Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mount Vernon's Delegate Gets An Energy Audit

Yesterday, I had an energy audit done on my house by a friend of mine's company, Continuum Energy Solutions, Inc. It was a fascinating $400 experience.

This year, I drafted and introduced legislation to license and regulate home energy auditors and to create a tax credit for home energy audits and green energy improvements, so I thought it would be a good idea to have an audit done of my house. My wife and I effective rebuilt our house about five years ago. At the time, we purchased fancy windows and doors, asked for the best insulation, etc. I thought we did a pretty good job. I thought we'd be in pretty good shape.

First, I found out we had three gas leaks. The auditor checked my entire gas system with a detector and found three pinhole leaks around fittings. It appears that the sealant that the contractor used to bind the fittings was failing.

Next, I found out that all of my hot water pipes were not insulated. This causes them to lose heat as water travels to its destination.

We discovered that my metal ductwork was not universally insulated and some of the insulation was put on sloppily (not flush with the metal) causing it to lose its insulating effect and efficiency (you can lose up to 60% of heated air before it reaches living space if ducts aren't insulated). Some ducts were not insulated at all. Some of the duct joints were failing because they were joined with duct tape instead of mastic (more permanent tape).

We also found a hole above a wall in my basement stairwell where the contractor had failed to top off the cement which effectively created a significant breach in the house envelope. My basement doors and window were not caulked or insulated.

The holes drilled through the wall studs for wires and pipes were not sealed off so air could travel up and down through my crawlspace and attic. Plus, I discovered that recessed lights create pathways for air unless you purchase models that are correctly sealed for ceilings below attics.

Next came the moment of truth. We hooked up a large fan to the front door, cranked down the air pressure inside, and walked around with an infrared camera taking pictures. First, a huge breeze came through my chimney - my flue damper was broken so I just never closed it. Big problem. Next, air was rushing through all of my electrical sockets and light switches on exterior walls. Air was rushing through the bottoms of the floor moldings because they had not been caulked before the toe molding was nailed down. Air was rushing through the recessed lights upstairs and coming through my attic door.

The big problem was in the basement. There were places that I could stand and feel a breeze hitting my face. The basement door and window had air blasting around the sides, and air was rushing in where the floor joists hit the exterior walls. There was a huge hole where the primary trunk line left my basement for the crawlspace. My contractor had attempted to plug it with some foam board, but it wasn't really working.

My auditor did some calculations based on the cubic air volume of my house and concluded that we effectively had a 4X4 foot window open 24-7 - in what was effectively a brand new house. Wow.

We discussed ways to fix these problems. They are going to send me a report in a week. I will post it up here when I receive it. Also, this company can come in an fix most of these things for me or I can do them myself.

People have made light of President Obama's "weatherstripping" stimulus program, but the average American home spends something like 20-30% of its energy costs ($450/yr.) heating or cooling the outdoors and this would have an significant long-term impact on our nation's energy consumption. Besides, as my energy auditor pointed out - if your car was dripping 20% of its gas on the ground would you just keep filling the tank?

I like to think I am energy conscious. I drive a hybrid. I'm an obsessive recycler. We compost our food and yard waste. I bought an energy monitor for my house about a year ago, but I haven't focused on my home energy use much. The federal government is offering tax credits of 30% of weatherization & insulation costs up to $1,500 in 2010, I'm going to Home Depot today.

I really like the squirrels outside my house, but I think they'll do ok without me heating the yard up for them. Fixing these problems on a nationwide basis would create jobs, they would also save a ton of energy, and is the right thing to do. We ought to get started.


  1. Hopefully those recessed lights are IC so you can get some insulation packed right up next to them and seal them off a bit. I changed some of my recessed lights to have CFL bulbs in them instead of halogen and that cooled them off enough that i could caulk them to air seal them.

    Electrical outlets are the easy ones, you can seal them better with some foam backers for the plates.

    And forgive me for the shameless plug (pun intended) but Im sure you know you can put a chimney balloon in the flue to plug and tighten that chimney flue.

    Did the Energy rater give you any prints of the IR camera images? I think IR cameras are the coolest thing since sliced bread!

  2. I doubt my recessed lights are fixable without replacing them.

    The flue was ok once the damper door was shut. We use it a lot.

    I'm getting a report with a bunch of regular pictures and IR pictures. I'll post it up here when I get it.

  3. Thank you Delegate Surovell for sharing this experience with us. I have never met someone that was not completely satisfied with the information a certified auditor shared with them about their home. An Energy Audit is one if the best kept secrets that need to be exposed.

  4. I echo rwalsh and thank you for sharing this information.

    I also believe it is not the government's business to do any more than educate. Providing an allowance to the good little children who do as the educator suggests is not where I want my tax dollars to go.

    Please consider this. We are in a significant recession, and rewarding people financially for doing as the government wants goes against the grain of independence and interdependability on which our country was founded.

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  6. Can we get state-regulated utilities to be required to send out some communication at least annually in the mail to customers educating folks on the benefits of getting an energy audit? They make more money if we use more electric or gas, but they have a responsibility in my opinion to ensure that we're not collectively wasting energy.