TK note: I get a lot of submissions for guest articles at AltenergyStocks.com, most of which are off-topic (like this one.) But this one from Whitefence Savings was a subject I’m interested in- understanding the energy use of a home before you buy, so I thought I’d post it here.
I paid for an energy audit of my home before I moved in, but was not able to get a free one… my utility required having an established account, and the current home owners had moved out a year before and were in bankruptcy. The audits are inexpensive anyway… the most useful part for me was the infrared audit, although you should note that such audits work best when the house is being heated in winter or air conditioned in summer.
Walking through a house a few times while you’re thinking about making an offer on it will give you an idea of how much you like the house, but not an accurate estimate regarding its energy usage. You might notice the occasional drafty door or a window that needs sealing, but there’s no way to tell just how well-insulated or efficient a home is during a walkthrough. Have no fear! There is a way to eliminate unpleasant surprises regarding efficiency before it’s too late: get a free energy assessment on the home before you take the plunge into buying it.
Contact the Local Utility Company
The local utility company probably gives free assessments to its customers, or at least an average usage for the last calendar year or so. Though you are not their customer yet, the people currently living in the house are and will have access to that information. You would need to set up a time with the current owners for the assessment anyway, so you may as well see if they would be willing to speak with the utility company to have a free assessment done. From there they can share the results or allow you to be part of the process.
Schedule an Assessment with Energy Service Corps
Energy Service Corps is a group that has an overall goal of saving energy, saving the environment and saving you money. This is a great free option because they not only come out and assess the energy efficiency of your home, but they’ll also seal cracks around windows and doors to block drafts, change out your older bulbs for energy-saving models and make other small adjustments that will lower the cost of your utilities right away. As part of the assessment, they will give suggestions on other changes you should make to see greater improvements in energy efficiency. However, you should be aware they are limited in where they can go to provide their services.
Do It Yourself
You can do some informal assessments yourself. Ask the current homeowner about their energy usage, or call their utility company for an average use from the previous year. Keep in mind, this method will not tell you what areas of the house need updating or changing in order to create a more energy-efficient environment. Some ways you can assess the energy levels yourself is to feel along the walls for cool patches to determine where more insulation is needed. Along those same lines, feel along the windows and door frames and note where leaks are. Another thing you can do is peek into the attic to see about the state of the insulation. If it’s on the skimpy side, put that on a list of things that would need updating. If the basement is unfinished, check to see if the ceiling has any insulation which will impede the coolness of the basement from seeping up through the floors of your main level rooms. After your self-assessment is finished, you can determine if you need to hire a professional to determine if there are larger issues or be satisfied with your findings.
[ED note: Also see my own checklist for a DIY Energy Audit]
Know Why an Energy Assessment is a Good Idea
Before you move into a home, you’ll want to get an energy assessment so you can either know what improvements you’d like the owners to make as part of your offer on the house, or so you know what changes you’ll want to make once you do move in. Some things that are more serious, such as needing to replace windows and siding, may be more convenient if they’re completed before you start moving. Other, less pressing items such as caulking your windows or adding insulation to your attic, can probably wait until after you’ve purchased the house and moved in. Updating your home in small ways can lower your electric bills year round and impact the environment by lowering it’s carbon footprint.
Learn What Assessors Will Look For
Some assessors do tests to see how air-tight your home is. They mark where air leaks through, and can tell you the best way to eliminate those leaks. Others may do what is called a thermographic inspection that will measure the temperature levels along the walls of your home. This can be done indoors or outdoors depending, depending upon the season.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that, in order to increase the efficiency of the home and lower your energy bills, you must make the changes suggested by the assessor. Most changes that can be made to lower bills are relatively affordable and easy to do on your own. Don’t consider a house to be a lost cause just because it is not currently living up to it’s full potential in terms of efficiency, as you may be able to make small adjustments that have a big impact overall.