There’s no denying it anymore – winter is here, and cities throughout Canada have been breaking records this past December with sub-zero temperatures, some even colder than Mars! It’s common sense to bundle up before stepping outside this season, but what can you do to ensure your house stays warm? A home energy assessment identifies how much energy you are currently losing in your home, pinpointing where you can or should make any changes. Conserving power can make a huge difference in your monthly energy bill, and the level of everyday comfort you and your family experience when you’re inside.
What is a Home Energy Assessment?
A home energy assessment, or audit, is an in-depth inspection of how much energy your house consumes to help you make more informed decisions when it comes to renovating, buying, or managing your home. You can hire a certified energy advisor to conduct a thorough assessment, but you can also do it yourself if you want to save money. However, it is wise to consider hiring a professional, because your home will need to be inspected from top to bottom to give you the best results, and you might not have the necessary tools stashed away in your toolbox.
Why Hire a Professional?
Energy advisors check your lighting, appliances, and insulation in your walls, ceilings, doors/windows, as well as your heating and cooling equipment, by performing various tests. They use a variety of tools to assess the interior and exterior of your home, such as an infrared camera* (measures heat loss through visual thermographics to identify areas of heat loss) and a blower door* (measures airtightness/leaks by changing the air pressure inside). Once the assessment is complete, you will receive a report with your home’s current energy rating, and a potential energy savings rating, with suggestions to help you determine how best to improve your home’s energy efficiency. You can also talk to your advisor for ideas and advice, if you have any questions about the process. To learn more about how to prepare your home before an assessment is done, Natural Resources Canada has a great checklist.
Basements, and Attics, and Windows, Oh My!
Understanding how your house works and uses energy is essential when it comes to managing and maintaining heat, moisture, and airflow. These all need to be well balanced to prevent problems like drafty, cold rooms, mould growth, a leaky roof or basement, and stale or polluted air circulation (to name a few), all of which can be remedied over time with proper energy management. According to Natural Resources Canada, basements and walls account for about 20 percent of your home’s total heat loss, and windows and doors account for 25 percent. Attics and ceilings can also be a major source of heat loss, as air and moisture can escape through cracks in your sealant, caulking, as well as through patchy insulation, and cause damage to the foundation of your house.
Of course, these are not the only areas in your home that can contribute to heat loss. Heat moves wherever there is a difference in temperature. Inspecting your building envelope (the exterior of your home), walls, roof, windows, doors, light fixtures, chimney and/or fireplace, and electrical outlets is an easy way to locate any air leaks. This can be done without the help of a pro by conducting a ‘smoke test’ or ‘leak detector’ test. Holding up burning incense sticks in the areas you are examining will cause the smoke to move inwards or blow away, signalling that there is a leak that needs to be fixed. For a more comprehensive guide to heating and energy consumption in your home, check out Keeping the Heat In, published by Natural Resources Canada.
Ways to Save
Every home is different, but once you have a basic understanding of which rooms and areas require an upgrade, you can look into greener options. Small ways to save include installing a smart thermostat, which you can program to lower the temperature when you are not home, or when you go to sleep. For every degree you scale back, you can save up to two percent on your next energy bill! Switching your incandescent light bulbs over to LEDs uses 70 to 90 percent less energy, which can start to pay off in a matter of months. Properly sealing up cracks in your baseboards, walls, windows and ceilings (especially in your basement or attic) will also immediately help reduce the amount of heat loss/cold air drafts circulating in your home.
When it comes to larger financial investments, updating old appliances with new energy-efficient models will lead to tremendous cost-savings in the long run. Replacing standard windows and doors with ENERGY STAR rated fixtures will help you save up to eight percent on your hydro bill. It may be a significant expense now, but down the road, it will increase the value of your home, and you can feel good about helping the environment by reducing your carbon footprint. Talking to an energy advisor or your utility company can often help as they may offer incentives or rebates on replacing more costly appliances.
Remember: a home energy assessment on its own does not automatically lower your consumption rates! Based on the report from a hired professional, or your own findings from a do-it-yourself inspection, it’s up to you to take the necessary steps to upgrade your furnace, air conditioner, windows, or fix any poorly insulated areas in your home that need attention.
Making smart changes, however small, will help ensure your house runs efficiently throughout each season, keeping you warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. A well-ventilated and insulated home will not only help you cut down on your monthly energy bills, but you and your family will also breathe cleaner air, and live in a healthier, more comfortable environment.
* Handy information courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy. Energy advisors in Canada perform the same tests with the same tools.