Energy Efficiency, Solar

Listen Up: Try the Free DOE Home Energy Audit Program

If you know where you are wasting energy at home, you can fix the problem. But for many people, getting an energy audit is like flossing your teeth — you know you should do it but just can’t seem to get around to it. Fortunately, there’s an easy to use energy audit program developed by the DOE that does as good a job as any professional program, and its free.

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It’s called the Home Energy Saver.  

Programs like this have been around since the 70s, originally in FORTRAN on punch cards. The big improvement is in ease of use. With Home Energy Saver, all you have to do is answer some basic questions about your house, appliances, heating and cooling system, and usage habits. The program models your usage, and then makes energy retrofit recommendations, along with anticipated costs of these retrofits and savings. I’ve found their estimates to be pretty accurate on the whole, except when it comes to solar, wind and heat pumps.

To check out the accuracy of the program, we did 30 sample energy audits of old, average and new homes all over the country. Weatherization, insulation, new windows and ventilation improvements are cost effective in cold climates, but are not cost effective in average or new homes — nor in more temperate climates. Appliance upgrades only make sense when your old appliance dies (except for that refrigerator in your garage). Lighting upgrades (replacing incandescents) are always cost effective.

Most significantly, rooftop solar systems have good paybacks regardless of home condition wherever there are high electric rates or solar incentives. These results are contrary to the conventional wisdom of efficiency first and solar later. The new mantra should be lighting and solar always — and building shell upgrades for old buildings in cold climates. This mantra is typified by one of my solar PV customers, who told me: “why should I replace the walls and windows of my house when I get a faster payback by making my own electricity with a 5-kW rooftop solar power system?”

On this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World, we go through a real world home energy audit. It takes less than 30 minutes. When you get the results, call up your local solar or wind contractor to see if you can “generate” your way to even greater savings.

Find more episodes of The Energy Show here.

About The Energy Show

As energy costs consume more and more of our hard-earned dollars, we as consumers really start to pay attention. But we don’t have to resign ourselves to $5/gallon gas prices, $200/month electric bills and $500 heating bills. There are literally hundreds of products, tricks and techniques that we can use to dramatically reduce these costs — very affordably.

The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is a weekly 20-minute podcast that provides tips and advice to reduce your home and business energy consumption. Every week we’ll cover topics that will help cut your energy bill, explain new products and technologies in plain English, and cut through the hype so that you can make smart and cost-effective energy choices. 

About Your Host

Barry Cinnamon is a long-time advocate of renewable energy and is a widely recognized solar power expert. In 2001 he founded Akeena Solar — which grew to become the largest national residential solar installer by the middle of the last decade with over 10,000 rooftop customers coast to coast. He partnered with Westinghouse to create Westinghouse Solar in 2010, and sold the company in 2012.

His pioneering work on reducing costs of rooftop solar power systems include Andalay, the first solar panel with integrated racking, grounding and wiring; the first UL listed AC solar panel; and the first fully “plug and play” AC solar panel. His current efforts are focused on reducing the soft costs for solar power systems, which cause system prices in the U.S. to be double those of Germany.

Although Barry may be known for his outspoken work in the solar industry, he has hands-on experience with a wide range of energy saving technologies.  He’s been doing residential energy audits since the punch card days, developed one of the first ground-source heat pumps in the early ‘80s, and always abides by the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Read more renewable energy news here.

Lead image: Green microphone via Shutterstock