With all the joys of a Utah winter, there is a lot to be happy about. A through-the-roof heating bill is not one of them.
When contemplating any project, begin by analyzing your home in terms of what is not working.
Next, do your homework and determine ways to solve or minimize the problems.
Finally, prioritize how you will undertake the improvements.
If energy efficiency is a concern for your home, conducting an energy assessment will help you determine what energy efficiency improvements can be made to your home.
A home energy assessment, also known as a home energy audit, is the first step to assess how much energy your home consumes and to evaluate what you can do to make your home more energy efficient.
Energy efficient design improvements can save you significant amounts of money over time.
During the assessment, you or a technician can pinpoint where your house is leaking energy to determine the efficiency of your home’s heating and cooling systems. An assessment may also show you ways to conserve hot water and electricity. You can perform a simple energy assessment yourself, or have a professional energy auditor carry out a more thorough assessment.
A professional auditor uses a variety of techniques and equipment to determine the energy efficiency of a structure. Thorough assessments often use a blower door test, which will measure the extent of air leaks in the building envelope, and infrared cameras that reveal hard-to-detect areas of air infiltration and missing insulation. Look at energystar.gov to find a list of home raters in your area.
If you are conducting your own home energy assessment, you can spot many problems with a simple but diligent walk-through. Help and direction are available, such as the Energy Star Home Energy Yardstick or the Questar ThemWise Mail-in Audit. You can also check UtahCleanEnergy.org to download a home energy checklist.
The first element of creating an energy efficient house is sealing air leaks. The potential energy savings from reducing drafts in a home may range from 5 percent to 30 percent per year, and the home is generally much more comfortable afterward.
Your goal is to locate the indoor air leaks. Look for any gaps along the baseboards or edge of the flooring and at junctures of the walls and ceiling. Check to see if air can flow through electrical outlets, switch plates, window frames, baseboards, weather stripping around doors, fireplace dampers, attic hatches and wall- or window-mounted air conditioners.
If you are having difficulty locating leaks, you can conduct a basic building pressurization test: First, close all exterior doors, windows, and fireplace flues. Turn off all combustion appliances, such as gas-burning furnaces and water heaters. Then turn on all exhaust fans (generally located in the kitchen and bathrooms) or use a large window fan to suck the air out of the rooms.
This test increases infiltration through cracks and leaks, making them easier to detect. You can use incense sticks or your damp hand to locate these leaks. If you use incense sticks, moving air will cause the smoke to waver, and if you use your damp hand, any drafts will feel cool to your hand.
Outside the house, inspect all the areas where two different building materials meet, such as where the siding and the chimney meet. Air exchange means you are losing heat out of these areas, making it more expensive to keep your home warm. In terms of efficiency, the tighter your home is the better.
However, when sealing any home, you must always be aware of the danger of indoor air pollution and combustion appliance “backdrafts.” Backdrafting is when the various combustion appliances and exhaust fans in the home compete for air. If there is not sufficient “make-up” air (a properly regulated amount of fresh air brought into the house), an exhaust fan, such as a range hood, may pull the combustion gases created by appliances, such as furnaces and water heaters, back into the living space.
This can obviously create a very dangerous and unhealthy situation in the home.
In homes where a fuel is burned (i.e., natural gas, fuel oil, propane or wood) for heating, be certain each appliance has an adequate air supply. Generally, one square inch of vent opening is required for each 1,000 Btu of appliance input heat. When in doubt, contact your local utility company, energy professional, or heating/ventilation contractor.
Insulation, lighting, and heating and cooling equipment are other aspects that affect the efficiency level of a house.
Next week, we will continue our discussion and help you learn about the benefits of replacing your heating equipment to receive the best bang for your buck.
Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local architectural firm specializing in home remodels.