Virtual Home-Energy Audits

By Tom Tate

We’re all spending more time at home these days and you may be wondering if your home is using energy efficiently. Unless it was built quite recently to stringent energy efficiency standards, there are bound to be areas of your home where you can improve efficiency, save money and reduce your carbon footprint.

In a perfect world, your best option is to hire a trained professional to conduct a full-blown, in-home energy audit. Luckily, there is a viable alternative: the online or “virtual” home energy assessment. Today’s online energy assessments are user-friendly and take only a few minutes to complete. An online energy assessment can provide information about your home’s energy efficiency and typically provides helpful tips on how to reduce energy waste. The assessments utilize sophisticated computer models that typically use local housing types — factoring in the age, size, flooring and construction materials of the home — and local weather data.

I have used several of these assessments and found they typically come within a dollar or two of my actual energy bills when fed the correct information. Amazing! True, the assessment won’t provide a pressurization test of your home and ductwork like an audit would, but it is a convenient start.

Here’s an example of an online energy audit: http://hes.lbl.gov/consumer/

A word of caution: Be careful when using online energy assessment software provided by organizations other than utilities, government agencies or universities. Unfortunately, some companies may try to obtain information to sell their own products and services. If you see phrases like, “Learn what your power company does not want you to know” or the site looks like a marketing page, I suggest moving on. Unless you are dealing with a local electric co-op or your other trusted provider, do not provide any personal information outside of your physical address (for data accuracy) or an email address for receiving a full report.

If an online energy assessment doesn’t interest you, fear not. The Department of Energy offers a DIY energy assessment section on their website: http://energy.gov/energysaver/do-it-yourself-home-energy-audits.

The bottom line? Choose the energy assessment that works for you, then implement as many of the recommendations as you can. Even taking small steps can add up to significant results and you’ll see the benefits in your utility bills for years to come.

What you’ll need for an online assessment
Each assessment is a little different and the information required may vary. Below is a basic list of what you’ll need. Be as accurate as possible without creating so much work for yourself that you regret assessing your home.

• Your home zip code – for weather and housing data
• Your average monthly electric bill
• Your electric rate
• Your average monthly fossil fuel bill(s) – oil, propane and gas
• Your fossil fuel rate(s)
• Age of your home and general characteristics (size, floors, exterior materials)
• Age and number of appliances
• Type and age of heating and cooling systems
• How many incandescent, CFL and LED lights you have

Tom Tate writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.