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Is Your House Leaking?

You probably have some ideas about where your home is losing energy. We did too, but we wanted to make sure we knew the full story. We saw that Xcel Energy was offering subsidized home energy audits, and we signed up.

What’s in an Energy Audit?

Our auditor Mary Ann from Neighborhood Energy Connection, a subcontractor for Xcel, arrived a week later and got to work. An energy audit includes a check on the insulation in the walls and attic, a combustion and safety test, and a blower door test.

Living in a house built in the late 20s, we didn’t know if the walls were insulated. Even if they weren’t, Mary Ann said that adding insulation isn’t as big of a job as it seems, and it can pay for itself in a few years. While we crossed our fingers, Mary Ann held her infrared camera up to the walls and confirmed they were insulated.

Next stop was the attic. Peering into the space from the top of a ladder, she saw icy condensation on one corner of the roof, indicating insulation was needed around a vent pipe.

Then, Mary Ann went down to our basement and conducted a combustion and safety test. She drilled a few holes in the exhaust vents of the boiler and water heater, and then attached a sensor to detect excess carbon monoxide.

drilling a hole into a pipe to test carbon monoxide

Mary Ann performs the combustion and safety test.

The last part of the audit was the blower door test. Mary Ann sealed off an open door with a thick material that had a large industrial fan at the bottom. The fan blew all of the air out of the house, and, where there were leaks, the cold air came rushing in.

The biggest culprit was no surprise – our mail slot. We also felt cold air coming in at our front door, on outlets, around new windows that had recently been installed, and the fan in our top-floor bathroom.

Interestingly, our original sash windows were leak free, but only if they were latched. Mary Ann explained that if the latch provides pressure to create a good seal around the window. If the latch isn’t used, lots of cold air can escape.

blower door test installed in door.

Blower door test is installed and ready to go.

Easy Energy Saving Tips

While the audit didn’t show major problems with our house, Mary Ann did leave us with some tips that would help our energy bill in small ways:

  • Sign up for the Xcel Energy Save Switch, a program that shuts off air conditioning units for short periods during peak times in the summer. Participants receive a 15% discount on summer electric costs.
  • Latch windows and sliding doors to make sure they are sealed.
  • Replace mail slot with a mail box or install an insulated box.
  • Install foam gaskets on electrical outlets and use childproof plugs to keep the cold air out.
  • Clean the dryer flap and duct, refrigerator coils, and air conditioner annually.
  • Unplug small appliances and hibernate computers when they aren’t in use.

More Resources

Mary Ann left us with a couple really great booklets from the State that are also available online.

Have you had a home energy audit? What kind of tips did you learn?

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