgrading to high-efficiency heating systems can all result in dramatic energy savings.
Unfortunately, many homeowners do not realize that implementing a major retrofit can have a negative impact on other components of the home. For example, upgrading from a low-efficiency furnace to a high-efficiency system may result in the appearance of condensation on interior windows. This is because high-efficiency furnaces do not require chimneys, which reduces the ventilation of the house. As a result, warm, moist air is trapped inside which condenses on cold window panes.
Replacing a furnace may also be problematic if you live in an older house. Today’s furnaces should be properly sized according to the heating requirements of the house. Big, drafty houses that are poorly insulated will require a larger system than an old house that has been upgraded to modern standards. A furnace contractor will normally determine the furnace size by doing a heat-loss calculation. However, if a new furnace is sized for a poorly insulated house and, afterward, the insulation levels are increased, this could result in a furnace that is too big for the heating requirements of the house.
A good rule of thumb is to reduce the need to heat the house – increase insulation, seal up drafts, upgrade windows – before replacing the heating system.
But how does one determine how much insulation is required or how to locate the source of drafts?
A home energy audit or assessment from a certified energy advisor is the best place to start. A professional home energy assessment is an objective and detailed review of the energy use in your home. It typically involves:
o a comprehensive on-site evaluation from the attic to the foundation to collect energy use data
o a blower door test to identify and scientifically measure air leakage.
o a detailed report that explains where your energy dollars are being spent, where energy is being wasted and what you can do to improve your home’s energy-efficiency.
The cost of a home energy audit is modest, especially when compared to the cost of a major retrofit to your house. It is well worth the peace-of-mind to know that you are making improvements that make sense for your situation.