Whether you are a “do-it-yourself” home energy auditor or a seasoned professional, learning about a home from an initial visual inspection is an important tool during an energy audit of home which can highlight energy saving opportunities. The visual inspection is the first indication of where to look for flaws in the homes construction that will allow successful, energy saving, retrofits.
The Visual Inspection of a Home Energy Audit
During visual energy audit of home, important information will be gathered that will help direct your energy saving efforts.
1. What construction materials were used.
This includes window, door and exterior siding type. Also includes insulation and interior wall covering materials. Are the windows metal framed with a single pane of glass? Is the interior wall covering made of drywall or lathe and plaster?
2. How the floor, walls, and roof were put together.
To evaluate the components of the homes construction, you will need to look into the floor, wall, and ceiling cavities.
Exterior Inspection Energy Audit:
Inspecting the outside of the home will answer important questions:
1. Are there any vertical shafts that stick up through the roof like a chimney chase? A vertical shaft up through the home is a natural area for air leaks and heat loss.
2. Are the walls straight and smooth or is there a number of protrusions and indentations like bay windows, porches, and cantilevered floors? These irregular areas often provide breaks in the homes thermal barrier that lead to air leakage and additional heat loss.
3. Was the home constructed at one time or does the home have one or more additions? Each time a home was remodeled or added onto, there is the increased opportunity for construction methods that leave breaks in the homes air and insulation barriers.
During a homes interior inspection, the main purpose is to determine which spaces in the home are conditioned ( heated and cooled ), which spaces are unconditioned ( outside of the thermal barrier ) and which spaces are unintentionally conditioned ( heated and cooled by mistake ).
To complete an interior inspection, you will need to actually look into the various cavities. These are usually the cavities that are the most dusty, have the most cobwebs, and require a good flashlight.
Interior Inspection Energy Audit:
When assessing the home visually from the interior, answer the following questions:
1. What areas of the home are used and unused.
Does the uninsulated garage have a heating register trying to heat the cold garage? Does the hobby room, that you never use anymore, still get it's full share of heating and cooling?
2. Where is the thermal boundary?
Considering the shell of the home including the ceiling, walls, and floor, where are the two components that make up the thermal boundary - where is the air barrier and the insulation barrier? Are these two barriers continuous and are they next to each other, adjacent, touching?
3. Are there holes in the floor, walls, and ceiling that result from plumbing, electrical, and mechanical penetrations.
Did the plumber drill a big hole, install a small pipe and not caulk the opening? Did the heating contractor seal the floor register boot to the floor?
4. Are there construction design components like chimney shafts and bay windows that protrude from the outside into the conditioned space?
Do you have a fireplace in the basement with a a chimney chase extending upwards through the 1st and 2nd floors and up through the roof. Chances are, the chimney chase is also a huge air funnel for conditioned air.
5. Is the insulation and air barrier continuous at the perimeter and around all protrusions and indentations?
Since a large percentage of a home’s unwanted heat flow occurs at a home’s thermal weak points, finding and correcting the flaws is essential to energy conservation. Thermal flaws most often occur where two components or design features are connected.
Depending on the year your home was constructed, the building contractor was probably not very concerned with the home’s continuous thermal boundary nor it's level of energy efficiency. It has not been until the last ten years ( or so ) that building codes have imposed testing and building methods that ensure appropriate insulation and air tightness levels.
The professional home energy auditor has testing equipment that makes an energy audit of home more accurate and faster. The blower door, duct blaster, and infrared camera, provide important information for every home and homeowner that is concerned about conserving energy and lower energy costs.
Remember, the first place to call when you begin the research into getting an energy audit of home is your power provider. Give them a call first, chances are, they may even provide a home energy audit for free. Until then, visually inspect your home as a do-it-yourself energy auditor. Use the visual inspection to guide your energy saving efforts.
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