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Angie's List: Improving Energy Efficiency

Starting with a home energy audit could go a long way in keeping heating costs low.

2013 is drawing to a close, but before you focus on new resolutions, you may want to complete one more project this year.

If you make your home more energy efficient before December 31st, you could be eligible for a federal tax credit.

First up, you may want to start with a home energy audit.

"One of the issues we had was around switches and plug outlets throughout the house. This was one that was maybe worse than the others. We knew it was kind of cold, but we did not realize quite how bad it was. But the audit did identify this area and it was a pretty simple fix. Just took off the faceplate and put some foam insulation around the electrical box and put the faceplate back on and it made a big difference," Homeowner Steve Chase said.

Chase, a home energy audit gave him piece of mind by proving recent home improvements weren't wasted.

"We didn't build the house, we bought the house existing and it had been five years old when we moved in and so I think the biggest surprise for us was just pleasantly we didn't have any big issues and many of the small issues we had, we were able to fix without much trouble," Chase said.

There are several products and appliances that may qualify for a tax credit - including insulation, heating and cooling equipment, roofing and windows.

But before you commit to any improvements, evaluate your home's needs.

An energy audit can help do that by telling you how much energy your home uses and what you can do to improve efficiency.

"I have my infrared camera here and what we do is we go through the house. We look at everything, floors, doors, windows, and ceilings - everything that we can think of and we are trying to find issues within the house," Energy Auditor Art Tompkins said.

Auditors also conduct a blower door test to find leaks.

"This is the skin of the blower door and I preassembled it. It goes right into the door like this," Tompkins said.

An audit typically takes about three to four hours and costs $250 to $800.

Most auditors take pictures, both infrared and digital, and include those in a report with descriptions and suggestions on how to fix issues.

"When hiring an energy auditor you want to make sure they are an independent third party. The auditor should come in and give you an assessment. They shouldn't be selling you the actual items," Angie Hicks said.

You should always be home at the time of the audit so you can walk through your house, room by room, with the auditor.

Angie’s List Tips:
  • It pays to do your research: It’s important for homeowners to research the credits for home improvement products before buying. Each item has its own requirements in order to qualify. For example, the tax credit for insulation does not include installation costs. Don’t rely solely on the company doing the installation, also check with your tax consultant.
  • Save for tax time: Save any receipts for your records. Consumers can claim the credit on IRS form 5695. You should receive a signed statement from the manufacturer certifying the product qualifies for the tax credit. Keep this with your records for tax time.
  • Look for other ways to save: Check around for rebates. Various localities and utility companies offer assistance as well.

Home Energy Audits

An auditor can comprehensively assess how much energy your home uses and evaluate the measures you can take to improve its efficiency.

·         How does it work? Professional auditors can offer non-invasive scientific testing to determine which areas of the home are not efficient. The most common test is a blower door test, in which a doorway seal and fan measure a home's air exchange rate to detect leaks. Another test, called a thermographic scan, uses infrared technology to determine over- or under-insulated areas. A good auditor should do a room-by-room examination, as well as a thorough check of past utility bills.

·         Be present: If possible, try to be present at the time of the audit. Make a list of any existing problems for the auditor, like drafty rooms or visible condensation. Walk through your home with the auditor during the test and ask questions.

·         What happens after an audit? The auditor should give you a list of recommendations for cost-effective energy improvements to enhance your comfort and safety. Some common recommendations include sealing air leaks, sealing ductwork and adding insulation. You might be advised to consider upgrading lighting and appliances, especially if they’re older and not as efficient as newer equipment.

·         Costs & Time: Although the scope of an energy audit often depends on a home’s age, size and its design, a typical professional audit takes about three to four hours to complete and costs $250 to $800.

·         Hiring an auditor: Some auditors offer to sell other products and services, posing a potential conflict of interest. An auditor should be able to provide proof of experience, education and applicable certification. Seek auditors certified by Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) or the Building Performance Institute (BPI).

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