Home Energy Audits in Massachusetts
Brought to you by Hingham Realtor Alice Pierce
The home energy audit, also called a home energy assessment, is a sometimes overlooked resource that can help homeowners determine where their house is losing energy and therefore, money. But the audit can also make your home more comfortable by helping you pinpoint drafts and air leaks.
Once the audit is complete, you will know how much energy your home consumes and what measures you can take to make your home more efficient. An assessment will show you the problems that may, when corrected, save you significant amounts of money over time.
Some of the things that a professional auditor will do are check for leaks, look at your insulation, inspect the furnace and ductwork, perform a blower door test or use an infrared camera, al with the goal of providing the homeowner with practical, money-saving information.
How to Understand Home Energy Audits
Having a home energy audit is a positive way to start saving money for the future and also to become more environmentally sustainable. Making changes to the way we use energy in our homes does not bring instant gratification though. It is more like a long term savings account where all of sudden, one day, we notice there is more money there than we remember.
Home energy audits can give the homeowner like you a comprehensive overview of the way your home uses energy to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The more energy efficient a house is, the less money gets shelled out to pay for utility bills. Home energy audits, when done well, also go into detail about the particulars of our home, and offer priorities and resources.
One of the best things about home energy audits is that they can help uncover some of the hidden issues that you have no way of detecting on your own.
What a home energy audit does is measure the efficiency of energy using the HERS Index, or home energy rating system. In order to get to the actual measurement, a certified Home Energy Rater comes to your home, determines its energy efficiency and then assigns it a relative performance score. In the end, you want your HERS rating to be as low as possible because this means that your home is using less energy.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an average residential home scores around 130 on the HERS Index, while new construction homes rate around 100. One way to understand the numbers is to think in terms of 100 percent as the ideal when building a new house. If a home has a HERS Index Score of 70, it is 30% more energy efficient than a newly built home. If another house scores 130 on the HERS Index, then it is 30% less efficient that what a newly built home would be.
What is Involved in a Home Energy Audit?
A professional energy assessment should detail your home’s energy use room by room, and overall by using special tools to determine where a home is wasting energy. In order to pinpoint the exact areas, the auditor uses a specific set of tools and assessment tests to inform him or her. Along with some of the more typical tools like screwdrivers, pliers and tape measures, you might be surprised by some of the equipment that you see come through the door.
A telescoping ladder is used to reach all of the areas in your home that are higher than a household ladder will reach. Attic spaces not accessible by stairs or fold out ladders are important for the inspector to see.
Most home energy professionals come equipped with a digital camera and flashlights to help see behind appliances, inside crawlspace etc. Photographs can be very helpful to look at these hard-to-reach spots inside of your house, and also provide good documentation.
An infrared camera might be used to help identify air leaks and insulation problems.
There is a tool called a combustion analyzer that can sample the air and gas inside of flues. For appliances that are vented, it is a good idea to measure the flue gas temperatures, look for leaks and the presence of carbon monoxide.
Blower Door Fan
A blower door is a test using a very large, powerful fan that will reduce the pressure inside of your home by sucking all of the air out. The purpose of this test is to simulate up to 25 m.p.h. wind so that the technician can find air leaks in your home.
Moisture meters can be used to see how much moisture is in the wood and other soluble building materials.
Digital Probe Thermometer
A digital probe thermometer tests how quickly temperature rises within your home heating equipment, as well as consistent operating temperatures.
Smoke Generating Device
The smoke generated from what your home energy auditor brings will produce a thin stream or a fog to help him or her find where air is leaking from within your ductwork.
A draft gauge is what auditors use to look at the draft within your chimney.
This is a very sensitive device that can measure changes in your home air pressure. This is used to pinpoint wire leaks, and also to test any exhaust systems to make sure they are operating properly.
Like finding a leak on your car tire, the same principles apply to any appliance you have that uses combustion.
This can measure the electrical wattage used by different electronic devices in your home.
The inspector will explain the process to you before he or she begins. Then both the interior and exterior of your home will be looked at before various tests and inspections take place. The auditor will ask you questions about the operation of your house and also look at past utility bills to determine the base energy consumption.
Some of the common things home energy auditor might want to know about are when people are at home, your average thermostat settings, number of people living in the home, and room use.
How to Prepare for a Home Energy Audit
Before the energy auditor visits your house, make a list of any existing problems that you have noticed over time. Things that are important to note are condensation, drafty rooms and increases in your utility bills. Make sure you have copies of these bills, or if you are more comfortable making a summary that is fine too.
How Much Does a Home Energy Audit Cost?
The good news about living on the South Shore of Massachusetts is that a home energy audit is completely free. Mass Save will come out to your home and provide a complete home energy assessment.
Free Home Energy Audits with Mass Save
No-cost home energy audits can be had and these will give you an overall look at your home, but are not usually as detailed as those audits that you pay for. A Home Energy Assessment on the South Shore of Boston can be had at no cost though Mass Save.
Mass Save also has a general online screening tool to help determine if an in-home inspection would be helpful to you. You can take the brief survey by visiting the Mass Save online assessment page.
For in-home energy inspection, a Mass Save Energy Specialist or a Mass Save Participating Contractor will outline certain overall improvements that you can make to your home including things like using LED bulbs, faucet aerators, lower flow shower heads, power strips, and programmable thermostats. Using the Mass Save audit also gives you access to certain Mass Save offers, rebates, and incentives.
Depending on the results of your assessment, you might qualify for 75% (up to a $2,000 limit) towards the installation of approved insulation improvements or the air sealing of outer walls, windows and doors at no cost. There are also numerous rebates on qualifying energy-efficient heating, cooling, and water heating components.
After the Home Energy Audit
The home energy audit report, and your visit with the auditor, will give you many ideas to improve the efficiency in your home. Some of the changes like sealing windows and changing light bulbs you can easily accomplish yourself.
One advantage to having a professional every auditor in your home, is that you can get specific direction about which projects to prioritize for the most immediate and largest benefits to your comfort and budget. Use the audit to plan over time which projects will get done and when, so that you can arrive at the level of energy efficiency you want according to finances.
Once you have the information from your energy audit, you are responsible for making all the changes needed to see results in your utility bills. Some fixes are certainly those that you can tackle yourself, while other will require a professional contractor.
With the information in hand, you will have a list for fixing all energy issues throughout your entire home. If you are willing to pay for the necessary work to fix all the issues, you can expect to have a home that is as energy efficient as it can be.
Are There Reasons Not to Get a Home Energy Audit?
Yes. If you intend to move anytime soon, within 4 or 5 years, then it makes less sense to spend a lot of money on energy improvement that you will not benefit from. As mentioned previously in this article, financial gains are only seen over an extended period of time, therefore, keep this in mind when consider and audit.
Some of the Common Energy Recommendations from Mass Save
1) Advanced Power Strips
According to the Consumer Electronics Association, electronics account for approximately 12% of the total electricity used by the average U.S. household. It is likely that Mass Save will suggest that you use advanced power strips (APS). Because plugged in electronics continue to use electricity even when turned off, this is considered a wasted resource termed “standby power loss.” Using an advanced power strip could save up to $150 in energy costs over a five year period.
You can use an APS for daily use devices, accessories, and those that require a constant power supply. The APS works by reducing the amount of power going into standby by sensing the on/off state of each electronic device. When your electronics are turned off, the APS eliminates the power to these outlets, and once anything is turned back on, power is immediately provided.
2) ENERGY STAR® Certified Clothes Washers
The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that the average U.S. family washes about 300 loads of laundry each year. ENERGY STAR Certified Clothes Washers use about 25% less energy and 40% less water than those washing machines not marked with the ENERGY STAR trademark. Using sophisticated wash systems to flip and spin clothes through a water stream rather than relying on the tub to fill up with water saves gallons of water. They also extract more water during the spin cycle than standard clothes washers allowing for shorter drying times.
Some older model washing machines are eligible for up to a $400 rebate from Mass Save if you replace your existing model with an ENERGY STAR certified clothes washer. In order to meet eligibility requirements, schedule a Mass Save no-cost Home Energy Assessment prior to replacing your appliance, as your existing appliance will need to be verified for eligibility.
If you want to start saving right away, try using cold or warm water settings and always wait until you have a full load to run the washing machine.
3) ENERGY STAR® Certified Lighting Fixtures
Whether you light indoors or outdoors, ENERGY STAR has cornered the market in lighting fixtures. Their certified fixtures meet strict energy-efficiency criteria to ensure that consumers will not sacrifice performance to save energy. And every ENERGY STAR certified light fixture carries at least a two-year warranty.
The reason the light fixtures are more efficient is because the bulbs are made using compact fluorescents (CFL) or LEDs which stands for light emitting diode bulbs. Although these bulbs produce the same degree and color of incandescent bulbs, they use 33% of the energy to produce the same amount of light.
Available certified light fixtures address multiple lighting styles like table lamps, torchieres, cabinet lighting, ceiling-mounted lighting, wall-mounted lighting, recessed lighting and architectural lighting. You can also find specifications such as no-hum indoor models, indoor models with dimming or switching capabilities, and outdoor models with automatic daylight shut-off and motion sensors.
4) ENERGY STAR Certified Dehumidifier
You can receive $30 back when you purchase an ENERGY STAR certified dehumidifier. They remove the same amount of moisture from the air as non-ENERGY STAR models, and use 15% less energy. Over the life cycle of the dehumidifier, you can save up to $175. To check your eligibility for the rebate, go to the MassSave rebate page for dehumidifiers.
5) Wireless Thermostats
Wireless thermostats are available through MassSave at a price discount and no-cost installation. If you are an Eversource, National Grid, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, Liberty Utilities, or Berkshire Gas customer, you are eligible to purchase up to three discounted wireless thermostats and have them installed at no cost.
There are many advantages a wireless thermostat, or “Smart” thermostat has over the traditional thermostat. With wireless technology, you can monitor and change your home’s temperature setting remotely using a computer, tablet or smartphone.
There are also settings that allow your thermostat to respond directly to local weather conditions. The biggest plus is the ease with which you can schedule your home climate for particular times of the day.
To learn more about the Wireless Thermostat & Installation Incentive, visit the Mass Save website.
6) Refrigerator Recycling
Properly recycle your old, inefficient, refrigerator or freezer and get free haul away through Mass Save appliance recycling program.
Various sponsors of Mass Save offer a $50 incentive plus free haul away when you recycle an old refrigerator or freezer through this program. You must be a residential electric customer to participate in the program. Additionally, there is a new feature to the Mass Save refrigerator recycle program allowing residents to also recycle your secondary fridge or freezer at the same time.
Fall is an ideal time to start looking for homes in Hingham MA. There is no better Realtor to show you what the South Shore of Massachusetts has to offer than one of the South Shore’s top real estate agents, Alice Pierce. Alice is native to Hingham MA and can talk to you about Hingham’s neighborhoods and their distinctive characteristics, as well as Cohasset, Hull, Scituate, Norwell, Hanover, Marshfield, Duxbury and all of the South Shore towns.
You can also call her cell phone at 781-724-7622 anytime, night or day.