Better energy efficiency at home starts with savings, not purchases. An energy audit conducted by a trained energy adviser can help you get there.
“Members are our community and we are the experts in the electric energy arena,” says Manuela Heyn, an energy services representative for Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative, based in Southport, Florida.
“We have the tools, knowledge and commitment to assist our people. Saving energy can also help shave peak loads.”
Manuela conducted her first energy audits with basic tools: a flashlight, laser temperature gun and a candy thermometer— the last one to check the output temperature of the water heater. She now has access to more sophisticated equipment, including thermal imaging.
Members become frantic when they see a major increase in their power bill, and they want immediate answers as to why. With experience and access to meter data reports, identifying major power consumption problems has been simplified and, in many instances, resolved in the office.
During on-site audits, Manuela uses all of her senses and experience to find abnormalities such as hot water line leaks, running well pumps, damaged power cords and construction issues. In one case, she found spongy drywall, disconnected ducts and lack of insulation.
Manuela also checks household systems that many homeowners seldom see or consider unless they spend time with their HVAC technician.
The average U.S. household will spend about $2,100 on home energy this year, according to calculations by the Alliance to Save Energy, based on information from the Department of Energy. But you can spend less with these 12 simple tips:
- Seal air leaks and properly insulate. Plug energy leaks with weatherstripping and caulking. Be sure your house is properly insulated to save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling bills, while increasing home comfort.
- Install a programmable thermostat to save up to 10 percent on cooling and heating costs.
- Change to new and improved lightbulbs. Reduce energy use from about a third to as much as 80 percent with today’s increasing number of energy-efficient halogen incandescents, CFLs and LEDs.
- Look for the Energy Star label—the government’s symbol of energy efficiency—on a wide range of consumer products to save up to 30 percent on related electricity bills.
- Wash clothes in cold water. Heating the water in a washer uses 90 percent of the energy used to wash clothes. According to Energy Star, the average household can save $30 to $40 a year by switching to cold water.
- Turn off all lights, appliances and electronics when not in use. Use a power strip and turn off devices to cut standby power. This will save the average household $100 a year on their energy bill.
- Even if you don’t own your home, you can keep your electric bill down by making energy-efficient choices in the areas of your home you control.
- Clean or change filters regularly. A dirty furnace or air conditioning filter slows air flow and makes the system work harder to keep you warm or cool.
- Hire a professional to service and maintain your heating and air conditioning system.
- Reduce the water heater temperature to 120 F to save energy and money on heating water. Wrap the water storage tank in a specially-designed blanket to retain the heat. If your water heater is in need of replacement, consider installing an energy-efficient tankless water heater.
- Use low-flow faucets and showerheads to save on water bills.
- Use your window shades. Close blinds on the sunny side in summer to keep out the hot sun, and open them in winter to bring in warm rays.
Energy Audits Point the Way to Savings
Conducting an energy audit of your home is a great way to identify opportunities for energy savings. Below are five areas an auditor will typically cover.
- Leaks and Losses: Damaged, missing or improperly installed insulation can increase energy use year-round. Knowing where and how to check can identify problems.
- Comfort Costs: A visual inspection of your thermostat, water heater, heating and air conditioning equipment, and ductwork can identify performance problems.
- Assessing Appliances: The age, condition, location and use patterns for washers, dryers, refrigerators, and other major appliances can impact efficiency levels.
- Learning Lighting: A quick discussion about lighting options with an energy auditor can take the guesswork out of choosing the best bulbs and fixtures.
- Activity Adjustments: Knowing how and when you use energy can help you save money. Shifting the time of day you use energy to do things such as laundry and cooking to cooler, less humid hours can ease the load on HVAC systems.
“One home I visited had an overflowing air handler water pan and extreme fungal growth,” Manuela says. “Some members, particularly renters, don’t realize their HVAC systems have an air filter. When they are dirty, they can freeze up the system and cause an increase in power consumption.”
Many utilities provide energy audits and support professional development for energy advisers that includes exposure to building science concepts.
Professional development training focused on both new construction techniques designed to improve energy efficiency and retrofitting options for upgraded older housing are common, as is specialized training for multi-family units and manufactured housing.
“By providing a picture of how energy is used in the home, people can concentrate on what can save them the most energy,” says Eileen Wysocki, an energy auditor with Holy Cross Energy, headquartered in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Eileen starts with a baseload estimate of energy use based on meter data. Talking with the consumer, she learns about household size and behavior patterns, then considers seasonal factors. In her area, that includes using heat tape to prevent water lines from freezing in the winter.
“We have many second homes in our service territory,” Eileen says, noting that even when empty, energy use continues. “Fan coil blower motors, whole-house humidifiers, boiler pumps, ventilation systems, driveway snowmelt pumps, pool pumps, hot tubs, garage heaters, heated toilet seats and towel bars are using energy, regardless of occupancy.”
The co-op—which serves popular ski areas around Aspen and Vail—is designing a new audit form that will stress benefits for members through efficiency upgrades, including comfort, says Mary Wiener, energy-efficiency program administrator for Holy Cross Energy.
Some utilities provide free audits, especially when requested in response to high-bill concerns. Others may charge a small fee, offering rebates to consumers who implement some of the recommendations.
Utilities that offer audits use the service to reinforce their role as a trusted energy adviser that helps consumers save energy and control electricity costs.
Time spent with an energy auditor can help a consumer avoid ineffective upgrades or buying improperly sized equipment that might not improve comfort or produce savings.
An energy adviser’s home visit usually involves far more detailed information than the brief discussions about energy efficiency members may hear at a utility meeting, fair or other community event.
On average, a member can reduce their energy use by about 5 percent if they follow the low-cost or no-cost advice given during the audit. Additional savings of up to 20 percent can be achieved by addressing issues with big-ticket items, such as HVAC replacement, attic insulation or major duct repair.
Improved energy efficiency not only helps the utility control peak demand and wholesale power costs, it offers opportunities to discuss available programs and services, such as rebates, weatherization measures and payment assistance.
To learn more about energy audits available to you, contact your electric utility.