TexasIsHot – Energy Efficiency

Appliances tips

Dec 08 2011

Houston wants to help residents trim energy waste: City offers tips to save costs with the Home Energy Audit

Feel a draft around your home’s electrical outlets? If so, you’re wasting energy.

Even if you cannot feel air moving, you still could have a leak. Here’s another way to check:

Hold a feather or piece of lightweight string in front of outlets, switch plates, window frames, baseboards, fireplace dampers, kitchen or medicine cabinets or the attic door. If the feather or string moves at all, there’s a leak.

This tidbit and others come from the Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audit put out by Houston’s Green Building Resource Center, part of the city’s Public Works and Engineering Department.

Since the center at 1002 Washington Ave. opened in 2009, director Steve Stelzer said hundreds of visitors have picked up the do-it-yourself energy audits.

Part of the checklist’s usefulness, Stelzer said, is that it gets people thinking about how their homes use energy. “It helps get your head in the game,” he said.

Some checklist items are beyond the skills of many homeowners, but that’s fine, said Stelzer, an architect who previously specialized in construction administration.

“You can’t do your own air conditioning, but you can analyze your situation, so when you’re talking to the AC guy, you can have an intelligent conversation,” he said. “That’s my goal.”

Prioritize needs

The checklist includes a suggestion that anyone with high energy bills consider contacting a professional to find out why.

A professional audit can yield a priority list of what improvement to make first.

“A lot of people jump to the conclusion that windows are their biggest problem,” Stelzer said. “For your particular house, windows may not be the worst thing.”

As noted on the DIY Home Energy Audit, information about certified home energy raters is available at the federal Energy Star program’s website, www.energystar.gov/.

Reliant Energy and CenterPoint Energy, the major utility companies in the Houston area, do not provide free home energy audits, but they do participate in various programs to help homeowners make improvements to promote energy efficiency.

Other tips from the city’s Do-It-Yourself energy audit include:

Add up your energy bills for the past year. Note how many kilowatt hours you used and determine which month was highest. Use this as a benchmark.

Outside your house, look for gaps or cracks where two building materials – brick and siding, for example - meet.

Check your attic insulation’s R-value, a measure of thermal resistance. In the Houston area, the home’s R-value should be at least 38.0, equivalent to 12 inches of fiberglass or cellulose.

Check that your attic ductwork is connected to the heating or cooling unit and to other ductwork. Dirt streaks – especially near seams or joints – indicate air leaks. They should be sealed with duct mastic, a gooey material, and mesh tape.

Find help online

Ironically, Stelzer said, duct tape does not work well for sealing ductwork leaks.

“It sticks right away but you get thermal changes, and that makes the adhesive get old, and it doesn’t work so good,” he said. “The mastic is designed to adhere to the metal much better over time.”

The DIY Home Energy Audit is available online. Go to www.codegreenhouston.org and click on the Resource Reports tab, then select the orange bar marked “Energy and Atmosphere.”

Read More From Carol Christian at The Houston Chronicle

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