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Ask the Experts!

13 July 2009

ask-the-expertsIt’s been a while, so here’s a brand new “Ask the Experts”!

I have a daughter who lives in Lake Elmo and pays $400/mo to heat her home and it is about 1200 SF. They had an energy audit which was not very useful. It appears that ceiling and sidewalls are insulated (at least to some degree) based on a “gun” type equipment he focused on the walls. The auditor basically said “tighten up the little leaks” and your bills are “normal”. We would like to hep this younger couple tighten up their home!

Having not seen the report that the auditor should have provided, I don’t know how leaky your daughter’s home is.  Air leaks can account for 5-40% of heating load, so doing some basic weatherproofing and air sealing (caulking around windows and doors, installing gasket seals in outlets, etc) could make a significant difference.  However, if the envelope of the home is sufficiently insulated and there aren’t major leaks, there are a few more factors that could be causing those high energy bills.

– Improperly functioning or old equipment.  Does your daughter have a forced air furnace and how old is it?  Do they change the filters regularly?   If her equipment is old and inefficient, upgrading will allow her to lower those bills and pay back the cost.  She should ask around about reliable heating contractors who might be able to appraise her equipment.  There are some great new tax credits for energy efficiency upgrades, and CEE also provides low-interest loans for home improvements.

– This last winter was a BEAST.  A lot of people saw big energy bills because gas prices were up and the weather was just ghastly.  I would recommend that your daughter look at several years of heating bills and see if her therms per month usage (the amount of gas she was using) changed significantly.  If not, it may just have been that last winter was just a particularly expensive heating season.

– Behavior.  This can have a huge effect on heating costs.  Does the house have a programmable thermostat and do they use it?  What do they keep their thermostat set at?  Could they turn it down, put plastic wrap on the windows?

I will also recommend a few resources: first, the Minnesota Energy Challenge website (mnenergychallenge.org) has a lot of great information and resources about general energy efficiency and conservation, including estimates of savings from replacing equipment and basic behavior change.  Also, the “Save Energy, Save Money” book by the Family Handyman is a very easy to understand, comprehensive and useful guide about the basic DIY house maintenance and projects that can make a difference to heating costs.

Answer provided by Neely Crane-Smith, Community Energy Coordinator at the Center for Energy and Environment.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 15 July 2009 8:45 am

    That gun is an infrared camera the auditor was using to find leaks, You don’t say what type of heat does she have, how old is the home. is she renting, or did she buy the house (this limits what she is responsible for)?

    typically auditors are supposed to tell the homeowner how to reach a specific goal : A delicate balance of air exchange and heat retention.

    Air exchange is important, because too little air exchange means moisture retention and poor indoor air quality. Heat retention is achieved by eliminating stack-effect. I have to assume that he told her to insullate outlet and switch covers which typically counts as “small things.” but was this auditor a whole home auditor or a Heating Auditor, or a heating envelope specialist? Did he check the heat source for optimal efficiency or just the airflow of the home? If her furnace is old but efficient for the model that it is, perhaps she needs a newer more effiicient model. If it’s a newer high efficiency model, perhaps she keeps her heat too high, so it runs longer and more often, or perhaps it’s not set at optimal settings for the size of her home (an experienced HVAC tech would know how to set it).

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