House & Home

Save Green with a Free Home Energy Audit

Being conscious of my impact on the environment, and always looking for ways to reduce my carbon footprint, I jumped on the opportunity to receive a free home energy assessment through the Home Performance with Energy Star program.

My new home was built in 1932, and while there had been a number of improvements made since then, the house was still in need of modernization to better hold heat in the winter and cool air in the summer. In addition to investigating how well the house is insulated and where the air leaks are, the energy audit included an analysis of all the appliances and how efficiently they are operating.

A contractor with Islandia-based Green Home USA gave my Eastport home a thorough going over, checking everything from the attic’s insulation—or lack thereof—to the efficiency of the gas range and oven. With combustion analysis tools, he checked the oil burner and water heater to determine the heat loss. A fan that adjusted to fill the front doorway was used to blow air out of the house, depressurizing the building to find air leaks—in spots such as around windows and light fixtures—using a heat camera.

The assessment took approximately two hours; for houses with central air, it takes about four hours.

The contractor identified a number of areas for improvement and provided price quotes. I can pick and choose which jobs I want done by a professional, which improvements I can take care of myself, and which suggestions to pass on for the time being.

Home energy assessments are free, or available at a reduced cost, for most New York State homeowners, though the availability is limited and the offer is on a first-come, first-served basis. In order to qualify, the building must be residential, including single-family homes and houses with up to four units. The contractor who conducts the audit must be certified through the Building Performance Institute, a national nonprofit.

To sweeten the deal, New York State will pick up 10% of the cost of most improvements—up to $3,000—and the state offers low-cost loans to fund the work. Water heaters, furnaces, refrigerators and dehumidifiers are among the big-ticket items eligible for the rebate. Even programmable thermostats and low-flow shower heads can qualify.

The state offers low-cost loans to make the upfront cost of improvements easier to stomach. The loans have a 3.49% interest rate and must be between $1,500 and $25,000 with terms of five, 10 or 15 years. Those with excellent credit may find a lower interest rate by going directly to their bank for a personal loan or home equity loan. The monthly energy cost savings can offset the loan payments; effectively, the improvements pay for themselves. And once the loan is satisfied, enjoy the savings for years to come.

Complimentary with any other work that is done, contractors will replace up to 15 incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs).  However, this feature of the state program is already outdated—light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have surpassed CFLs in efficiency. For homes with central air conditioning, some duct sealing may also be free.

Before the audit, the homeowner must compile information on the last 12 months of energy usage, to get a sense of a residence’s present efficiency and the potential energy savings. This includes electricity usage as well as natural gas, propane and heating oil bills. If the information is unobtainable—for instance, if the owner moved in less than a year ago—this requirement can be waived with a form.

With improved efficiency, annual savings typically amount to hundreds of dollars. Severely outdated, inefficient homes could realize even more savings. Regardless of the financial benefits, homeowners can take pride in curtailing their use of fossil fuels while enjoying a comfortable, draft-free house. To apply for an assessment, visit nyserda.energysavvy.com.

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