01 Mar Ask GHA Anything!
As the GreenHomes America network grows, we receive many questions about improving home comfort. First of all, our approach to improving comfort problems often begins with a home energy audit. Why? Because audits provide valuable information about the root causes of home discomfort. Also, energy auditors understand building science. As a result, they rely on their training while providing solutions for home comfort problems.
Plus, many homes across the country contain comfort issues. So, don’t feel alone if your home is cold in the winter and hot and sticky in the summer. Our experience with existing homes shows most homebuilders were never taught proper insulation or air sealing techniques. Therefore, most of the existing homes in the United States remain poorly insulated and leak air at very high rates.
As a result, we have the knowledge and desire to help homeowners enjoy their homes. Plus, as an added bonus, many of the solutions translate into lower monthly energy costs!
Is Testing Homes for Air Leaks an Option?
My friend told me they can test homes to see how leaky they are. Is this true and should I have this done?
- Tom in Alabama
Yes, homes can be tested for airtightness today and it is worth doing. In particular, testing for air leaks helps if you want a more comfortable and energy efficient home.
First of all, to find leaks, the industry uses tools such as blower doors and infrared cameras. These tools are highly effective at detecting hidden air movement and thermal deficiencies.
Air leakage in homes occurs when outside air enters a house or inside air exits a house uncontrollably through cracks, gaps and other openings. Most homes have the equivalent of a large open window in combined air leaks in their attic alone!
Many air leaks and drafts are easy to find because they are easy to feel — like those around windows and doors. But holes hidden in attics, basements, and crawlspaces are more difficult and pose a bigger problem. These types of holes, gaps, and cracks are prevalent in the attic and people wonder why their utility bills are so high and rooms are uncomfortable.
Fixing Air Leaks
To permanently fix issues that exist in the attic, GreenHomes America seals all penetrations with spray foams, insulation boards, house wraps and other sealants to ensure the heated or cooled air you are paying for stays out of the attic.
For example, a quality contractor checks all of the holes or connections between the house and the atticare sealed with the proper sealants, caulks, spray foams or air-tight boxes. These connections include:
- plumbing vent stacks.
- electrical wires.
- recessed can lights.
- uneven ceiling heights.
- dropped soffits.
- top plates..
- attic hatches.
Remember, air sealing in attics around chimneys, heat lamps and fire rated walls must be done using methods and materials appropriate for higher temperatures. Experienced contractors will be trained to do this properly.
Are Free Energy Audits Useful?
The electric utility in my area is offering free energy audits for my home. Is this worth having done?
- John in Arizona
Most free energy audits fall into two main categories: walk-through energy audits or company offered energy audits. Here is a brief summary of each:
Walk-Through Energy Audits
Sometimes utility companies and other contractors offer no cost, walk-through energy audits to their customers. Typically, these walk-through energy audits provide generalizations about the energy use in your home. Generally, they lack specific recommendations that provide customized energy savings for you and your family.
However, GHA believes these walk-through energy audits act as a good “first-step” into the world of energy conservation for many homeowners. A general energy audit highlights home comfort and energy inefficiency problems without going into detail or without providing solid solutions. As a follow-up, we recommend homeowners conduct more research and identify a quality contractor to get their problems resolved.
Walk-through energy audits, as the name suggests, usually involve a salesperson (or partner of a utility program) walking through the home while performing a quick visual inspection of your home. Most walk-through energy audits do not include diagnostic testing and often lack detail and specific recommendations.
Company Offered No-Cost Audits
Alternatively, some companies offer free energy audits to prospective customers (although they may or may not be affiliated with an utility company). Typically, these “free” audits are made with the intent of selling specific products or equipment to customers after the energy audit.
However, be cautious of companies that use low to no-cost energy audits. Many of these companies are simply advertising “free energy audits” to get in your home to sell you products you may or may not need. For example, window companies offering free energy audits frequently provide window replacement quotes regardless of the home’s actual energy efficiency issues or comfort problems.
Purpose of an Energy Audit
An effective and unbiased energy audit results in recommendations based on the deficiencies of your home. The results of a properly completed audit can, at times, conflict with the specific products and services the auditing company offers.
A quality energy audit often provides a step-by-step roadmap that creates a more comfortable, energy efficient home. This comprehensive energy audit also identifies issues found in the home and offers specific recommendations for things such as:
- excessive air leaks.
- insufficient insulation levels.
- inefficient heating and cooling systems.
- renewable energy technologies.
- low interest financing or rebates available for energy efficient products
Therefore, be cautious and find out what a free energy audit includes before having it done. Does it include diagnostic testing and customized recommendations?
A detailed energy audit usually has a modest upfront cost but is often well worth the investment.
More Energy Audit Information
Do you have any questions about the energy efficiency or comfort problems in your home?
If so, we recommend starting with an energy audit and learning about your home’s deficiencies. Next, find and develop a relationship with an experienced local contractor. Also, working with a contractor capable of professionally installation provides the best efficiency improvements.
Yet, selecting a qualified contractor remains a challenging task. Simply selecting the low-bid contractor isn’t always the wisest decision. Consider factors, such as the contractor's:
- experience (including referrals and customer testimonials).
- licenses and insurance.
- training (including certifications and accreditations).
- Better Business Rating.
- responsiveness to phone calls.
Finally, to help find a qualified contractor in your area, GreenHomes America has done some of the work for you. For example, we established a list of Qualified Contractors to help customers find quality contractors in their area. Homeowners are under no obligation to hire a contractor from our Qualified Contractor Network, but it should make your decision to hire a contractor easy and less stressful. Give the GHA Qualified Contractor Network a try!