Thursday, April 13, 2006

Energy Audits

This post is totally out of season. But, I keep losing the cd with the photos on it. So, I figure that while I have the cd in my posession, I'll post.

I first moved into my house the end of Oct. in 2002. It was a very warm day when I moved. Once I had my stuff in the house, things turned cold fast. Very cold. I quickly discovered that my new house was not weather tight in the least. You could stand in my living room and feel a frigid breeze blow across you. The upstairs was unbearable.

One of the first things I did was schedule an energy audit. The guy came out and did an audit for $25. The highlight of this simple audit was the "blower door test" where they take a huge fan and put it in your front door. they then turn on the fan and create a vacuum in the house. By doing this they can measure the turn over of air in your house per hour and the tightness of your house. The auditor also tested the efficiency of my gravity furnace and gas water heater and left me with an estimated payback period if I replaced each with new equipment. He left me with a nice list of things to do to start sealing up this wind tunnel of a house, detailed instructions and a bag of weather sealing goodies. I was very motivated and completed all the suggestions on his list.

The following year, I decided I was ready for a higher level of audit. So, I scheduled a full audit. The price for this audit was $100 with the promise from Centerpoint that they would waive the fee if you completed all the tasks suggested by the auditor. The high point of this audit was the infrared reading of the exterior walls of the house. The auditor went through the house and "read" each wall with the infrared carmera.....with me tagging behind. I was fascinated. The camera was like an x-ray machine. Spots that showed up darkened where spots where cold air was infiltrating.

This was a huge learning lesson for me. First, I discovered that insulation had been put into my walls at some point (there was no evidence of this - meaning the previous owner who did this blew the insulation in from the inside rather than cutting through the exterior stucco. Bless his heart.) In fact, in one photo you can see behind the studs, plaster & lath that they forgot to insulate one section.

Second, I learned the a LOT of air can enter your house through cracks at the baseboard, cracks in plaster, electrical outlets, wall mounted lighting fixtures. Taking the simple steps to seal these up can make a HUGE difference.

I've tried to post a variety of photos showing where the cold air was entering. You should be able to spot the crown molding, outlets, baseboard, cracks in the corner of the wall, basement joists.....

Interestingly, I asked the auditor about my original wood windows and my gravity furnace. I wanted to hear his take on it. Much to my relief, he explained that air infiltration takes place by the window molding and this can be easily sealed up with caulk (as the photos show). He then gave me a little speech about old growth wood and how replacing the windows would be a mistake :-) When he did the calculations on the payback period for replacing my gravity furnace it turnd out to be 15 yrs (20 yrs including the cost of asbestos abatement). He even suggested that I should wait on adding additional insulation to my attic until I had completed all of the other measures.

Once again, the auditor left me with a list of things to do, a bag of goodies, and the oh-so-cool cd of infrared photos. I got to work and made all of the changed he suggested. The difference in comfort throughout the winter was dramatic.

I'm going to wait until I've had a chance to restore the rest of my windows and then I'll have another audit to help me continue to fine tune things.

(ending note: if you live in the Twin Cities and are thinking of having an audit done, I would call Xcel instead of Minnegasco/CenterPoint. The Director of audits at Minnegasco turned out to be a dolt. This past Jan, I suddenly received a bill for $100 for my 2004 audit. When I called and told him that it was supposed to be waived because I had completed the work, he told me that was a mistake. I asked him to put this in writing to me before I paid the bill - after all I was being billed for an audit completed 2 yrs earlier. He didn't. He did spew some nastiness and then turned my name over to their collection agency. Apparantly customer service & accuracy in billing is not a big deal to them. Happily, Xcel offers a similar program.)

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