Energy Audit, Maine - when you should get one

Energy audits can be an extremely vital tool in the weatherization process (air sealing, insulation, heat & hot water system upgrades, etc). Many companies offer different audit packages including thorough audit reports, a one page document stating the vital audit information, discounts on weatherization work, or just a simple walk through. If you aren't certain what an energy audit is, if you think you need an audit, or if you're on the fence about scheduling an audit, then we’ll try to answer some of those questions for you. 

When attic ventilated air is mismanaged or managed improperly, it can lead to excessive devalued insulation. This means on the coldest and windiest days of the year, your insulation is performing at its lowest levels. 

When attic ventilated air is mismanaged or managed improperly, it can lead to excessive devalued insulation. This means on the coldest and windiest days of the year, your insulation is performing at its lowest levels. 

WHAT IS AN ENERGY AUDIT? The goal of an energy audit is to receive unbiased information on all the avenues where a home utilizes energy, and then compare that information against where the home could be if energy upgrades were installed. An experienced auditor, with the help of some proven modeling software, can then showcase the solutions that offer the best payback and most savings. Additionally, an experienced auditor/company can help assemble the solutions that best utilize whatever funds you have available.

Most homes have soffit vents allowing air to meander up the roof deck into the attic. This example shows how if not managed properly, that air will actually go everywhere. 

Most homes have soffit vents allowing air to meander up the roof deck into the attic. This example shows how if not managed properly, that air will actually go everywhere. 

An energy audit should always be performed by a certified auditor/company (i.e. BPI, Resnet) and should almost always include the use of a blower door, combustion analytical tools and a thermal camera. The few exceptions when you can have an energy audit done without these tools is:  if your home has vermiculite insulation, friable asbestos insulation (pipe wrap), excessive mold, an active fire (fireplace/woodstove), etc - in these instances it is not recommended to run a blower door...additionally, sometimes on spring or fall days when the interior and exterior air are the same temperature it can be difficult to get usable thermal photos. It is worth noting that a good auditor does not need a blower door and/or thermal camera in order to conduct a thorough energy audit and provide valuable solutions. 

Un-insulated foundation walls allow energy transfer from hot to cold. This photo was taken in the summertime and shows outdoor heat radiating into the basement. During the winter months, basement heat will radiate outside. 

Un-insulated foundation walls allow energy transfer from hot to cold. This photo was taken in the summertime and shows outdoor heat radiating into the basement. During the winter months, basement heat will radiate outside. 

HOULD I GET/EXPECT AN AUDIT REPORT WITH MY ENERGY AUDIT? Some companies provide energy audits and/or assessments. The difference is usually the deliverable as the onsite visit is normally exactly the same. In our opinion, a complete energy audit involves the delivery of an audit report that includes a list of the solutions available to your home, cost benefit analysis, your homes diagnostic performance (cfm50, ACHn, combustion appliance zone issues, etc), and health & safety concerns. However, not every client may require all this information and thus does not need an audit report. Examples are home owners with set budgets that have lived in the house for a while and know what the issues are - this usually entails the need for updated attic insulation with some amount of basement insulation. They know their heating bills are too high and they probably are well aware that they have limited to know insulation in their home. Additionally, they may know a thing or two about home performance and/or have had similar solutions done on a previous home. 

Split level homes, and homes with overhangs between the 1st and 2nd floors, usually have large holes/gaps in the air barrier of the home as the joist bays lead right into the floor cavity. These bays need to be blocked, air sealed and insulated properly in order to perform efficiently. 

Split level homes, and homes with overhangs between the 1st and 2nd floors, usually have large holes/gaps in the air barrier of the home as the joist bays lead right into the floor cavity. These bays need to be blocked, air sealed and insulated properly in order to perform efficiently. 

f you think the majority of your issues stem from drafty or old windows, you think the layer of fiberglass insulation in your attic is sufficient or if your basement is filled with cob webs and/or is always wet and moist, then we recommend getting an energy audit with report as it will help organize your priorities and hopefully keep you from spending your money on the wrong solutions. 

WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT TAKEAWAYS FROM AN ENERGY AUDIT?

1.      Combustion Appliance Zone issues: if your home is tight or has many mechanical exhaust fans running at once (bathroom exhaust fans, kitchen exhaust fans, Wave Ventilation/Humidex, etc), there is the potential to back draft combustion gasses (boiler/furnace) into the home. An energy audit puts a quantitative number on this and can measure if this is a potential issue for the home. Not many boiler/furnace technicians run these tests and if you're considering weatherization of your home, this is EXTREMELY important for the health and safety of the inhabitants. 

2.      Moisture Control: if your basement/crawlspace is moist or wet, it is vital to control the moisture content prior to air sealing and insulating your home - otherwise you run the risk of trapping moisture inside the home and fostering mold production. A good auditor/company is well aware of this and will notice any potential issues immediately. In these cases, it is almost a certainty to control the moisture prior to proceeding with any extensive insulation solutions.

3.      Blower Door Reading & Air Leakage: an energy audit is a great way to better understand how you are losing heat in your home...especially through air leakage. Insulating a home is great, but if you don't air seal along the way, you're probably not going to get the best bang for your buck out of the insulation installed. The blower door reading, and use of thermal camera with the blower door running, will absolutely help guide the auditor to avenues of air leakage and heat loss that otherwise may have gone unnoticed. 

4.      Insulation Voids - Thermal Breaks: the thermal camera is a fantastic tool. It allows an auditor to see everything from insulation voids to devalued insulation to excessive air leakage. A good thermal photo can prove a point in the blink of an eye. 

The last reason to get an energy audit....proof. Energy audits done by reputable people/companies will make your life easier in the long run. It will spell out where you should spend your money and focus your attention. They can become a road map for solutions to proceed with now and in the future. Additionally, energy auditors normally have fantastic referral networks for other tradesmen since it's their/our job to have extensive knowledge on everything. If you find a good auditor, chances are they will be able to refer you good electricians, plumbers, carpenters, roofers, remediation companies, etc.