Energy Solutions: Save Money on Cooling
Energy efficiency audit can save money on your cooling bill.
A high home-cooling bill might have less to do with your air conditioner than with your home’s attic insulation, air ducts and air flow.
So before you sink a bundle into a new AC system, look into other energy solutions, find out if your home’s air ducts are leaking at the joints, if the AC filter is too thick or too dirty for air to pass through, or if your attic insulation is properly installed so it touches a hard surface such as drywall or wood.
You don’t have to figure any of this out by yourself. The state’s three major electric utilities are offering energy solutions and to pay most of the tab for a “home performance” professional to come to your home and check it for problems that could be causing it to waste energy.
The Home Energy Solutions Auditor.
In particular, the auditor can spy energy inefficiencies that force your AC to work so hard to counteract them that it’s costing you more than it should to run the system.
SRP and APS will pay all but $99 of the usual $299 – $499 price tag for their customers to have an approved contractor conduct a Home Performance by Energy Star audit of the home. TEP calls its similar program BrightSave Home.
Like the inspection that utilities used to call an “energy audit ,” the home-performance assessment can reveal whether your home is pouring expensive, conditioned air into the Great Outdoors through leaks such as cracks and gaps in walls, around windows and doors, and through the roof.
It also will clue you in to easy fixes that will cut your energy bill, such as adding exterior shade screens to sun-struck windows or switching from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent or LED lights.
But the home-performance auditor doesn’t stop at pointing out your home’s energy flaws. After conducting tests at your house, the energy specialist will determine how a problem – or a solution – in one area of the building might affect the performance of another.
Examples: The reason an air-conditioning system kicks on too often might be an insulation failure in the attic. Re-attaching or adding insulation could solve the AC problem and save you from replacing the system.
The Air Conditioner May Not be the Problem.
Likewise, a homeowner might figure a new air conditioner will stop a room with a sun-drenched window from getting too hot during the summer. But the auditor might reason that adding an exterior shade screen or planting a leafy tree outside of the window might be a better – and cheaper – fix.
“It looks at the whole house as a system,” says Jerry Thieken, principal project manager for SRP, of the home-performance audit. “Up until now, we have just addressed the single issue without realizing what impact changing one thing could have on the rest of the house.”
Once the auditor figures out – with the help of computer software – the causes of your home’s energy woes, you’ll get a long list of recommended repairs and upgrades, and some more help from your electric utility to pay for the work. SRP, for example, offers rebates on duct repair, insulation and high-efficiency air conditioning systems, and a discount on shade screens.
In fact, Todd Russo of REEis, who conducts home-performance audits, estimates a typical list of recommendations for a home that doesn’t need a new AC runs around $2,200. After taking advantage of utility rebates and government tax credits, the homeowner would pay less than $1,500.
Those repairs, of course, are optional. Joe Salkowski, a spokesman for TEP, says that’s one reason for the utility rebates, which are available to customers whether or not they have the $99 evaluation.
“The reality is that we want customers to make these improvements. There’s not a lot of benefit in having an audit done if it does not lead the customer to take action on the problems that have been identified.”
Air Leaks and Insulation.
Russo says the most common recommended repairs are sealing leaky air-conditioning ducts, replacing or fixing failing attic insulation and solving the causes of air-flow restrictions, which can range from replacing undersized ductwork to changing a dirty AC filter.
Having your home’s performance analyzed as a way to save money and energy is a smart move. But what might be even more important to you and your family is how much more comfortable your house feels once all of its parts are operating in harmony and performing at their peak.
For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert for 35 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the Rosie on the House radio program from 8-11 a.m. Saturdays on KTAR-FM (92.3) in Phoenix. Look for more Energy Solutions.