Your Home an Eco-Audit
changes can add up to a big savings!
Deborah Huso, Contributing Writer
Do you want to live healthier, do your
part to protect the environment, and save some money to boot? No need to
call in the experts. Follow our simple checklists, and start saving on
energy (and helping Planet Earth) today!
You’ve probably heard about energy
audits. Many firms offer them to help homeowners cut down on energy usage
and save money; but have you considered an eco-audit? In addition to helping
you save on home energy costs, an eco-audit can also help you lessen your
home’s environmental footprint, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to
make an impact, either.
While eco-audits haven’t really hit
the mainstream in the U.S. yet, there are a handful of firms in Virginia
that offer them. Cville-Enviro in Charlottesville is one of them. General
Manager Russell Edwards says you don’t have to be a tree hugger to have an
interest in an eco-audit. “Our clients range from being ultra-sensitive to
the health environment of their home to those who are just interested in
energy efficiency and want a payback,” he says.
Cville-Enviro, like many organizations
offering energy and eco-audits, is relatively new, having started as an
outgrowth of Artisan Construction four years ago. “Clients of our
construction firm were interested in green building,” Edwards explains,
“but we saw a need for a service to existing buildings as well.”
Whereas an energy audit generally
focuses on the technical aspects of a building, an eco-audit is more
expansive and includes the way you live in your home. While improving your
home’s energy efficiency may require some one-time steps to fix problem
areas, becoming more eco-friendly often requires some lifestyle adjustments,
too. But it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. Small fixes can often lead
to big dividends. As Edwards points out, just sealing up leaky ducts in a
home could increase an HVAC unit’s efficiency by as much as 30 percent.
Terry Logee, technology development
manager with the U.S. Department
of Energy, says the biggest environmental footprints homeowners make come
from heating and cooling systems and air infiltration.
Other big draws on energy, often
overlooked, include old appliances. “If you have a refrigerator that’s
more than 10 years old, you’ll see a significant reduction on your energy
bill if you update,” says Thomas Thompson, manager of the Virginia Energy
Management Program with the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy in
Richmond. Refrigerators and freezers can use up to 20 percent of a home’s
But you don’t necessarily have to hire
a certified “eco-auditor” or seek out the advice of the experts to make
changes that will help you save money and better protect the environment.
Following is a checklist of things you can do in your home (and maybe even
on your way to work) to help preserve our natural resources and decrease
your carbon footprint.
• Is your HVAC system 10 years old or
older? If so, you might benefit from replacement with a more
energy-efficient model. Heating and cooling can use one-third to one-half of
your home’s energy.
• Is your attic insulated and sealed?
You can lose a lot of warmth and coolness through the roof. For the best
energy efficiency, attics should have R-49 insulation, walls R-19, and crawl
• Have you sealed up the space between
your foundation and cladding? This is a much overlooked space for air leaks.
• Make sure there are vapor barriers
on the ground underneath your crawl space and over the insulation in the
attic. Moisture can reduce insulation’s effectiveness.
• Is air infiltrating around your
windows and doors? Purchasing replacement energy
efficient windows can be a big expense, but you can get low-E storm windows.
You may also be able to cut down on air infiltration by sealing up the gaps
with caulk or foam and hanging up heavy curtains or window shades.
• If drafts are coming in through electrical outlets and switches,
you’ve got a leaky wall. Pull out the electrical boxes and insulate behind
• Check for old and deteriorating
weather stripping and caulk around exterior trim, doors, and windows.
Replace where it’s not holding up anymore.
• Replace old appliances with new
ENERGY STAR models. If you can’t afford new appliances, make sure you only
wash clothes and dishes with full loads. Don’t use hot water to wash. Keep
your refrigerator and freezer full, as they run most efficiently this way.
And get rid of that old deep freeze in the basement!
• Check the air filters in your
heating and cooling equipment. Dirty filters can substantially cut down on
the unit’s efficiency. Check and/or clean them at least once a month.
• Replace your incandescent light
bulbs with compact fluorescents or LEDs. They last five to 10 times longer
and will save you anywhere from 30 to 75 percent on your electric bill in
the long term.
• Invest in a programmable thermostat
that will automatically adjust the temperature of your home when you’re
away or sleeping. At the very least, keep the thermostat at 70 degrees or
lower in winter and layer your clothing. Try to keep it 78 degrees or higher
in summer. You can save up to 3 percent on heating and cooling costs for
every change in degree on the thermostat.
• Get your electric meter wired to
provide a read-out in your house so you can monitor your electric usage and
see what appliances and activities are draining the most electricity. This
will help you modify your usage.
• Turn off the lights, computers,
television, and other small appliances when not in use.
• Take advantage of the sun. Use
natural light to illuminate workspaces and provide warmth during winter days
through south-facing windows. In summer, make sure west-facing windows have
covering to keep out the sun’s heat.
• Cover wall- or window-mounted air
conditioners when not in use so cold air from outside won’t infiltrate the
• Get a blower-door test to determine
just how much air leakage is occurring in your home.
• Make sure your water heater is
insulated, particularly if it is an unconditioned space. Also, insulate
hot-water pipes in unconditioned spaces.
• Lower the temperature of your water
heater as much as is comfortable, trying around
• Install low-flow showerheads and
• Collect rainwater for irrigating
your lawn and garden. This can be as simple as providing for your gutter
system to empty into a cistern.
• If you must water the lawn, install
an in-ground sprinkler system on a timer that waters early in the morning or
in the evening so water doesn’t have the chance to evaporate. And, water
deep so plants and grass establish strong, deep, root systems that can
withstand the stress of summer droughts.
• Cut your lawn less frequently.
Letting it get a little taller keeps it healthier, which translates into
less watering, and will also save you on fuel costs for the lawnmower.
• Plant more flowerbeds, and reduce
your lawn space. Use native plants that are acclimated to your climate and
won’t require extra watering.
• Don’t buy multi-showerhead
systems. They often use more water than a bath.
• If you have the space, line-dry
• Check for leaky toilets by putting
food coloring in the tank. If you see the dye in the bowl, you’ve got a
leak, and you can save hundreds of gallons of water a day by fixing it.
• Don’t overseal your home. Ventilation is necessary for
air quality, so don’t get into a caulking frenzy and seal underneath lap
siding for example (unless there are really large gaps), and make sure you
have ventilation in your attic and crawl spaces to prevent moisture build-up
and mold formation.
• Use environmentally friendly
cleaning supplies. White vinegar and baking soda, for example, can do
wonders for cleaning up and removing stains.
• Keep lots of house plants, as they
help clean the air and remove toxins. Large pots also add beneficial thermal
• Use native plants and grasses for
landscaping, so you don’t have to rely on noxious chemicals to maintain a
• On do-it-yourself projects around
the house, be sure to use low- or no-VOC paints. Lots of materials for the
home also have harmful formaldehyde-based adhesives, too — including
carpeting, cabinets, and plywood/OSB. If you’re replacing any of these
items or building, seek out healthier options and look for the GreenGuard
• Are you recycling? If not, start
separating out your glass, plastic, paper, and other recyclables.
• Remember that transportation is a
big consumer of energy. Car pool or use the public transportation system.
Ride a bike or walk to work if it’s close by.
• Compost household waste like food
scraps to prevent the amount of material going into landfills.
• If you’re remodeling or building,
use Forest Stewardship Council-certified lumber or buy locally harvested
wood. FSC certification means the wood has come from sustainably harvested
• Use building materials made from
recycled products to reduce waste. This might include kitchen countertops of
recycled glass or carpet made from recycled carpet fibers.
• Buy locally whenever possible,
whether it’s building materials or vegetables. The farther products have
to travel to get to you, the more fuel and energy is
Edwards advises homeowners not to get
overwhelmed by the details. “Most of our clients don’t fix everything at
once,” he says. “They work on them over the long-term.” The best thing
is to start with a few simple changes, then gradually add more changes as
time and money allow. It’s not that hard to do some basic scouting out of
your home’s eco and energy friendliness. “Stick your head in the crawl
space and see what’s going on in there,” Edwards advises. “Does it
smell musty? What condition is the ductwork in?”
Thompson agrees that small steps can
make a difference, even something as simple as turning off the water heater
when you go on vacation. He’s been involved in helping the Commonwealth of
Virginia work on energy improvements at state facilities over the course of
the last three years. “As a result,” he says, “we’re seeing millions
of dollars of savings a year.”
The green building movement is catching
on across Virginia and the nation. Scott Sleeme, president of Mitchell
Homes, notes that the movement’s ultimate goal is energy-efficient homes
built with environmentally friendly products, employing building practices
that promote sustainability.
Energy-efficient and sustainable
building products are integral to this building process. What are some of
these products and practices?
Advanced technologies like low-emmitance
(low-E) glass coatings in windows and doors keep heat inside during the
winter and outside during summer months, according to Sleeme. Laminate
flooring mimics scarce hardwoods and is longer-lasting than any hardwood,
vinyl, or carpet flooring. The use of vinyl siding and vinyl porch railing
saves money on installation and maintenance.
House wrap is breathable, but acts as an
air barrier to make the home more energy efficient, while also blocking rain
from soaking the walls, which can lead to mold and rot. ENERGY STAR-rated
appliances save on energy bills and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Other green-building features range from ultra low-flow toilets and advanced
shower and sink faucets that reduce water to front-loading washing machines
that use about 40 percent less water, Sleeme adds.
Engineered roof and floor trusses allow
for more efficient use of raw materials by utilizing small-dimension lumber
that might have otherwise gone to waste, Sleeme continues. This protects
old-growth forests. Engineered trusses also eliminate the need to cut
additional wood at the jobsite, further reducing waste. Oriented strand
board (OSB) is another engineered product that does not require large trees
for its manufacture. OSB also enhances durability and is used to sheathe
subfloors, exterior walls and roofs, according to Sleeme. Use of increased
R-value and sprayed cellulose insulation is a cost-effective way to save
energy and help reduce costly heating and cooling bills, which account for
at least half of all energy used in a home.
Sleeme will be one of the first builders
in the country to earn the National Association of Home Builders Certified
(CGP) designation. The designation recognizes builders, remodelers and other
industry professionals who incorporate green building principles into their
homes without driving up the cost of construction.
Resources for More
Your local rural electric cooperative
publishes its own list of energy-saving tips. For access to your member
cooperative and ideas for saving energy and protecting the environment,
visit the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric
Cooperatives online at: www.vmdaec.com
The Virginia Department of Mines,
Minerals and Energy, whose mission is to enhance the development and
conservation of energy and mineral resources in a safe and environmentally
sound manner, offers The Virginia Energy Savers Handbook online at:
ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy
geared towards helping consumers save money and protect the environment
through energy- efficient products and practices. ENERGY STAR’s
home-improvement guidelines are available online at:
Replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs
or LEDs can reduce electric bills from 30 to 75 percent over bulb life.
Reduce your heating and cooling costs by
as much as 30 percent with proper insulation and air sealing techniques.