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[February 08, 2013]
Time to get audited
Feb 08, 2013 (The Hawk Eye - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- With the mid-point of February just a week away, we'll soon be in the home stretch of the calendar's inexorable march toward spring.
For those who have experienced high heating costs brought about by this winter's frigid temperatures, that thought may be a source of comfort. But in the days that remain before winter fades and warm weather replaces cold, an energy audit could help reduce those bills when Arctic winds start to blow once again when December comes.
Of course, you could make a point of putting plastic over the windows and buying the Twin Draft Guard you saw on TV.
An audit, though, goes beyond just remedying drafts around windows and doors and provides a custom look at what can be done in your home to save money and reduce energy consumption.
"Once you get the audit, you need to take action and do something." Justin Foss, Alliant Energy "It personalizes what your house needs," said Alliant Energy spokesman Justin Foss. "It helps customers prioritize where to make changes." An audit will show homeowners where they can make the wisest investments. For instance, Foss said, leaky old windows may be a problem, but at $10,000 to replace them, $1,000 spent on upgrading insulation instead could make a whole lot more sense and actually have a greater impact.
Typically, Foss said, an audit takes about two hours, and will cover the whole house, top to bottom. Getting one now, he said, would mean having the spring and summer to make any recommended improvements in time for the 2013-14 heating season.
"Once you get the audit," the Alliant spokesman said, "you need to take action and do something." One test an auditor will perform is a blower door test, in which a high-powered fan will be installed in an exterior doorway and turned on to change the air pressure inside to discover all the places air leaks into and out of the house. Infrared imagery also can be used to show hot and cold spots where heat or air conditioning, and thus energy dollars, are being lost.
For homeowners, Foss said, the results can have a real "oh my gosh" factor, especially if they can't identify any obvious reason why their energy bills are so high.
One thing an auditor will spend time looking at is insulation in the attic. Foss said in an audit he had done at his house, the auditor recommended adding insulation.
In fact, the R-value of a home is pretty big on the checklist, and can be more meaningful than other, costlier improvements, like getting a new furnace, Foss said. When comparing the relative value of the two, he said "the difference between (furnaces that are) pretty efficient and very efficient is not as big as between OK and good insulation." Beyond heating and cooling efficiency, the audit also will consider light bulbs. Recommendations could include replacing incandescent bulbs with compact flourescents.
Hot water consumption is a factor in energy usage, and an auditor could recommend using a shower head that reduces the amount of water -- hot or otherwise -- going down the drain. Foss updated his shower with a 1.5-gallon-per-minute head.
"And it feels great," he said.
Water heater temperature is another thing that can be adjusted, with a thermostat setting of 125 degrees not only helping to save money but also being a safety measure to prevent scalding. Examination of how much hot water is used in a home could lead to a recommendation about the best type of heater -- gas, electric or tankless -- to have.
Furnaces, water heaters and other appliances aren't inspected as part of an audit, but an auditor may consider the age and type in making recommendations on possible replacement. Central air conditioning units don't get much of a look, either, Foss said, because heating improvements typically result in more efficient cooling, too.
Vampire energy -- power used by plugged-in electronics such as computers and cable boxes, even when they aren't being used -- also isn't included in an audit. But Foss said auditors can provide information about strategies to address that issue.
As part of an audit, Foss said, customers also will receive information about rebates that are available for many of the changes they make. Alliant, for instance, offers a rebate of between $250 and $400 on a new high-efficiency furnace, or $50 to $300 on a new water heater.
The utility even will pay you to take that little-used second refrigerator in the garage off your hands, Foss said, and will haul it away for free.
Foss stressed that rebates are not available on every new appliance.
Energy efficient models, which are most easily identified with the Energy Star label, are all that qualify, he said. The rebates are meant to help people make changes that result in using less energy. That's the bottom line of an energy audit, too. And not just for the gas or electric customer.
"It saves them money, and helps us, too," Foss said, explaining Alliant and other power companies benefit from reduced usage by individual customers by allowing them to meet expanding overall demand without the need to build costly new power plants. The more efficient customers are in using energy, the longer companies can hold off building additional generating capacity.
Plus, Foss said, it's good for the environment because less coal gets burned to generate electricity, and less gas is used to heat air and water.
Alliant provides audits only for its heating customers, Foss said. That applies to people with gas or electric heat. Others should contact their own home heating provider to learn about services available.
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