SPECIAL REPORT: Losing Heat: A Look at a Home Energy Audit

Do you find that there’s one part of your home that seems a bit drafty, and top it off, is your electric or gas bill through the roof, if you will? If it is, how do you determine the root cause of either dilemma?

Recently, FOX 47’s Nicholas Quallich got to go on a home energy audit to see where a home may be losing heat.

On a windy day in Rochester, with a wind chill of 7 degrees, Quallich stopped by the 16 year old home of Todd Osweiler. Despite being relatively new, his home has a big problem. “My basement is quite cold, my upstairs is quite warm,” Osweiler explained. So, Osweiler decided to take action and look into a home energy audit, which is collaboration of several different energy-oriented businesses.

“It’s part of our neighborhood energy challenge program, which we partner with Minnesota Energy Resources and CEE,” stated Tony Benson with Rochester Public Utilities. “It’s for homeowners in Rochester. They’re able to come, take in some tips and ideas from the presenters at the meeting. And then, at the end of the class, we have a sign-up where they’re able to register for a reduced price energy audit,” Benson said. “It’s a $50 energy audit which would usually cost roughly $400.”

One of the other partners in the audit process is Greg Ernst, whose nearly 30 years in the home energy audit business certainly shows.

“I pretty much kind of already dialed into where the concerned areas are,” Ernst said while just looking at the exterior of Osweiler’s house. “So, doing this that long, you kind of already know what to expect?,” Quallich asked. “Yeah,” replied Ernst, “but every once in a while, you run into surprises.”

What, if any surprises would be found? With his Osweiler’s permission, Quallich joined Benson and Ernst to see how the audit unfolded. First: a blower door test.

“It depressurizes the house, pulling warm air out of the house, thereby pulling cold air in through hidden passageways. Then the camera will help us identify where those hidden passageways are. Essentially, what we’re doing is mimicking a 20 mile per hour wind on all sides of the house.

Ernst says that those “winds” won’t cause any kind of damage. But, where exactly is the cold air “wreaking havoc” in the home?

Ernst then explained to Osweiler and Quallich what he would do next. “The thermal scanner that I use picks up surface temperatures. What we’re looking for is those hidden passageways where air is escaping,” Ernst said. Some of the air penetrations Ernst found included above the range hood, bathroom, around the attic door among other areas.

In addition to air leaks, RPU’s Tony Benson says there are other ways homeowners can keep costs down. “Lighting is a huge energy user. And if you’re not taking a look at your lighting, you know, where you use a lot of lighting, each and every day, it can add up. There are types of technologies [for people to look for]… compact fluorescent bulbs, LED’s are very popular now,”Benson said.

After the audit was finished, Ernst wrote up a recommended plan of action for Osweiler as to how he believes Osweiler can get the most results in the most cost effective manner possible.

So, what did Osweiler learn? “I was surprised what you can see behind the wall, some of the things that he identified in the attic. The was pretty neat to identify where the cold air was getting inside my roof.” Before leaving Quallich asked Osweiler if an old Minnesotan can be taught new tricks. “Most definitely. A lot of the quick, easy fixes that I can do just to generate more heat in the basement, it’s going to go a long way,” Osweiler said, sounding confident. “Because I feel like the upstairs is always ten degrees warmer than the basement. Now I can get those temperatures to balance a little better.”

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