The Community Environmental Center (CEC) is a nonprofit company that provides home energy assessments and comprehensive energy-efficiency work throughout the New York Metropolitan Area. Here, CEC’s long-time Energy Auditor Roger Fraser talks with CEC’s Alexis Greene about what’s involved in a comprehensive home energy assessment.
Q: Roger, what is the most important thing to remember about a good home energy assessment?
A: The whole idea of a home energy assessment is to reduce the waste of energy in a house and to leave the home in a better condition than it was before. And also to put the home owner in a better frame of mind about how to save energy, because, when we create a home that’s energy efficient, the owner still has to do his or her part and maintain energy efficiency.
Q: So, the energy assessment is really the first step toward making a home energy- efficient.
A: Yes. An energy assessment enables us to judge what is needed for that particular house to save energy and for the people living there to be more comfortable. An energy assessment shows us if we need to go to the attic to install additional insulation, or if we need to seal ducts. There may be a need for energy-saving light bulbs, insulation underneath the roof, new windows or caulking around old windows, and insulation around the pipes in the basement.
Q: When you get to a home, what is the first thing you do as an energy auditor? And would you be the only auditor on a job?
A: Sometimes I may have another auditor with me, sometimes I’m by myself. It depends on the schedule. We introduce ourselves to the owner, and I take about 20 minutes to explain that we will need access to the entire house, including the attic or any crawl spaces, to check for air leaks.
Then I start to go around the house with the owner, and she or he will show me the living room, the bedrooms, tell me whether any rooms are cold or warm. If the owner has done renovations, I’ll ask what was done. Did they have a flood? Could there be mold or mildew? I will take measurements of each window and all the doors, to see if they need to be replaced. I will look into the attic for insulation, into the walls for insulation. I test the heating system. Are there any missing ducts? If the heating system is inefficient, perhaps we can tune it up, rather than replace it. But if necessary, we’ll create a specification to replace it. I’ll look at the refrigerator to see if it’s leaking. If there’s a dryer, are the vents working?
The homeowner will usually have a lot of information to share with me. They are living there; I am only there for two hours. They can tell me, “this doesn’t work,” or “this breaks down.”
When I leave that house, I will have a good understanding of what needs to be done and I will create a work scope.
Q: Will you also do a blower door test before you leave?
A: Yes. A blower door is a device that measures if a small building is air-tight; it also measures airflow between rooms and helps locate air leaks. It consists of a big, red piece of fabric, a specially calibrated fan, a pressure-measurement instrument, and it all fits into a doorway. The blower door test is done at the end of the whole walk-through, to test if the house is drafty and where those drafts are coming from.
Q: Roger, you mentioned that you also measure the windows. Is that to replace them?
A: Windows are measured for calculation, because by measuring each window and door, we can calculate how much space the windows and doors use, so we know how much wall space to insulate if necessary.
Q: You’re calculating how much cellulose you will use for insulation?
A: Yes. We will also measure windows, if they need to be replaced.
Q: What does a home energy assessment cost?
A: New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is offering home energy assessments for free or at reduced cost, depending on one’s income, and applications are available through Community Environmental Center by emailing Sarah Gaddis, email@example.com or calling her: 718-784-1444, ext. 108. After the assessment, if the homeowner wants to proceed with the recommended work, CEC can also provide information about Residential On-Bill Recovery Loans.
Q: After the home energy assessment, you do a work scope?
A: We do a work scope right there. I can sit down with the homeowner after doing a blower door test, sit down and do an interview. Find out some more information: how she or he uses the heating system, if certain parts of the house are used or not. So then I understand basically where it is cool, where it is hot. Where does the owner like to be, where is the comfort zone in the house? The goal is to bring the entire house to that comfort level, and I can tell the owner right then and there what we can do with the house, what we can’t do.
Q: Who inspects the work when it is finished?
A: The crew chief, also a supervisor. Somebody from CEC will inspect the house to see if the work scope has been followed.
Q: A lot of companies say they do home energy assessments. How does what CEC does differ from all the others?
A: I think we have a more personal approach. We try to treat the house as we would our own home. I’m not there just to walk through the house; I’m there to ask questions and listen. I’ll sit with the homeowner and get as much information as possible. I will take the time to walk with her and look at each window. I will sit with him at the end and do a questionnaire. I have done a lot of assessments in my nine years at CEC, but I can still remember each home.
Q: Why is it important for a home owner to have an energy assessment and then put energy savings in place?
A: Energy-saving is going to make the homeowner safe in so many ways: in terms of comfort and health, in terms of financial savings and augmenting the value of the home, and ultimately by protecting the environment.