Dear EarthTalk: There are a number of companies out there now doing energy audits for the home, after which they try to sell you attic insulation and other products and services. Is this just a scam or would it be wise for me to look into this? Bill Richards, New York, N.Y.
For the most part, companies offering energy audits are reputable and legitimate and will help you both save money and reduce your carbon footprint if you follow their advice in regard to upgrading things like insulation, windows and appliances.
"A home energy assessment, also known as a home energy audit, is the first step to assess how much energy your home consumes and to evaluate what measures you can take to make your home more energy efficient," reports the U.S. Department of Energy. "An assessment will show you problems that may, when corrected, save you significant amounts of money over time."
"During the assessment, you can pinpoint where your house is losing energy," adds DOE. "Energy assessments also determine the efficiency of your home's heating and cooling systems [and] may also show you ways to conserve hot water and electricity."
You can conduct your own energy audit if you know where to look for air leaks (drafts), water waste and other key areas of a home's inefficiencies. The DOE's www.energysavers.gov site has guidelines to help homeowners conduct their own do-it-yourself home energy assessments.
For instance, DOE recommends that homeowners make a list of obvious air leaks, such as through gaps along baseboards or at the edges of flooring and at wall and ceiling junctures. The potential energy savings from reducing drafts in a home can be as high as 30 percent per year, reports DOE.
(The DOE website also provides information on other ways to save money and resources through less obvious things such as outdoor landscaping. It also posts guidelines for energy-efficient designing and remodeling.)
You should also check the filters on heating and cooling equipment to see if they need to be changed so as to keep your furnace and air conditioners functioning at maximum efficiency. And if these or other appliances are older than 15 years, consider replacing them with newer models that meet federal EnergyStar efficiency criteria. Also, swapping out older incandescent bulbs in light fixtures with higher efficiency compact fluorescent or LED bulbs will save money and energy.
A professional energy auditor with dedicated assessment tools and the knowledge of how to use them will in all likelihood carry out a more comprehensive assessment than you can do yourself. Thorough assessments often use equipment such as blower doors, which measure the extent of leaks in the building envelope, and infrared cameras, which reveal hard-to-detect areas of air infiltration and missing insulation.
If you are concerned about enlisting a for-profit firm that upsells its own energy efficiency upgrade services based on a "free" energy audit, check with your utility to see whether it offers unbiased, independent energy audit services (which it may do for free or for a nominal cost).
The assessor from your utility may be able to recommend window and door replacement companies, heating and cooling specialists and other vendors nearby that do reputable work to make your home is not only energy efficient but warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
EarthTalk is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E-The Environmental Magazine. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe at www.emagazine.com/subscribe.