Home Energy Audits: Digging Deep On Efficiency

By Ibby Caputo

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Jan. 23, 2012

home energy audit

This old, drafty house: Heating this 130-plus-year-old Amesbury home costs its owners about $6,000 per year. (Natalie Hildt)

 
AMESBURY, Mass. — Like many New England homeowners, former Amesbury mayor David Hildt and his wife Kate Broughton live in an old house that was built, and added on to, before energy efficiency was the rage.
 
Broughton said their house, built in 1874, is charming but a little schizophrenic.
 
“It’s kind of like a choo-choo train,” she said. “You have room-room-room-room that just gets added on and added on.”
 
This old, drafty house
 
Over the last 138 years, owners have remodeled. The garage was once a barn. The kitchen may have been modernized in the 1960s. The house, now covering 2400 square feet, is not easy to heat. In fact, it’s downright drafty.
 
“When you’re in one room you can be very comfortable, but then you go into another room and you notice a big temperature drop,” said Broughton.

home energy audit
How insulated is the Hildt-Broughton's house? Nathaniel Dick uses an infrared meter to find out. (Natalie Hildt)

Broughton and Hildt use oil, electricity, propane and even a wood stove. Altogether, heating the house costs more than $6,000 a year.
 
Passionate about efficiency
 
Hildt’s daughter Natalie Hildt lives about an hour south in Somerville — where she owns a new, energy-efficient home.
 
“It really makes such a difference in comfort and the amount of money you’re spending every month on your energy bill,” she said.
 
Natalie Hildt works for the nonprofit Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP). She’s been trying to get her dad to save on energy costs. She even blogged, “If I can’t help my own family save energy, what CAN I do?”
 
After many drafty debates, she finally convinced them to have a home energy audit.
 
“I heard somebody recently refer to [getting an energy assessment] as the colonoscopy of energy efficiency,” Natalie Hildt said. “Because you say ‘Oh jeez, I know I should do it but what am I going to find?' You almost don’t want to look.”
 
Bringing in the experts
 
Nathaniel Dick works for Conservation Services Group, a subcontractor of National Grid. Dick’s job is to perform the... ahem... procedure on Broughton and Hildt’s home.He will survey every room, the attic and the basement, using an array of tools to inspect, measure and analyze combustion appliances, water heating and air conditioning systems, lighting, air sealant and insulation.

The service Dick is providing is offered by National Grid, one of the utility companies statewide that provides homeowners with free audits, incentives and rebates to install energy efficient measures.
 
While most audits last two to three hours, this one takes five. The complication: a dirt crawl space under the house.

See Natalie Hildt's slideshow of the audit:

 

To fix everything that leaks heat will cost $4,400. After $2,000 in incentives and rebates, the couple's out-of-pocket cost would be $2,400. However, before they can move forward and utilize the incentives, they must have a vapor barrier installed in the crawl space. This will be another out-of-pocket expense, likely an expensive one.

Read the complete home energy assessment (pdf)

Another complication, and another

To magnify the cost even more, shortly after the audit David Hildt got the news he was being laid off from his nonprofit job.
 
“They don’t call them nonprofits for nothing, so I don’t have a real cushion,” he said. “I have a small investment portfolio, which became drastically smaller over the years from 2008. So, you know, it’s a time for us to be very cautious with our expenses.”

Which means the plans to upgrade the Amesbury house are on hold. Despite all the incentives, the recommended energy-saving improvements are out of reach, at least for now.
 
But not for always, “We’re definitely going to move forward with this,” David Hildt said. “This is a top priority. So once we can see our way to it, we’ll do it.”

Visit MassSave to learn about energy efficiency incentives in your area.

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