By Cindy Atoji Keene
A home energy checkup – also called a home energy audit – can be the first step for lowering home utility bills. Professional technician William Hadley helps homeowners improve a home’s energy use by inspecting the furnace and ductwork, checking for leaks, examining insulation, and other tests. Hadley, an energy inspector for Conservation Services Group (CSG), which conducts home assessments for NSTAR and other utilities, said that simple signs like a clean, snow-free roof in the winter can mean that a residence is not insulated properly – the heat is escaping instead of being used to warm the house. “Simple steps can improve energy efficiency while also saving money and improving a home’s comfort, durability, air quality, and even safety and comfort,” said Hadley.
Q: How are New England homes unique in construction and how does that effect energy efficiency?
A: There are a lot of historic and older homes around the Boston area; they are often built using different materials and techniques than their modern counterparts. Many of these homes lack wall and attic insulation, which dramatically change the way a house heats and cools. Some of these homes struggle to even keep the heat at 60 degrees during cold winter nights.
Q: What’s some of the equipment used for energy audits?
A: We use infrared cameras that help identify insulation gaps and blower door systems that help identify where air might be leaking out of a building. Moisture meters help to read the humidity inside a house – too much humidity, and mold can grow. Carbon monoxide and gas leak detectors are important for safety ¬– I have found problems with heating systems where carbon monoxide was spilling into the basement from the heating system and no one knew about it.
Q: Borescopes allow you to look inside wall cavities, duct work, and sealed spaces to see what’s happening inside the building shell. What have you seen when you drill these holes?
A: There’s a little screen that allows viewing of material and insulation. Around Boston, you never know what was used for insulation. I’ve even seen walls that were totally filled up with seaweed as well as newspaper and horse hair. In this sort of situation, we recommend blowing more insulation into the vacuum to help stop air infiltration into the house.
Q: What fallacies about energy conservation and homes have you run into?
A: The number one misconception is that people think that replacing the windows will tighten up the house and solve all the problems. In fact that money is better off spent by air sealing and insulating the house. Fir example, air leaking out of ducts, attics, basements, even recessed lighting can cause uneven room temperatures, increasing your energy bill.
Q: A through assessment requires entering residential basements, attics and crawl spaces – is this a tight squeeze?
A: I did hit my limit the other day. I wish I had my tape measure out but it was probably 12 x 12. I got through by easing in, first putting one arm, one shoulder, then my head, and diving in. It’s important to actually get in there and look to make sure that there are no issues.
Q: What’s your pet peeve when it comes to wasting energy?
A: It really bugs me when a house is at 70 degrees and no one is home. The cost of fuel is so expensive and yet a lot of people don’t put any thought into
simply resetting the thermostat when asleep or away from home.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
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