Energy efficiency means using less energy and expecting to gain a higher energy productivity. Simply put, energy efficiency is getting more for less. The benefits of such endeavor is so vast, people who have dedicated their efforts to achieve energy efficiency often wonder why everyone else is not doing it already.
For one, energy efficiency can lead to cash savings. Save electricity and one can look forward to a lower energy bill. In order to achieve energy efficient homes, a homeowner can opt for energy-efficient appliances, carrying out necessary home improvements, and develop energy saving habits. Other ways to save energy at home include buying Energy Star appliances and using halogens, CFLs, and LEDs instead of incandescent light bulbs.
As if the savings one can get through energy efficiency is not enough, another reason to do it is because it improves the economy. If energy efficiency saves a household a few bucks, just imagine what it could do to an economy—literally billions of dollars in savings! Green energy also creates jobs and encourages creativity and innovation among the industry leaders. Their inputs also positively affect the energy-related policies and down the line, the manufacturers.
Energy efficiency is beneficial to the environment. A related concept, green energy, helps further cut down pollution and spare the planet from running out of natural resources. Unlike fossil fuels that make use of finite natural resources and have to be burnt in order to be used as an energy source, green energy can be used with little resulting pollution. Apart from this, it can be harnessed from renewable energy sources, hence saving the natural resources.
Fourthly, energy efficiency contributes to national security, as it lessens a country’s dependency on another country for energy supply. Not to mention, the cost of importing and transporting traditional sources of energy can be set aside for use in national defense and other vital causes.
Lastly, one more reason to save electricity and energy is because it improves people’s quality of life. Setting aside myths and focusing on facts, the use of green energy can make people comfortable in their own homes, business can expand productivity, and cities become more accessible with the help of more reliable and efficient transportation systems.
Most definitely, everyone can contribute to achieve energy efficiency, starting with one’s own home. There are simple actions an occupant can do to improve energy saving at home. Here are some of them:
- Insulate the home properly to improve occupants’ comfort and reduce energy bills
- Moderate water heater temperature, preferably at 130 degrees Fahrenheit
- Cover the water storage tank with a heat-containing blanket to conserve its temperature
- Go for halogen light bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs, or light emitting diodes or LEDs
- Choose consumer appliances that bear the Energy Star mark
- Utilize low flow faucets and shower heads
- Inspect and clean filters periodically so as to improve the air conditioning unit or furnace air flow
- Turn off all electronic devices, appliances, and lighting sources when not in use
- Make use of a programmable thermostat for cooling and heating systems
- Use cold water when doing the laundry
- Install window shades to protect the indoors from heat during summertime and open them during the cold months to allow warm rays
These are just the most basic things that a person can do in order to start to save electricity at home. If still unsatisfied with the resulting savings or if one feels that these are not enough and would like to do more for the environment, the next step would be to make the home undergo a home energy audit.
A home energy audit can further the energy efficiency of any home. It aims to evaluate the current energy use and suggest measures that can improve it. What the client has to do is to simply trust the energy auditor and follow his or her recommendations and carry out the necessary energy-related home improvements. Briefly said, a home energy audit is aimed at improving energy efficiency, reduce energy bills, and ensure the comfort of the occupants.
There are two ways to carry out a home energy audit: the do it yourself type and the professional home energy audit. Needless to say, only a certified energy auditor can produce the best results as they have the most experience, an in-depth knowledge, and the certification to prove their expertise in this area.
A home energy audit conducted by a professional and certified energy auditor involves a room by room inspection of the entire structure. Also, expect the energy auditor to perform some tests and use devices such as the blower door, thermographic scan, furnace efficiency meters, surface thermometers, and infrared cameras. Some auditor even make use of the PFT, an air filtration assessment tool.
In preparing for a home energy audit, the client may take note of the following beforehand:
- Jot down existing concerns or issues, if there is any
- Organize the energy bills for the past year or summarize if needed
- Expect questions from the energy auditor such as occupants’ habits in terms of number of occupants, their working hours, the number of rooms they occupy, and the average thermostat setting depending on the season
- Assume that the auditor will tour the outside part of the home as well such as the walls and windows
Once the client feels that he or she is ready for a professional home energy audit, the next course of action is to look for an energy auditor. A client has options when it comes to this, to wit:
- Electricity providers usually offer home energy assessment or have a list of local auditors
- Local government units whose jurisdiction involves energy efficiency may also have recommended home energy auditors
- Refer to the local section of the telephone directory
When it comes to selecting a home energy auditor, one should bear in mind the following reminders:
- Contact several potential auditors
- Talk with as much auditor as one can to be able to gauge his or her knowledge or even the quality of service
- Do a background check of the energy audit company where the auditor belongs to
- Expect pre inspection reports from the energy auditor prior to contract signing
To have an idea of what is like to have a certified auditor conduct a home energy audit, here is what one needs to know:
- The auditor will take note of the number of air registers and their location
- He or she will examine doors and windows and observe for unnecessary window condensation
- The auditor will take note of the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and check if these are working properly
- He or she will observe lighting fixtures
- The auditor will also detect if there is any air leak surrounding fixtures, doors, windows, and outlets
- The fireplace will also be checked
- The thermostat type and usual setting will be noted
- The walls’ insulation and framing style will also be observed
- The quality of indoor air and any related problems will be checked
More than just physical checks and visual observations, one should expect the following deliverables from a home energy audit:
- Explanation of the audit procedure
- Report on the exterior and interior inspection results
- Report on health and safety inspection results
- Analysis of fuel energy utilization
- Assessment report of electrical systems
- Report on combustion appliance inspection results
- List of client-reported issues and problems and recommendations or suggestions of how these can be addressed
- Report findings on blower door test
- Analysis of all reports and findings to come up with a complete and concise home energy report
To be able to achieve all these outputs, one should not be surprised of the numerous and various tools and devices that auditors typically use:
- Good old pen and paper for jotting down notes
- Flashlight for when the auditor checks hard to reach areas, such as the back part of an appliance
- Tape measure to get a realistic size assessment of each room/area
- Screw driver, pliers, and wrench for when checking appliances and outlets
- Telescoping ladder to gain access to the higher areas of the home
- Inspection mirror to check hard to reach and constricted spaces
- Draft gauge to check chimney drafts
- Moisture meter to test moisture levels in wood and other materials
- Digital camera to document progress of the audit and take a visual note of areas of concern
- Infrared camera to check for the insulation and if there are any sources of air leaks
- Combustion analyzer for checking appliances
- Blower door to check for any air leaks
- Manometer, also used to check for any air leaks and to test exhaust systems whether these are functioning properly
- Smoke-generating device that emits a stream of smoke or fog to check for air or duct leaks
- Watt meter, which checks energy consumption of various home appliances
- Soap bubbles to check for fuel leaks in combustion appliances
- Digital probe thermometer for testing heat generating equipment
If an individual finds it hard to understand these devices and the concepts used in a professional home energy audit, just imagine how hard it would be for a layman to conduct his or her own, do it yourself home energy audit. However, to set the record straight, it can be done. It will not be as thorough and definitive as the work of a professional but anyone can try doing the following and see for him or herself whether energy efficiency can be achieved.
Home enclosure. To start a home energy audit, the first thing one should check is the building envelope—the barrier separating the inside space of the home from the outdoors. The home enclosure is composed of the ceiling, walls, and floors. This includes the garage and basement. The first thing one has to do is to make a sketch of the dimensions of their home to help them with the succeeding steps of the audit. Then, the structure itself shall be assessed based on the following:
- Air leakage. The air insulation and barrier should be checked as to its effectiveness in keeping two areas with different temperatures, specifically the indoors from the outdoors. The air cooling and heating systems will only work as good as the type of insulation and barrier the home has, and air leakage is one of the popular causes why a home is not able to use energy optimally. In this area of the home energy audit, one has to make a visual observation of the problem areas and investigate air flow.
- Insulation. Insulation is not to be confused with barrier. Its main purpose is to maintain the heat within the home during the cold season and out when the summer season starts. Check the home envelope to check the type of insulation used and its thickness.
- Moisture control. Recesses, leaks, and cracks cause moisture to build up within the home. Too much moisture within can trigger mold and mildew to grow, affecting the quality of the structure and compromising the health of the occupants. To audit this area, check roof, gutters, attic, trees coming in contact with the walls and roof, vents, and the attic.
Air and water heating. A considerable amount of energy use is dedicated for operating the home’s heating systems, so this is a potential area for energy inefficiency. There are different types of audit checklist for each type of heating system. For air heating, one has to check the air filters, furnacem ductwork, joints, vents, pipes, panels, the floor slab, and the baseboard or wall fan unit. As for the water heating system, check the water temperature, age of the water heater, water pipes, shower heads, and faucet aerators.
Cost effectiveness. Finally, it is in this area where a homeowner makes a calculated estimate of how much in energy savings they have to make in order to afford an energy efficient measure, as even a do it yourself energy audit can reveal many problem areas in a typical home.
In this regard, it would be wise to consult a professional home energy auditor. Since their tests are more rigorous and make use of exact metrics, them alone can assess the cost effectiveness of a home improvement measure relative to achieving home energy efficiency. After all, it is the improvements made after the audit that can really promote energy efficiency in a home. The question is whether or not these are really necessary, beneficial, and cost effective.