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Energy audits open the door to savings

by: Paul Kando

The lazy days of summer are just beginning, but now is the time to emulate the squirrels who will be collecting acorns for winter and consider having an energy audit done on your home.

The average Maine house consumes 850 gallons of heating oil during a typical winter. Last winter the average cost of that oil came to $2,210. An energy audit can help identify ways for homeowners to realize significant savings in heating costs.

An energy audit should be a source of good independent advice, not a bid package. If your auditor wants to be your contractor as well, weigh the possibility of conflict of interest. Report in hand, look at those recommendations carefully. You should understand them and the reasoning behind them. If you do not, ask questions until you do. Buildings are complicated systems.

Consider what you can do yourself: caulking, installing window inserts, insulating - none of this is rocket science. You will be pleasantly surprised how much a person with average skills can accomplish. Hire help for tasks you don't feel up to doing, but make sure you are in charge, not your contractor. You will get better results and save money.

The average energy audit by MGC (Midcoast Green Collaborative) Energy Audits identified typical energy saving opportunities on the order of 55 percent. The savings were realized through simple weatherization measures with a payback (from savings on the fuel bill) of less than seven years. This means the average home owner can save $1,260 annually by implementing an audit's recommendations. Over seven years, those savings will total $8820 if there is no price inflation. Forecasts generally predict an average price inflation of 6.81 percent per year, however. Factoring this in, the savings will total $10,458.

If an energy audit costs, on average $400, there is over $10,000 left to pay for weatherization over seven years, at the end of which your energy bill is permanently reduced by 55 percent.

Factor in, however, that in our experience about 10 percent of those energy savings will cost nothing or very little to realize. For instance, turning down your water heater so that it delivers water at no higher than 120°F costs nothing. To equip a window with a double-glazed interior storm window insert costs only $15 to $18, a tube of caulk $3.50 to $6.00 and enough foam rubber gaskets with which to seal all leaky electrical outlets and switches cost under $25. You do the numbers and see if an energy audit is worth the price.

Here is an example of a 100 percent do-it-yourself energy upgrade accomplished over a four year period of a typical 1800s house that went through a number of renovations over decades. The idea is to do all the rehab work during the warm months, then recover the material costs from fuel-bill reductions during the ensuing winter. The tasks, spread out over four summers, included installing window inserts, blowing cellulose insulation into walls and between floors using rented equipment, sealing and insulating the basement ceiling, insulating pipes and ducts, sealing the attic and increasing attic insulation to R-60 and installing a heat recovery ventilating system.

Total materials costs come to $5,709. This cost was fully recovered from oil bill reductions totaling $6,466 over four winters. Note that because the work is spread out over four years, these home owners never advance more than $1,400 in new cash. The house, burning 854 gallons of oil to begin with, ends up with a fuel use reduction of 580 gallons, leaving an annual heating oil demand of only 274 gallons - a 70 percent reduction.

How much will you pay for oil or propane next winter, and the next, and the next?