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How to Save on High Utility Bills?

Nov 11, 2012

This election season we heard both candidates talking loudly about nearly everything from how to create new jobs to whether or not we should keep our troops in Afghanistan. But what if it’s not politics that’s got your mind occupied, rather it’s your high utility bill getting you down? One thing we didn’t hear much about were the candidate’s plans on how to help homeowners reduce cripplingly high utility bills.

And that’s really too bad, because high home energy costs are impacting Americans negatively in a very real way every month. The effects are felt primarily in the two places where it hurts most: the home and the wallet.

But the good news is that there’s something you can do about the issue of a high utility bill: you can get an energy audit.

What’s a home energy audit and what does it have to do with my utility bill?

More often than not, the reason for a high utility bill is an inefficient home, meaning one that’s losing energy. The purpose of a home energy audit, also known as an energy survey or energy assessment, is to pinpoint where and how this is happening, identify the systems that are working inefficiently and to propose cost-effective measures that can be implemented in order to fix the situation.

There are currently three different types of energy audits being offered by certified RESNET Home Energy Auditors, ranging from basic to very in-depth.

1.  Home Energy Survey

A Home Energy Survey consists of a visual inspection. It doesn’t involve the use of  any diagnostic testing equipment and its purpose is to gauge the general energy performance of a home, including:

  • Building envelope features (windows, doors, insulation, ducts) and ages.
  • HVAC equipment types, characteristics and ages.
  • Appliance and lighting characteristics.
  • Comfort complaints.
  • Visible moisture issues.
  • Visible health and safety issues.

In order to better identify potential areas for savings, A RESNET Home Energy Survey Professional (HESP) will request a review of the homeowner’s utility use and billing history. They will provide a report of the complete assessment, including basic recommendations for improving the home’s energy efficiency. They will also give suggestions on low-cost, do-it-yourself tasks. The Home Energy Survey takes about one hour to complete and also includes good information about utility-based programs that could further help the homeowner reduce home energy costs.

2.  Building Performance Assessment

A Building Performance Assessment involves diagnostic testing using specialized equipment. Some examples include a blower door test, duct leakage tester and a combustion analyzer. An infrared camera is used to determine:

  • The amount and location of air leaks in the building envelope.
  • The amount of leakage from HVAC distribution ducts.
  • The effectiveness of insulation inside walls and ceilings.
  • Any existing or potential combustion safety issues.

A Home Energy Survey is also included as a part of a Building Performance Assessment.

A Building Performance Auditor (BPA) conducts a Building Performance Assessment. This consists firstly of a whole house evaluation, followed by a computer analysis that identifies possible solutions and treatments for improvement. The homeowner is presented with a detailed report that suggests retrofit recommendations as well as RESNET Qualified EnergySmart Contractors who can perform the work.

A Building Performance Assessment will normally take 3-4 hours, depending on how large the home is.

3.  Comprehensive HERS® Rating

The most detailed and in-depth of all energy audits is the Comprehensive HERS® Rating. In addition to everything that’s included in the other two, the Comprehensive HERS® Rating also provides a computerized simulation analysis utilizing RESNET Accredited Rating Software to generate the home’s HERS® Index Score.

The HERS® Index Score gives the homeowner a good idea about how energy efficient their home is when compared to similar homes.  The lower the score, the more energy efficient the home. It’s also a valuable tool in helping homeowners sell their homes by highlighting potential energy savings earned through a low score. It’s kind of like an MPG (miles-per-gallon) sticker for homes!

A typical American resale home is rated at 130 on the HERS® Index. A standard American new home that meets current International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) standards is awarded a HERS® Index Score of 100. What this translates into is:

  • A home with a HERS® Index Score of 60 is 40% more energy efficient than a standard American new home.
  • A home with a HERS® Index Score of 140 is 40% less efficient than a standard American new home.

The Comprehensive HERS® Rating also includes a cost vs. benefit analysis for recommended improvements.

So while the politicians debate foreign policy and argue about how to fix the economy, it’s good to know there’s one thing you can do right now to help save on your utility bill: contact a local certified RESNET Home Energy Auditor for an energy audit on your home.