Step 2 of Earning My PowerSaver “Badge”: The Energy Audit

Part 2 in a series about improving energy useage in the Norris-Waldt Home
It was a bright and sunny fall day; Tim Jones of Glory Energy Solutions  arrived first thing in the morning, carrying a clipboard, pen and lots of questions about our home, our HVAC system, and what our goals were for energy conservation and improving our home. He pulled up our years’ worth of electrical useage to surmise what might be going on.
He explained that in 2007, after he and his wife and partner Leah had completed careers of dealing with emergencies in their service with the American Red Cross, they began to notice an increasing concern (their own and others) about rising energy bills. Tim’s background in construction had taught him that the tightness of homes could be better (for example, sheet plastic as a customary vapor barrier made no scientific sense; moisture was trapped and created mold problems in the buildings.)
“Tightness and reducing drafts is the #1 way to keep a home comfortable,” he points out.
To learn more about the philosophy of Glory Energy Solutions,
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View this video where Tim discusses their beginnings.
The “Whole House” Tour
After I reviewed areas that really concerned me (draftiness in some rooms, heat in summer), Tim took off on his house inspection. This takes about an hour, depending upon the size of your home, I suppose. I went back to work and occasionally checked in to see him poking in some corner or another. In the basement, he was examining the many cobwebs that cover the corners of our mostly unfinished space.
Lo and behold—Tim has learned to study spiderwebs, because they are signs of draft entrances. And the dirt in pockets of insulation in the unfinished area also tells its own story—of where air is moving in and out of the basement from the outside. When we peered above the sillplate that is the seat for the rim joists, we saw a spot where we could even see—daylight! Definitely a candidate for spray-foam insulation.
We moved to my daughter’s bedroom in the northeastern corner of the house—the one that was always hot in summer and drafty cold in winter. Tim pointed out several causes, after investigating the attic space above. 1) the room was at the end of the trail of ductwork, giving the heated air a long way to travel  2) we had carpeted a room whose door sweep was sized for hardwood, blocking out any air transfer between the room and the  vent outside the door and 3) the room “heads into the wind” (I could just envision the front of the Titanic heading out of that corner of the house).
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To make matters worse, the drop-down attic door right near the room was uninsulated. We found in the whole-house blower test, (which was to come) that a significant amount of air was leaking through that pulldown door, which can be easily and inexpensively insulated.
Tim set up a Blower Door test to measure air infiltration. A blower
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door test, defined by the US Department of Energy:  A powerful fan is mounted into the frame of an exterior door. The fan pulls air out of the house, lowering the air pressure inside. The higher outside air pressure then flows in through all unsealed cracks and openings. These tests determine the air infiltration rate of a building.
Blower doors consist of a frame and flexible panel that fit in a doorway, a variable-speed fan, a pressure gauge to measure the pressure differences inside and outside the home, and an airflow manometer and hoses for measuring airflow.
Tim’s Blower Door Test identified other deficiencies in our home:
  • A  non-exterior door was the only thing between an unfinished/unheated/uninsulated room over the garage;
  • On the main floor, an unsealed door frame was leaking air in from an exterior
  • On the main floor, an uninsulated fireplace was leaking air into the main floor
Before leaving, because this was an Potomac Edison Home Energy Saver audit, Tim changed out more than a dozen incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs with energy sizing LEDS—solving one of my Energy Saving goals (see Part 1).
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Tim packed up his materials, made lots of notes, and said he would get back to us shortly with a full plan and its cost. Next up: The Plan and Its Execution
For a video summary of a home energy audit, listen here as Tim explains!
Coming in Part 3: Making the Changes!

Is Your Energy Bill Bothering You? Part 1

I consider myself to be a person who lives by sustainable principles.

But, like all of us, I only had so much bandwidth, headspace, time, brainpower—whatever you want to call it; and with my specialty being recycling and waste reduction, I wanted to branch out to other areas where I could live more sustainably. I had already earned the Frederick County Green Home Challenge’s Green Leader status; my next step was to  achieve Power Saver status.

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 Why would a recycling expert spend so much time on energy?

So the most likely place to start, since installing solar and wind power were stretching outside our current budget (college kids and all that) was energy-saving solutions. We knew these would make us more comfortable, save money AND help our sustainability goals.

To undertake this, the best way to start is to spend some time analyzing your energy useage on Potomac Edison’s website.

You do this by finding First Energy; log in where you pay your Potomac Edison bill. Choose Save Energy/Home Energy Analyzer. By typing in facts and figures about your home, you can learn:

  1. Your 1-year historic energy useage
  2. A pie chart that shows what consumes the most energy in your home. (See ours below)
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3. How you stack up against others in your area. We were $1 above the average home useage, so it gave us something to strive for.
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4. Go to the “Improve” section to find specific strategies, depending on how much time and effort you want to invest, to save energy and money.

5. I selected  “one choice”—accomplishing one big thing. I figured that would be do-able. It meant I would invest a few hours into the solution.

Lights

The plan they put before me told me I could replace all the lights in my fixtures with compact fluorescents and save $98 per year. It said my upfront cost would be $66. Sounded doable, it also promised less time having to change bulbs all year—YAY!

That seemed too easy, so I went back to look at Weekend Warrior, getting excited; maybe this was something I could actually do!

It gave me choices of what to spend, how hard it would be, and how long it would take. By choosing $300, a few hours, and middle-of-the-road easy, I found two choices that I liked:

*Caulk and weatherize (I knew a lot of places needed it) and

*Maintain your Heating System. They both seemed practical, but since I knew I had already gotten a quote from Frederick Air to come look at our HVAC (it had been four years since we had a new system installed), so I decided to go for that. The online plan said it should save me $239 with an investment of $85 (though Frederick Air’s quote was slightly higher.)

With these strategies in my mind, I decided I was ready to have an energy audit made, to see if it gave me the same advice. I chose my friend Tim from Glory Energy.

How to Pay For It

We had heard about a program that provides a rebate back of the investment you make in your energy improvements from Potomac Edison (FirstEnergy). This is possible if you have a home energy audit and use an approved partner of the program (See www.energysavemd.com). That seemed like a practical way to get these things started.

How to Find a Vendor

There are five approved vendors in Frederick County, so using one of them made sense.

I noticed that Glory Energy, one of the earliest providers of home energy audits in Frederick County and someone I had gotten to know in sustainability circles, was on the list.  Tim Jones has been involved with the Frederick County Sustainability Commission (where he is now a member) for many years, and I had met him at Green Drinks events in previous years, so I gave them a call.

Stay tuned for the next installment: The Audit.