Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Home energy audits, and other ways to save money and the planet

First, a special thanks to Richard Reames, whose e-mail address I noticed on my subscriber list. I mentioned his work in arborsculpture in a recent post, and that means people are actually reading what I write and exploring the links I post. And that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Haha.

But the real subject of this post, as promised in my last post, is making your home more energy efficient, thus saving money and the planet in one fell swoop. One of the first steps you can take is to perform an energy audit. An energy audit tells you useful information about the energy efficiency of your home, but the actual information you get depends on the type of audit you get and who does it.

Here in Oregon there's a nonprofit known as The Energy Trust of Oregon. I've fallen in love with the work that this organization does to spur on green development. For starters, they offer three different types of energy audits, two of which are free. The first is an online calculator for Oregon residents which provides energy saving tips and your carbon footprint based on your location, utility bills, etc. This isn't a bad way to start since it only takes 10 minutes or so to complete. Even more useful, however, is their home energy review service, which is still free. In this case someone actually comes to your house to inspect it. This is a visual inspection of common energy-suckers, including insulation levels in your attic and crawlspace, your heating system, your windows, your ventilation, any moisture problems, and old appliances. With this information the advisor will advise you (naturally) on the best steps you can take to make your home more energy efficient, and provide you with a list of local cash incentives and federal tax breaks for the projects in question. Also, if you haven't already switched to compact fluorescent bulbs, high-efficiency showerheads, and faucet aerators, these will be provided for free with your consultation. A great deal.

Following this free consultation, your advisor might suggest the third type of energy audit, which isn't free. This involves high-tech equipment like infrared sensors to measure the flow of hot air in and out of your home, etc. This kind of testing can provide very accurate information about your specific problem areas, and can even give you pretty precise information regarding how much money you'll actually be saving on your utility bills once the suggested projects are completed. Again, this would include a list of cash incentives and tax breaks that are available for your different projects.

Even if you aren't an Oregon resident, the Energy Trust website maintains a list of the federal tax breaks that are available for different types of projects. It's worth checking out.

Your best bet if you aren't an Oregon resident would probably be to search the internet for local energy auditors. Alternatively, your utility company might be able to provide you with useful information, or even do the audit themselves.

If you want even more information on energy saving technologies I recommend the textbook I had for one of my physics classes. It's called Energy and the Environment and it's super pricey. But, you get what you pay for. It delves into the science of fossil fuels, transportation, power plants, etc., as well as technologies for the home: solar panels, solar hot water heaters, electric water heaters, insulation, and more. It even covers super basic principles, like heating water by threading bottles onto a garden hose and, if I remember correctly, creating a solar-powered food dehydrator. It's a pretty well-rounded book. If you don't have that kind of money to throw around though, or you simply don't care about the science as long as it works, The Home Energy Diet was written by energy auditor Paul Scheckel, and appears to be a good fit.

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