Project Envolve™ is a program sponsored primarily by PPL Electric Utilities with the mission of helping us all save more and use less electricity. I’ve been provided with complimentary products as an Ambassador for the program in exchange for sharing these ideas and my own use of them with you. The opinions in this post are 100% mine. You can read my full disclosure policy here.
I’ve been teamed up with PPL Electric Utilities and Project Envolve for several months now and have learned so much about simple ways to save on energy costs. You can check out my past posts here to get some tips for yourself! This month we took on Mission 5, a home energy audit! This was the most exciting and educational mission for me. I really was totally unfamiliar with a home energy audit, what it entailed and what you’d learn about saving money on utility bills. So I’m really excited to share this info with you!
Typically a home energy audit is requested for one of two reasons: Your energy bills are extremely high, or you have comfort issues in your home. Our energy bills aren’t insanely high though lower is always better and I’ll take any savings I can get. We do, however, have some areas of our house that are a little too chilly for my liking so we were primarily interested in what could be done about them.
What did the Home Energy Auditors Do?
First I have to give a shout out to the Energy Auditors local to me in Central PA. These guys were so awesome. They were professional, efficient, so friendly, and answered all of our questions in a way we could understand. I highly recommend them if you’re local to my neck of the woods.
A few days before they came out I got a call so they could ask me some basic questions: Do you have gas heat? How old is your house? How many square feet is your house? etc, etc. They do ask for some past electric and gas bills so they can see what your usage is currently and be able to tell you what you might save when you implement some of their suggestions.
The first thing they did at my house was more of a safety test than an energy efficiency test. They called it a combustion safety test and looked at our gas appliances, the furnace and water heater, to check their carbon monoxide emissions. I did learn that we should have a CO detector in the basement where the combustible appliances are. We currently only have one in our living space and you need one in both places. When all was well there they moved on to my favorite part, the Blower Door! It’s like a scene straight out of E.T.
They set this machine up on your front door to create the equivalent of a 20mph wind so they can see where the air is leaking in your house. So here’s a little math for you but I’ll try to keep it simple:
It’s normal and actually healthy for 35% of the volume of air in your home to change over (flow in – flow out) per hour. If more than that flows, we need to seal up some leaks. If less than that flows, you may need some additional ventilation. They can tell how much air is flowing out of your house with this machine.
They calculated, based on the height of our ceiling and the square footage of our home that the volume of air in our house is 16,110 cubic feet. Multiply that by 35% and in one hour we should see 5,638 cubic feet of air turn over. We divide that by 60 to come up with an amount of air per minute and get 94 cubic feet per minute. Based on their blower in our door, only 59 cubic feet of air per minute was turning over. Uh oh.
Well, actually, it’s not too big of a deal. It turns out that if you’re within about 70% of that target 35% air turnover, you’re still in good shape. So 70% of 94 cubic feet per minute (our ideal air turnover amount) is 64.9 cubic feet per minute. Remember we’re at 59 cubic feet, so still a little low but close enough.
The bottom line? We have a pretty tight house. No major leaks anywhere, which is good and probably what you’d expect since our house is still pretty new. But since you do need some airflow we don’t want to do much to seal it up any tighter. They said it was fine to take care of some little cracks here and there but we’re good where we’re at. The ticket here is to find the right balance between healthy air flow and reasonable energy costs.
What did they find?
This was also fun for me! After they set the blower door up they used a thermal detector to find cold areas on the walls. And we had a bunch in all the places I suspected (and then some). We have tons of windows along the back of our house. I absolutely love the natural light and being able to watch the kids play outside but there’s pretty much no insulation there, so I wasn’t surprised to find that the walls in our kitchen are a bit chilly.
Look at the dark color on the auditor’s device. That means it’s cold! There’s not much you can do about a cold corner but there were plenty of places they found that we can touch up.
This is the back door to our patio, cold air coming in everywhere around it. Actually most surprising to me was a huge crack they found ABOVE the door, not even around the door itself but on top of the moulding, where there is a big draft coming it. All we need to do there is caulk that up. Lots of spots like that. Look above your doors and windows for some common leak areas!
Here the auditor was testing the carbon monoxide output of our oven. It goes waaaaay up high as it’s heating up and then drops pretty quickly once it reaches the set temp. That’s normal, but… still a good idea to get a low level detector for the kitchen. You don’t want to be exposed to elevated levels of CO for very long at all, and our gas stove doesn’t vent to the outside. We have a microwave vent system.
They also looked all around in the basement, in the attic, and outside the house. This was a very thorough audit and we took lots of notes and learned a ton along the way!
What did I learn about how to save on energy costs?
Wow. We learned SO much. I should mention that both my husband and I were home during this audit and I highly recommend having a second set of ears there to take everything in. As we went through the house the auditors pointed out things here are there that we can do to save on energy costs. I took some notes but what was most helpful were the reports the auditors sent afterward.
We got two reports. One is sort of a standard form that they input info to and it spits out a report that tells us how much we can save if we take certain measures. This first report is useful for a ballpark idea, but it’s based on a ‘typical’ house, whatever that means! So it may not be exactly the same for us. Still, it’s good info to have.
What I found most useful was the second report, an addendum that the auditors wrote up and sent. These are findings specific to our home and things we can do to decrease our energy usage and bills.
Here are the highlights:
- Our hot water heater sucks up a lot of energy. They suggested putting it on a timer so it heats up just before we need it in the morning and again in the evening for the kids’ baths and showers. No need to be keeping so much water hot all day long.
- We need to use some caulk to seal up a few areas around doors and windows.
- The attic needs a little love. The insulation isn’t thick enough up there and we need to add some weather stripping to the access panel to stop a nasty air leak up there.
- Consider some thermal shades for all those windows we have in the kitchen. There’s not much you can do to make glass a better insulator but you can add some window treatments that help.
So what did we learn about saving money? It’s not that hard! There are several very simple and inexpensive things you can do to really make a dent in your electricity bill. The auditors provided us with a smart strip and some CFL lights to help cut down some energy costs too.
Get your kids involved!
I swear, I’ve turned into my father. He always used to ask, “Do you need this light on?” Now I’m forever following my kids around, turning off lights and trying to teach them to not waste energy that they don’t need. Project Envolve sent us this awesome Kids’ Energy Challenge Booklet and my kids had so much fun together doing this and they learned something (that will hopefully save me money!), too!
Click the image above to print one for your kids. It’s a great little activity they can do on their own and there’s even a certificate of completion when they’re done.
My kids loved that certificate!
If you are having issues with outrageous energy bills or if certain areas of your home are uncomfortable, consider a home energy audit. It was truly eye opening to see where we’re losing money and how easy it is to remedy that. If you’re a PPL customer use that link above to check out your options. And if you’re not, contact your own electricity company to learn more. Chances are you will be eligible for some sweet rebates after makings some of these improvements! (We are!)
If you are a PPL Electric Utilities customer, here’s a chance for you to win a Home Energy Survey valued at $50. Just sign up for the Project Envolve mailing list to be entered to win! There will be 3 lucky winners selected on Monday April 7, 2014 at 5pm so please sign up by 4pm to get your name in the hat. Good luck!