Efficiency in Focus

A professional home energy audit to determine how much energy you use in your home is truly useful. It can show you how much energy is being wasted and how to improve efficiency and promise the most return for your investment.

From those whose primary interest is taking advantage of federal tax credits for energy efficiency, reducing utility bills or limiting the environmental impact of their home, or for health reasons, any homeowner can benefit from an energy assessment.

There are some things homeowners can do on their own to increase energy efficiency; for example, turning off power strips when not in use and replacing incandescent bulbs with more efficient fluorescent ones. For the rest, a professional can help meet all of your home energy efficiency needs.

A+ Energy Services, based in Dublin and founded in 1998 by Dan Ramage, conducts home energy audits to help homeowners eliminate efficiency issues.

A home energy audit is an in-depth building science assessment of the overall comfort and energy efficiency of your home. An energy audit uses advanced equipment to uncover hidden issues such as air leaks, builder mistakes and missing insulation. An issue like leaky ductwork accounts for 30 percent of energy costs. Other issues that add to those costs are ventilation heat loss or heat loss through ceilings and roofs, as well as aging appliances and heating systems.

An energy audit pinpoints areas that need improvements and makes prioritized upgrades. One example is improving the attic by air sealing with spray foam and installing cellulose insulation. Ramage’s company is an insulation and window contractor, as well, and can help carry out those improvements, including offering financing options for the work.

When you complete these upgrades, you can expect more stable indoor temperatures, less need to run heating and cooling systems, and healthier indoor air quality (including great protection from carbon monoxide).

The measures available have different life spans and different costs. Replacing lightbulbs, for instance, would be a three- to five-year upgrade. Replacing a boiler would be a 15- to 20-year fix, whereas adding insulation to a house would have a 30-year life span.

An energy audit usually begins with an exterior inspection of the home, including an evaluation of the general condition of the exterior watershed, siding and sills. Common issues are mold or fungus growth on roofs, siding and soffits (usually caused by too much building air leakage and not enough ventilation). There may be grade sloping issues causing moisture problems, gutters pouring water down windows, and often there will be foundation/framing separation causing cold air infiltration into the basement or crawlspace.

An audit also normally includes a complete inspection of all accessible unconditioned spaces (basements, dirt floor crawlspaces, knee wall crawlspaces, attics) to look for hidden issues that could be causing asthma or allergies, or for insulation gaps that could be causing areas of the house to become either hot or cold. Field measurements can estimate insulation levels in these areas of the home as well as exterior walls and around windows and doors.

Infrared thermal imaging cameras test for moisture damage on the home’s interior — for example, condensations on windows or mold spots on walls — and photograph and display insulation levels and cold or hot spots within walls, ceilings and floors without removing any sheetrock or creating holes. A thermal imaging camera also reveals missing insulation, HVAC air flow and equipment issues, radiant heating malfunctions, compromised roofing and other patterns, and sources of heat loss that are invisible to the naked eye.

This offers a clear visual of where home energy efficiencies and inefficiencies are occurring and allowing our homeowners and analysts to zero in on the real problems.

A blower door test is another important part of a home energy assessment. It tells the homeowner how much energy their home is wasting due to excess air flow by showing where the greatest air leakage is occurring.

A combustion safety and efficiency test on heating equipment can detect gas leakage, carbon monoxide spillage into your home and the equipment’s efficiency. The test can show low-level carbon monoxide problems that may not be detected by plug-in detectors. It will also determine how much energy efficiency could be gained through an upgrade to the heating system.

An appliance, lighting and hot water check can provide a picture of where upgrades or adjustments can lead to energy savings — as well as a rapid return on investment. Most homes can save an easy 5 to 10 percent of energy consumption.

Any audit includes a report that compiles results and explains health and safety issues as well as energy loss in the home and customized solutions, cost of implementation and project return on investment.

Through the NHSaves Home Performance with Energy Star (HPwES) program, New Hampshire homeowners can earn up to $4,000 in instant rebates when they schedule an energy audit and complete recommended upgrades such as attic air sealing, insulation and lighting upgrades.

Ramage recommends homeowners take advantage of these rebates.

“Having these upgrades affects the quality of living and comfort level inside the house,” he said. “Customers care about that.”