This past weekend we too the first step toward dealing with our heat loss issues by having a home energy audit. If you’re not familiar, the idea behind the audit is getting certified inspectors (sometimes consultants, sometimes contractors) into your house in order to figure out how efficiently your home is operating in terms of your appliances, HVAC system, insulation, light fixtures, etc. and then provide recommendations about the best way to go for improvements. Better for the environment, better for our wallets.
I’m the sort of person who really needs a set of clear steps in order to feel good about tackling big issues and I was really looking forward to the energy audit as a way to break up the pressing but nebulous issues of our freezing cold home and outrageous propane usage into a series of discrete projects.
The process started with a walk-though of the home, which focused primarily on the basement and attic as the major entrance and egress (respectively) of outside air, due to the stack effect. The most visually impressive aspects of the audit were the blower door test and infrared camera. The blower door is used to create negative air pressure inside the house, which amplifies drafts coming in from other places, making it easier to tell where you need to seal up the house. With the blower on, we went around the house with the infrared camera in order to get some visual representation of which areas were losing the most heat. On the image above, you can see the relatively uniform blue color on the wall, which according to our auditor demonstrates that there is consistent cold air flow in the cavity between the finished wall and the stone exterior. We found that there was cellulose insulation (along with some fiberglass, some steel wool, some tin foil, and some canvas) that had been installed for insulation at various points in the house’s history. However, the stuff in the walls had pretty much all settled down to the base of the house and anyway had captured so much dirt over the years that it wasn’t really doing much good any more.
Ultimately, it seems like our first priority going forward is going to be to air seal the basement, especially around the rim joists and by replacing the old single-pane windows that are still installed down there. We are also supposed to replace the wooden door leading out to the Bilco, which is a shame since it’s a really nice old extra-wide door. But it seems like trying to weather-proof it as is might be near impossible. In any case, once the basement is done, we’ll move on to insulating the floor of the attic. Once that is done, we should keep the majority of the outside air from getting into the bottom of the house, flowing up through the top, and taking all of our heat with it.
We’re still waiting for our final proposal from our auditors that outlines in detail the exact steps and cost estimates, but at the moment I’m feeling very enthusiastic about our experience. While it’s helpful to have input from friends, family, and contractors on what how we should deal with our heating problems, it was reassuring to have a building scientist come through and give us the hard data. Also, we picked a firm that takes an educational approach – teaching us how to do the work rather than just having us hire them to do it all – which will help us in terms of experience and cost.
Even better, most of the audit price was subsidized by NYSERDA. They also have incentives (low cost loans and some grants) available to put the plan into action, but I’m hopeful that if we can tackle a lot of the work ourselves, we can just pay for these projects up front. I’m hopeful that we’ll look back on this experience and think of it as one of the smartest early investments we made in the house.