To improve their home's energy efficiency, homeowners need to identify how much energy their home is wasting and where this energy loss is occurring. A professional home energy auditor tours the home and uses specialized equipment to determine exactly how energy efficient, or inefficient, residences are.

U.S. homeowners could save $200 to $400 each year by improving their home’s energy efficiency, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Adding more insulation to attics, buying more efficient furnaces and replacing drafty windows are a few ways to reduce high energy bills and prevent energy waste.

But before taking these steps, homeowners need to identify how much energy their home is wasting and where this energy loss is occurring. A professional home energy auditor tours the home and uses specialized equipment to determine exactly how energy efficient, or inefficient, residences are.

Chris Schwarzkopf, who works as an auditor with Valparaiso, Ind.-based Energy Diagnostics Inc., answers some common questions about the process.

1. Who are your customers?

We do new construction audits for buildings hoping to qualify for the government’s Energy Star rating. A lot of times we get homeowners who receive their first utility bill of the winter and get a big scare. They call us for existing home audits.

2. What happens during a typical audit?

Before we do anything, we sit down with the homeowners and get a feel for what their goals are. Do they want to save money or save energy? What are the main goals? We can give homeowners a lot of information. We can pull out systems in your home that you use on a seasonal basis versus those that are baseline systems, like your computer, refrigerator and television, things that you use all the time. We can plug in numbers in our software and show you cost-effective improvements. We always like to recommend changes that will bring back enough energy savings each year to pay back their costs within five years. To start the audit, we turn our blower door on. We then start at the top, in the attic. Then we move on to the basement before inspecting the middle of the house.

3. What is a blower door?

A blower door depressurizes the house. It sucks all the air out of the house and then pulls the air from outside the house in. We then use a gauge to measure how much outside air is coming back through the house. You want it as low as possible.

4. What are some of the more common problems you see?

A lot of it comes down to duct leakage. If there are leaks in the duct system, they will further pull conditioned air out of your house. You always want to make sure that your home’s ductwork is completely sealed. Nine times out of 10, the builder or home-renovation guy did an OK job. But there are often little areas that were missed. Over time, too, materials wear down.

5. What efficiency improvements have the fastest payback?

Air sealing. A $25 box of caulk can go a long way. If you can control air change, you can increase your comfort savings and you can get that money back in the first year. We usually don’t recommend that people change out windows unless they are in terrible shape, since they are expensive.

GateHouse News Service