The Home Energy Audit – Part 2 of Our Going Green Series

April 23, 2009

Residential

Windmills at Devon Bank of Wheeling

Windmills at Devon Bank of Wheeling

For those of you looking to follow the series, I am sorry that I did not have a post ready for last week. I was preparing for and taking the United States Green Building Council?s (USGBC.org) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification test. I passed, and now carry the designation Accredited Professional (LEED AP).

What is a LEED Accredited Professional??

LEED Accredited Professionals are experienced building industry practitioners who have demonstrated their knowledge of integrated design and their capacity to facilitate the LEED certification process. It demonstrates an understanding of green building practices and principles, and familiarity with LEED requirements, resources, and processes.

In the last article, I took a very detailed look at mechanical systems and insulation as related to cost and return on investment for upgrading to gain more efficiency. I think I effectively demonstrated that the costs are not unreasonable, and in almost every case the additional cost of the more efficient upgrade could be recovered in two seasons or less. Every year forward, those additional savings, and the decreased carbon output, mean more money in your pockets and less wasted energy.

Resources for Starting to be Being Green

The next question to answer is ?how in the world do I figure out where to start?? There is quite a bit of green washing out there. It seems that every magazine I read or junk mail flyer I get has something ?green? to say. In one respect I think that having the green movement become more mainstream is a benefit. The more people see it and hear about it, the more likely they will be to ask for it. In medicine, the mantra is ?see one, do one, teach one?.

We are definitely seeing green in more and more places. If you want a really nice example of a mainstream green building, the Devon Bank in Wheeling, Illinois is a LEED Gold certified building, with solar panels and a beautiful sculpture garden that has six wind mills as its focal point. I watched this building being built, and never knew it was a green project until last week! Also, if you live in the Chicago, the Chicago Center for Green Technology is a nice place to get a handle on what can be done. And the Museum of Science and Industry has an ongoing exhibit of a green home.

Now, its time to get more people doing green in their everyday lives. My tenet is that there is a shade of green for every project and every budget. Demonstration projects like the Green Technology Center, the MSI Green home, or my own River Hill Conservation Community Project purposefully push the envelope on implementing green building practices. The idea is to demonstrate as many types of green products and practices to showcase how individual pieces can be worked into any project.

When you are ready to tackle your next home project, consider using green products in the process. From a bathroom or a kitchen remodel, a simple paint job, or an addition, the opportunities to go green are immediately available and often not more expensive. You can search product catalogs on line like www.greenhome.com, or www.buildinggreen.com, and others, or go to The Home Depot and look for their EcoSpec line of products.

An Energy Audit Is a Strong Starting Point for Going Green

But for any major project, like discussed in Article 1, then you need a road map. Let?s face it, budgets are tight. If you are going to do a once-in-ten-years project, you want to do it right, and you should get the most bang for your buck. If you do not want to use a green consultant (like me) to help wade through the choices, the very least you should do is a home energy audit. This is very much like a home inspection, but focused on the mechanical systems, their efficiency ratings, the building envelope, windows, doors, and insulation. The audit will give you a very detailed picture of how well your home functions as a system.

It is the system approach that I alluded to in the first article. There are trade offs for everything, whether going green or not. Every sub-system in the home affects every other system in the home to some degree or another. One of the key pieces of information you get from a home energy audit is the amount of air exchange per hour you are getting. While fresh air coming into the home in some amounts is a good thing, air infiltration through window seals, door seals, outside wall electrical outlets or leaking air out through recessed lighting are all problems. The more air that is leaking in or out of the house, the harder the heating and cooling system have to work to control temperature and humidity.

So improvements in the building envelope through insulation, caulk, weather stripping, and duct sealing, will lead to increased efficiency in the heating and cooling systems. This may lead to better hot water delivery, since the pipes won?t be as cold, which leads to water savings since you won?t run the tap for 2 minutes waiting for that hot water to come. See??

A Sample Energy Audit

Here is a sample of a home energy audit. This one was prepared for a client by eZing, Inc (708-848-3066) and shows the type of information we get from it. After the 4 hour survey, the audit provides concrete, scientific information about how your home performs right now, and how you can improve its performance. The most valuable data it gives it an itemized action plan ? a list of to dos, their potential costs, the probable return on the investment, and the time it will take.

With this list you can then prioritize your project or projects. Don?t want to do windows this year? Ok, take care of the weather stripping, caulk, and insulation. Just did your water heater five years ago? Then tackle the 18 year old furnace. You will know exactly what to do and have a plan to do it that you can refer back to over and over again until the jobs are done.

I recommend this type of audit as part of a pre-purchase home inspection as well. There are a number of home inspectors who can add this service to a traditional inspection, and give you some real understanding of what you will be getting into, energy-wise, before you buy your next dream home. It?s a shame to buy that dream home, only to find out you can?t afford to live in it because it costs $500 a month to heat! To find an energy auditor go to www.resnet.us for a complete listing of certified auditors.

In the next article, I?ll go over some of the ways to finance these upgrades. From mortgages specifically geared to energy efficiency, to federal grants, state rebate programs, and tax incentives ? I?ll try to cover as many options as possible and provide valuable links to sources.

In the meantime, Go Green!

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About Stuart Feldman

Stuart Feldman, an emergency medicine physician by training, but recently received his LEED AP. He has been working as a green developer for the past four years. Feel free to contact him through his website www.rivertrailproperties.com. He assists in the design, construction, and materials selection for any project. He is LEED AP certified, and can help get your home LEED rated or EnergyStar® certified, or simply running at peak performance. He has 8 home designs that can be built on most city-sized lots, and he can design homes of any quality and style using his design team. New or renovated home projects can be completed in four months from the time of starting construction. Stuart also is building a conservation community in 2010. The River Hill Conservation Community embraces the best of environmentally responsible design and construction in an innovative and community oriented subdivision in Lake County and will showcase what is possible in the design and construction of truly environmentally responsible homes. Stuart still works full time in the ER and enjoys time with his 2 young sons and loving wife. In his spare time he enjoys a round of golf, sailing, and dining out. You can contact him at stuartdo@rivertrailproperties.com.

View all posts by Stuart Feldman

6 Responses to “The Home Energy Audit – Part 2 of Our Going Green Series”

  1. mike Says:

    Good post. Regarding the home energy audit, it?s important to get the right audit?accurate and actionable and looking at the right things like duct leakage, air infiltration, and equipment efficiency and safety. A HERS rating won’t go far enough (and it doesn’t include combustion safety testing. For a bit more background on audits and additional links, follow my post at http://greenhomesamerica.wordpress.com/2009/05/07/home-energy-audits-2/

    Thanks,
    Mike

    Reply

  2. Home Construction Projects Says:

    The world industry would definitely benefit by following your implements in efficiency and energy saving. We need more programs and progress such as LEED. Well deserved credit to you all.

    Reply

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