Angie's List: Don't throw money out the windows and doors of your home

See where your home is leaking valuable energy

TAMPA - Are you throwing money out the windows and doors of your home? One way to find out is with a home energy audit. Homeowner Steve Chase had one done and discovered his 5 year-old home was not as tight as he thought.

"One of the issues we had was around switches and plug outlets throughout the house. This was one that was maybe worse than the others. We knew it was kind of cold, but we did not realize quite how bad it was. But the audit did identify this area and it was a pretty simple fix. Just took off the faceplate and put some foam insulation around the electrical box and put the faceplate back on and it made a big difference."

What is an energy audit? A home energy auditor can comprehensively assess how much energy your home uses and evaluate the measures you can take to improve its efficiency. Professional auditors can offer non-invasive scientific testing to determine which areas of the home are not efficient. The most common test is a blower door test, in which a doorway seal and fan measure a home's air exchange rate to detect leaks. Another test, called a thermographic scan, uses infrared technology to determine over- or under-insulated areas. A good auditor should do a room-by-room examination, as well as a thorough check of past utility bills.

Art Tompkins is a professional energy auditor. "I go through and I look at walls, doors, ceilings, floors, and I find things like insulation issues, air drafts, air leaks, and even moisture that can cause mold," he said. "What we do is we find these problems, we take pictures, both infrared and digital, and we put that all into a report with descriptions and suggestions on how to fix them."

Tompkins suggest the homeowner be present during the audit. "I encourage the homeowner to actually walk through the house with me where we can discuss things as we find them. Then I can make recommendations."

What happens after an audit? The auditor should give you a list of recommendations for cost-effective energy improvements to enhance your comfort and safety. Some common recommendations include sealing air leaks, sealing ductwork and adding insulation. You might be advised to consider upgrading lighting and appliances, especially if they're older and not as efficient as newer equipment.

Although the scope of an energy audit often depends on a home's age, size and its design, a typical professional audit takes about three to four hours to complete and costs $250 to $800. Some auditors offer to sell other products and services, posing a potential conflict of interest. An auditor should be able to provide proof of experience, education and applicable certification. Seek auditors certified by Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) or the Building Performance Institute (BPI).

Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List adds, "You can help save money by upgrading inefficient appliances and inefficient windows and doors. But you need to make sure that your item is old enough that you are going to get a nice return on the investment. I replaced a furnace on a 20 year old house not that long ago and we immediately saw savings in our heating and cooling bills. On top of that, the house was just more comfortable."

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