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energy efficiency lightbulb tree butterflyIn this sluggish economy which is unfriendly towards real estate, people are hanging on to their homes and improving them instead of selling. If you’re going to do an upgrade, you may as well make it for energy efficiency!

The first thing to do is get an energy audit. Check the RESNET website for a certified auditor in your area. You can also call your local utility and ask them to do an audit.

The benefits of an energy audit

Your results will say what is working well and where you can make improvements. The nice thing is that your audit is in a digital file that can be updated as you upgrade. You can even go so far as to get a HERS rating, which will also change as you remodel.

For instance, my audit said my Sunfrost refrigerator was a huge energy saver. On the other hand, my older woodstove could be replaced with a gas heater for more efficiency. I debated that, since wood is renewable and gas is not, but no matter.

I had a blower door test done, too. The house is sealed up with doors and windows closed. A huge fan is placed in an exterior doorway. It is hooked up to a laptop with the audit software running. It gets turned on and draws air out of the house. On the screen, you can see how much air is moving out of the house compared to the volume of the space inside. My auditor went to each room to see where air was coming in, and he caulked those areas as he found them. There were a few around some older windows and one at the attic access panel.

Once those few places were sealed up, the figures in the software changed for the better! It said there were fewer leaks. That’s a good thing.

Audit recommendations

The auditor had gone around the house collecting information about the age of the building, the types of windows and what the foundation was like. He looked in the attic to see how much insulation there was, and we guessed at a few structural things I didn’t know.

All that information added up to recommendations on how to remodel for more efficiency. I needed to add rigid insulation around the slab, replace a few old windows, and get a gas heater. But since this was done after a partial remodel, there wasn’t much to correct, and all the improvements needed to be done in the old part of the house. Once done, they’d be recorded in my data, my HERS score of 88 would improve, and more recommendations could be made.

Common improvements for energy efficiency are caulking around doors, windows and baseboards; more ceiling and wall insulation; new energy efficient windows specific for the area of the house; doors with a high R-value; high efficiency water heater; new refrigerator; and a new furnace or boiler.

You don’t have to do an audit

You can do all these improvements on your own without an audit, but the audit will tell you which one will give you a higher and faster return on your investment by saving the most energy.

Other things you can do on your own for energy efficiency are seal heating ducts, install a programmable thermostat (this automatically turns down the heat while you are gone and turns it up just before you get home) and install more efficient lighting fixtures with CFLs or LED bulbs.

You can also do the old-fashioned ritual of adding storm windows and storm doors. They save quite a bit of energy! I used to love to wash those doors and windows with my dad in fall.

I highly recommend an energy audit, though, for the simple reason it is an ongoing document. You can pass it along with the sale of the home, and the new owners can even improve the energy usage. Call your utility or check the RESNET website. Fall is a great time to get this kind of work done on the house, too!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.