To help you save money by saving energy, we launched #AskEnergySaver -- a new series that gives you access to some of the Energy Department’s home energy efficiency experts. Over the next year, experts from the Department and our National Labs will be answering your energy-saving questions and sharing their advice on ways to improve your home’s comfort.
This month, we asked you to submit your home energy audit questions, and to answer them, we turned to David Lee, the Supervisor for the Energy Department’s Residential Building Technologies Program. Lee and his team are working to make homes across America more energy efficient -- from partnering with industry to bring cutting-edge innovations to market through Building America to working with homebuilders to use more energy-efficient technologies and building methods through the Challenge Home program.
What is the cost range or average to have an energy audit conducted at the residential level?
-- from Martin via email
David Lee: The costs for residential audits, sometimes called an energy assessment, vary and can depend on everything from how complicated a home’s architecture is to how much business competition there is for home energy auditors in your area. Home energy audits tend to range from $300-$500, but they are sometimes subsidized by local governments or utilities. Some contractors will also reduce the costs if you hire them to make the recommended improvements to your house.
Check out our Energy Saver article on professional home energy audits to learn how to find a professional in your area.
I live in central New Hampshire and have a propane furnace that is at least 20 years old so I am trying to plan ahead. I am wondering if there are electric units that run as efficiently/economically as propane.
-- from John, via email
DL: Before replacing your heating system, we recommend that you first improve the energy efficiency of your home. This will not only help you save money on the upgrade costs (you may be able to purchase a smaller unit -- be sure to have a heating contractor resize your furnace), but it will also help improve the efficiency of the unit (lower your energy bills) by reducing heat loss through a duct system or piping.
Regarding the most economical furnace fuel type, it tends to be difficult to answer because of price fluctuations, but the Energy Department has a downloadable calculator that allows a homeowner to compare energy costs across fuels. At the moment, propane prices are heading upward as the harsh winter has caught suppliers by surprise. Based on Energy Department data for New Hampshire’s electricity costs -- $.1638 a kilowatt hour -- and New England’s propane gas prices (New Hampshire’s prices were not available) -- $3.29 a gallon -- plus the calculator highlighted above, a new propane heater would cost less to operate than an electric furnace or boiler ($46 per Million Btu versus $50 per Million Btu).
But because there are different types of electric heating options, it’s best to talk to a local home energy auditor for advice on the heating system that is most efficient and economical for your climate. And be sure to ask about high-efficiency furnaces and boilers with the ENERGY STAR label.
For more on how the different types of home heating systems compare, check out our Energy Saver 101 infographic on home heating.
Has the Energy Department endorsed any particular standard for residential audits? What should consumers look for in terms of credentials?
-- from @MKS_Energy on Twitter
DL: During a professional energy audit, the energy auditor should do a room-by-room examination of the home, as well as examine past utility bills to track home performance. Here at the Department, we have outlined the important steps that may be included in an energy audit through our Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program. You can also get a more detailed idea of what a professional audit should include by exploring our Energy Saver 101 home energy audit infographic.
Right now, the Energy Department doesn’t require a specific certification, but the both Residential Energy Services Network and the Building Performance Institute provide a directory of certified energy raters and auditors across the country. In addition, there may be local contractors and associations in your area that provide the same services. In each case, you should ask for a technician who is certified to provide energy audits.
Home energy audits sound great, but what about options are available for renters?
-- from @jasonhye on Twitter
DL: Although as a renter, you are generally limited in the changes you can make to your living space, there are a number of energy efficiency best practices you can follow to save energy and money.
For example if you are responsible for replacing your appliances, such as refrigerators, dishwashers, water heaters and window air-conditioners, be sure to purchase ENERGY STAR products and appliances. The ENERGY STAR brand is the mark of high energy efficiency -- appliances with the label use at least use 10-15 percent less energy and water than standard models.
You may also make small improvements to your home by adding window treatments or weatherstripping your doors and windows to seal air leaks. Before making any changes, you should research the options available and discuss them with your landlord to see if he/she will make the changes you have requested or whether you may make them yourself.
To save energy without making permanent upgrades, you can:
- Reduce electricity use through easy-to-save ways, such as turning off the lights when leaving the room or switching from incandescent to compact fluorescent bulbs, to unconventional measures, such as lowering the thermostat to 68 degrees (perhaps even lower when out of the house or asleep).
- Reduce hot water usage, either by taking shorter showers or running the washing machine with cold water.
- Use the sun to help heat and light your living space by leaving blinds and curtains open during the day (this works especially well for south-facing windows).
For more ways to save energy at home, check out Energy Saver.