December 2, 2022

Why Your Next Home Purchase Should Include an Energy Audit

Do you have rooms with wildly varying temperatures and strange smells, or feel the need to brace yourself every time you open your utility bill? These experiences can be corrected, but if you just moved or are about to move, they could be entirely avoidable.

Every buyer should have an energy audit performed on their potential property as a part of the home inspection process. It's an opportunity to pinpoint areas of concern that won't be caught in a standard home inspection and a way to get a better understanding of what it will be like to actually live in your new home. An energy audit could help you save hundreds of dollars a year in utility costs, alert you to serious indoor air-quality concerns, or assist you in building a plan of action for the needs that come with any new property. The recommendations from the Audit will affect your decisions about the property in both the short term and over the course of your life in the home should you still choose to move forward with the sale.

For a proper Home Energy Assessment or Energy Audit, a trained and certified professional is a must. Someone with experience who can access all the hard-to-reach, inconvenient places you'll need to get to in order to perform a proper and wholistic assessment of the home. Physical capability is an important aspect of this job, but knowledge of homes is also a must. Look for a Building Performance Institute (BPI) Certified Energy Auditor or RESNET Certified Energy Rater. Your energy audit should also include a Blower Door Test, Zonal Pressure Testing, Thermal Camera Inspection, and a Combustion Safety Test if applicable.

How Should you Prepare for the Audit?

Well, this can be kind of tough when you don't own the home. It might be vacant, have no power, or have current owners who just live differently than you or I. But before we get into prepping the house, you can start by gathering data on utility usage. An annual snapshot of energy usage is a great place to start. Twelve months of electric and gas bills along with all the year's previous delivery invoices for oil, propane, or even wood will be needed if you can get them. There are plenty of situations where you might not have access to this data so don't fret, these numbers can be estimated if need be.

Make a list of things in your current home or living situation that is important to you, concerning, or that you have questions about. If you're already living in your new home and the energy audit is being completed after purchase, make a list of these same things based on your experience in the house so far. Think about temperature differences, smells, high humidity, drafty areas, and condensation or moisture build-up.

Prior to the arrival of the Energy Auditor try to get a minimum 15-degree difference between the inside and outside air temperature. And don't use your fireplace for at least 24 hours ahead of the audit to allow for a Blower Door test to be completed.

What Recommendations Should You Expect?

Air Sealing

Air leakage in and out of your home is one of the most overlooked yet critical factors for comfort, efficiency, air quality, and moisture control in a home. Air leakage is literally the loss of the air inside your home that you're paying to heat or cool. When your conditioned air escapes your home, it has to be made up elsewhere - otherwise, you'd be living inside of a vacuum. This make-up air usually comes from the lowest areas of your home, like a basement or crawl space. Air from these spaces can bring moisture, mold, and drastic temperature differences into your living space. Air sealing is almost always the first start to any home performance project or efficiency upgrade. Never add insulation without an air-sealing package.

Insulation

After you've sealed the home and kept the conditioned air in, it's time to trap the heat. Insulation works by slowing the flow of energy through it by trapping air inside of millions of little air pockets. The better the insulation, the slower the energy moves from pocket to pocket. This is why air sealing is so important - it blocks that flow of air through air-permeable insulations.

A lot of homes have never had their insulation updated. Some houses have none, but most homes are severely under-insulated. If you have no insulation in your floors, or if you can see the ceiling joists in your attic, you probably need more insulation. That said, energy auditors can help you determine the right amount (R-Value) and location of this insulation. Complex homes with knee walls, sloped attics, and irregular layouts require greater attention to detail to create lasting effects from your insulation project.

Heating and Air-Conditioning

Heating and cooling your home makes up the lion's share of energy usage for most homeowners. There are a few locations throughout the world where this might not be true, but for the vast majority of us, conditioning the air inside our properties is absolutely critical - and expensive!

Proper sizing of your HVAC unit and efficient distribution of that system is critical to the comfort, efficiency, and longevity of some of the most expensive pieces of equipment in the home. An HVAC system should be sized according to the needs of your home, but replacing an HVAC system before you increase your home's efficiency can result in improperly sized systems and inefficient operation.

Many people believe that bigger is better when it comes to heating and cooling units, but systems that are too large for a home short cycle and cause comfort issues. Short cycling is when an HVAC system operates for only a few minutes of time, supplying the heating or cooling very quickly and then shutting off. The home will typically lose this energy quickly and the system will be back on in a short time to bring the temperature back to the thermostat's set point. Short cycling is inefficient and bad for the HVAC system, but it's also uncomfortable for the homeowner. Short cycling systems are usually loud and blast the occupants with hot or cold air. If your Air-Conditioning unit is short cycling, it's also not dehumidifying your home properly and can lead to high relative humidity inside and mold.

An Energy Audit can determine the right size HVAC system for your house as it stands right now or the right size of the system to condition the home after it has undergone a Home Performance project. Energy Audits can also help with fuel-switching projects, like converting a Gas Furnace to an Electric Heat-Pump and still maintaining occupant comfort.

Water Heating

Water Heating can be inefficient and downright annoying in some homes. Waiting several minutes for hot water to reach a faucet or running out of hot water during a shower can be frustrating. Not only can your water heater itself be more efficient, but so can the means of distribution. More direct supply lines to your bathrooms and kitchen can help deliver your water faster and reduce wasted gallons down the drain.

Water Heater replacements offer many types of options, from Tankless On-Demand units to Electric Heat Pump Water Heaters. A personal favorite of mine is the Heat Pump Water Heaters. These electric-powered units are the most efficient option on the market. They're an excellent choice for homes with basements and crawlspaces as they help to cool and dehumidify the space around them. While consideration must be taken for their installation location and the space around them, they are an excellent choice for your water heating needs.

Ventilation

Most homes have uncontrolled or poor ventilation. While it might sound asinine to seal your home up only to intentionally ventilate it, it's really about control. Many homes have no control over where air exits (exfiltration) and where air enters (infiltration). Ensuring areas of your home that produce moisture, like kitchens and bathrooms, have proper ventilation is important to maintaining healthy indoor air quality in your home. Also, these spaces need to be properly vented to the exterior of the home. You don't want to take warm and moist air from a bathroom and dump it into your cold and dry attic! That's a recipe for condensation, rot, and moisture damage.

Expect your energy auditor to make recommendations on bath fan, kitchen, and maybe even whole house ventilation!

Lighting, Smart Controls, and Thermostats

LED lighting, Smart Thermostats, Motion Sensors, and Humidistats are just a few of the many advanced control technologies that exist for the home these days. Your entire home could be hooked up to smart devices that communicate with one another and keep a record of your home's energy usage. While experience with Smart Home options will vary pretty wildly amongst Energy Auditors, assume you'll receive recommendations on some "low hanging fruit" options like lighting updates and programmable/smart thermostats.

So insist on having an energy audit performed, or hire an Energy Auditor to review your next home purchase for you! A professional energy audit can help you negotiate the property price and avoid potential headaches you might not otherwise see during a home inspection.

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