Is Your Home a High Energy Performer?
That window that doesn’t quite close right. The vent that never shut tightly. The backdoor that has some insulating flashing that’s fallen off. It might be time for a home energy audit.
All of these problems are letting conditioned air escape your house, not to mention letting outside air in. Both contribute to making your furnace work harder to keep your inside air as cool or as warm as you and your family want.
But that’s not the only leak you’ve got. Your bank account has also sprung a leak, with your cash escaping to pay for higher utility bills caused by an energy inefficient house.
If you are building a new house, you have the luxury of incorporating energy-efficiencies not only into your HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning system), but also the construction of the house itself using a number of technological advances in wall and roof assemblies, insulation and windows.
But most of us don’t have the luxury, time or interest in building a custom house, let alone the expense of incorporating many of these high energy-efficient products (though they pay for themselves over time). Even if you have a relatively new house, and particularly if you have an older home, you should try to determine where energy—and money—are literally seeping out.
According to the Department of Energy, 25 to 40 percent of the energy used for heating or cooling a home is wasted. Before you get started trying to save money or improve energy efficiency with upgrades, first consider a whole home performance test.
A whole home energy audit (also called a whole home performance test or home energy assessment) can tell you where your house is leaking air and money and where you can best achieve higher energy efficiency and greater return on your home investment. Let’s take a look at:
- Why you should consider a whole home energy audit
- What a HERS Rating means
- How addressing the results of a home every audit can save you money in more ways than one
What Is Whole Home Energy Audit Testing?
A whole home energy audit determines the energy efficiency not only of your HVAC system, but your appliances as well as the house itself—the quality of insulation in the attic space and walls, as well as how well your windows and doors seal. All of these factors determine a HERS Rating.
What Is HERS?
HERS stands for Home Energy Rating Systems; it is a numerical scoring to determine energy expenditures for a home’s heating and cooling systems as well as additional factors that contribute to overall energy consumption. HERS was developed by the Residential Energy Services Corporation (RESNET) to provide an independent means to determine a home’s energy system akin to the Energy Star rating for appliances.
A HERS Rating can go anywhere from 0 to 150 or more. Basically, the lower the HERS Rating, the better the energy efficiency. The U.S. Energy Department says a typical resale home scores 130, while a standard new home is rated 100.
That means a home with a HERS score of 70 is 30 percent more efficient than a standard new home, while a home with a 130 HERS score is 30 percent less energy efficient.
Generally speaking, while a score less than 70 indicates you are on your way to improved energy efficiency, scores approaching 40 are considered very good, and anything less than that is considered excellent.
A score of 0 means your home produces as much energy through renewable resources, such as solar panels, as it consumes. This is called a Net Zero Energy Home that can actually eliminate energy bills altogether.
It’s also possible to have a negative rating if a home uses less energy than it consumes, e.g., a home with solar panels and/or wind power that generates more energy than it actually needs and sells the excess energy to the power grid. That’s not most of us, though.
What HERS Can Tell You
HERS was initially developed for new home construction. While new home builders are not always required to conduct a whole house performance test, it is a selling point as a more energy efficient home has lower utility costs and is thus more attractive to buyers.
In some cases, builders may have no choice as HERS is a state building code requirement for many states and municipalities. In Massachusetts, for example, many town building codes require new homes of greater than 3,000 square feet must have a HERS Rating no higher than 65; smaller homes must have a score no higher than 70. Some states, such as California, require a HERS audit whenever a home HVAC system is replaced.
It can also be helpful for a homeowner to conduct an audit to see how overall home energy performance can be improved. The score is perhaps less important than the energy inefficiencies that are uncovered. For example, as part of the whole house performance evaluation, a test of the ducts and doors is performed to locate leaks that contribute to energy seepage. A leaky duct system can reduce your climate control’s efficiency by 20 to 30 percent.
Who Conducts a Whole Home Energy Audit?
The best way to ensure a totally unbiased whole house performance evaluation is to use a certified HERS Rater who has passed a national exam and is approved by RESNET. HERS Raters typically use accredited software programs to perform the calculations required to produce an accurate home energy rating.
The HERS Rater has “no skin in the game,” is not a contractor and won’t attempt to sell you anything. You get the results of your whole house performance test and then it’s up to you to decide how to proceed and who to hire to perform any performance upgrades or repairs.
Determine Exactly Where Your Home Is Leaking
A whole house performance test looks for any and all air leaks. The source of potential house leaks includes:
- Ceilings, walls and floors
- Plumbing penetrations
- Doors and windows
- Fans and vents
- Electrical outlets
How do you find these leaks? Obviously, any time you feel a draft you know you’ve got a leak. But some leaks require more intensive investigation to uncover. A blower test, for example, involves setting a powerful fan in an exterior door frame to lower air pressure inside the house, causing higher pressure air outside to stream through house openings you may not know you had. The HERS auditor may also use infrared cameras, thermometers and furnace efficiency meters to detect areas in need of improvement.
In addition to leaks, the whole house performance test evaluates the efficiency of your HVAC system. It may find equipment that needs to be upgraded or replaced. While this requires some upfront expense, over time the investment will pay for itself.
Replacing a 10-year-old heat pump or air conditioner with a high-efficiency unit can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs. Certified gas furnaces are up to 15 percent more energy-efficient than standard models and can save up to $85 a year in energy costs. These are just a few examples of how you can save money on your utility bill.
Tax Credit Eligibility
In some cases, you might be eligible for tax credits or rebates for purchasing and installing energy efficient improvements. For primary residences, putting in energy-efficient windows and doors, furnaces, air conditioners, insulation, water heaters, roofs and some other items can allow you to qualify for a tax credit of either 10 percent of the cost or specific amounts ranging from $50 to $300. Other programs such as BayRen and Home Energy Score offer free auditing services or additional rebates to upgrade your current equipment.
Get Informed to Make the Best Decisions
A whole house performance test helps you determine where you can best invest to repair leaks, replace or upgrade equipment to achieve higher energy efficiency and pay out less every month in utility costs. Ongaro and Sons can help you realize these savings in a number of ways:
- Residential heating and cooling systems
- Forced air furnace and air conditioning repair
- Duct cleaning, testing and repair
- Water heater repair and replacement
Ongaro and Sons has served Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties with honesty and integrity since 1932. A fourth-generation family-owned business, we always offer the best products available while delivering the best service our customers need and deserve.
Contact us about any of your whole house energy performance needs.