Energy Fixer: Home Energy Audit

How do you make an older house more energy efficient? This year, we’re following Sarah, a PGE employee, as she updates a 55-year-old, 1,500 square-foot, all-electric house, which she purchased in November 2014.

Looking for more answers

Sarah wanted detailed information to help her prioritize energy improvements. After researching Energy Trust of Oregon trade allies, she booked Revival Energy Group to conduct an in-depth home energy audit.

What is an energy audit?

Different companies may call it different names — home energy audit, home performance analysis, energy assessment — but it's an in-depth, top-to-bottom examination of a home. The purpose is to:

  • Calculate how much energy a home uses in heating/cooling, lighting, appliances and water heating.
  • Determine where and how much energy is lost through air leaks or poor insulation.
  • Make custom recommendations for energy upgrades, with estimated savings and costs.

Most companies that offer energy audits are qualified to complete upgrades as well.

What’s it cost?

The costs and comprehensiveness of energy audits vary, but prices start at around $200.

Sarah’s audit

Robert, a certified building analyst from Revival, spent a couple of hours at Sarah’s house. In addition to examining the attic, crawl space, appliances, heating and water heating, he also used high-tech methods:

  • Blower door test: A large, powerful exhaust fan was sealed in the open front door to examine the airtightness of the house and help reveal air leaks.
  • Infrared imaging: Using a thermal imaging camera, Robert was able to pinpoint air leaks. The tool “sees” heat, so warm areas appeared lighter and whiter on the screen while cooler areas — air leaks — were darker.
  • Computer modeling: Sophisticated energy-modeling software took all of the measurements and information about Sarah’s house and calculated a comprehensive analysis of her home’s performance.

The results

Sarah received a 20-page report packed with data, charts and graphs detailing her home’s energy performance.

The report also included four upgrade package options, customized for her house. The basic package — including attic ventilation, air sealing and attic and wall insulation — would save about 20 percent on annual electricity costs in addition to improving home comfort.*

The most advanced package with more upgrades — including a high-efficiency heat pump water heater and new windows — would cost considerably more than the basic package but would trim yearly electricity bills by approximately 47 percent.*

Next steps

Armed with hard data and cost estimates, Sarah feels more confident in moving forward with two steps at this time:

  • Improve attic ventilation and redirect bathroom exhaust outside
  • Seal air leaks

“Right now, the bathroom fans vent into the attic. I’m lucky that hasn’t created a mold problem up there yet, but that needs to be addressed right away,” she explains. “And since I already have some attic insulation, I’m going to seal air leaks before adding any other insulation. Robert explained how important air sealing is in cutting drafts and improving comfort. Of course, I’d love to do it all, but I’m hesitant to take on more debt at this time — I prefer to pay as I go.”

Resources for you

Keep in mind that every home is different, so the recommendations for energy-efficiency improvements will vary from house to house.

To learn more about energy audits, insulation and air sealing, check these resources:

*Estimated savings only. Actual savings will vary depending on circumstances.