For most Americans, the word "audit" is an unpleasant one, summoning images of a stern IRS agent who demands receipts to support every tax deduction on last year's return. Homeowners, however, may be letting that word keep them from a terrific opportunity for increased home efficiency and lower heating, cooling and electrical costs: the energy audit.
Here's a quick primer on this energy- and money-saving initiative, mentioned as one of the essentials of beach home renovation in September's issue of Coastal Living:
What's an energy audit? An energy audit is an assessment of a home's heating/cooling systems, lighting, and appliances to determine their efficiency. A trained specialist reviews the entire home, conducts a few simple tests, and makes recommendations for improvements that can save energy and ultimately lower the homeowner's heating and/or electric bill. Specialists may even change old incandescent light bulbs on the spot, replacing them with energy-saving LED bulbs at no cost to the homeowner.
How much does an energy audit cost? Homeowners in Rhode Island and Massachusetts can schedule a no-cost initial assessment through National Grid or Mass Save, respectively. Other states' utility companies may provide similar services at no cost or at a reduced cost.
What about the cost of the improvements? After the assessment is completed, the specialist provides the homeowner with a list of suggested improvements, ranging from weatherstripping and insulation to energy-efficient appliances, doors and windows. There is no obligation to move forward with any of the recommendations the specialist makes, but one of the benefits of the programs available in Rhode Island is that National Grid provides incentives to homeowners for most if not all of the improvements. These incentives can reduce the cost of the improvements by 50% or more.
Another advantage for Rhode Islanders is a special zero percent financing program available to qualified homeowners. This financing program allows homeowners to spread the cost of the improvements over a five to seven year period without paying interest on the amount financed.
How long does the process take? The initial assessment generally takes one to two hours, depending on the size of the home. After the homeowner decides what work will be done and arranges for financing, the job is assigned to one of the contractors approved to participate in the program. Depending on the contractor's workload, the improvements are typically scheduled within two to three weeks of the assessment. The actual onsite work may last only a day or two.
Who handles the onsite preparation and cleanup? The contractors approved to participate in the program know that it's important to be organized and professional, and will arrive at each job site with tarps and other protective coverings for the homeowner's floors and furniture. It's a good idea for the homeowner to store any extremely fragile items or pieces with great sentimental value, though. The homeowner may also need to move items to give the laborers easy access to attic, basement or crawlspace areas.
When it's time for cleanup, the contractor's team will clear away their materials, remove the tarps and coverings, and sweep and vacuum as needed. A little follow-up dusting and vacuuming never hurts, of course. If the team created a temporary ceiling opening or installed a permanent attic access hatch, it helps to have ceiling paint handy for a quick touch-up.
What's the bottom line, as far as savings go? Since every home's energy needs and usage are different, the specialist provides a customized analysis of estimated annual savings from each improvement. Generally, it takes a full heating season to start feeling the impact of the improvements, but the long-term impact is a win-win for the environment (saving energy) and the homeowner (saving money). Who doesn't like saving?
Saving is great! What's the next step? Homeowners in Rhode Island and Massachusetts can contact National Grid (RI) or Mass Save (MA) to schedule an assessment. Homeowners in other parts of the country should consult their local utility providers for similar programs.
Looking for more ways to make your home cozy as the seasons change? Blackbird Design Studio can help. Schedule a consultation today!