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Conservation News

Home Front Part 3

The Energy Audit

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A month or so ago Chuck Reiss, one of the leading green building experts in Vermont came to my house to perform an energy audit under Efficiency Vermont’s Energy Star program. My husband Mike and I were interested in 1. Knowing if our house was leaky and where, and 2. What our options were to deal with it. We’ve replaced our lighbulbs with compact fluorescents, we heat primarily with wood, we’ve replaced all of our windows, and we were curious how we could further reduce our impact–if a next step was necessary, and if so what it was.

To start the process, Reiss needed to figure out where our house leaked and how much, so he set up a blower door test. He sealed a giant fan into a doorway, had us lock shut all the other doors and windows, and then measured how much air could get into the house.

After Reiss took a bunch of notes on the numbers from his electronic reader, with the fan still on, he had us walk around and hold our hands up to outlets, light fixtures, moldings, doors, walls to unheated exterior spaces, attic openings and closets. It was eye opening for sure. In some instances we felt nothing, but in most instances we felt something between a light breeze coming in and a strong and steady stream of air. A few years ago we put an addition on our house and we insulated a wall to an exterior space with fiberglass insulation (the puffy pink stuff). Air was rushing through that wall. In another spot, there was air streaming in through a light fixture that shines into an upstairs hallway, but that was installed through the attic.

When we were done being shocked and flabbergasted by the leaks in our built-in-1980 house, Chuck tested our furnace, and found it to be 80% efficient—in other words, not very. He also tested our house for carbon monoxide, putting sensors in the chimney and the stove to make sure that if we did decide to tighten things up that we wouldn’t end up making ourselves sick.

We were interested in renewables, so Reiss got onto our roof with an ancient looking device that let us see if we were candidates for solar power. It had a convex glass lens over a chart with markings for months and times of day. We oriented the device towards south, and gazing into the half globe were able to see that we are candidates for both solar hot water and a solar photovoltaic arrangement as well as which trees would need to come down for maximum solar gain. While we continued to marvel at this simple and wonderful device, Chuck crawled around the foundation of the house examining the insulation. His conclusion, the foundation as well as the attic could use a whole bunch more than it has.

Our new windows got high marks for being tight, but we learned that when they were installed, the carpenter didn’t use enough spray foam insulation around them, so that in many instances though the windows weren’t leaky, the space around them was.

It was a three plus process. It cost $350, which will be refunded by Efficiency Vermont or Green Mountain Power if we make any changes that significantly improve the environmental profile of our home, which we will.

So we’re discussing, waiting for Reiss’ quote, and will make some decisions about it soon!

-Berne Broudy

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