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Let an energy auditor loose in your house and stand by for quick, thrifty advice

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Our home was thoroughly weatherized, or so we thought. But when we heard about the federally mandated home-energy-audit program -- and especially with the cost less than $15 -- we decided to find out just how tight the house was.

Through our electric utility, we set up an appointment for an auditor to come to the house.

Fine, so far, we reasoned. Told to have our fuel bills on hand, we combed through our records. All the records were in dollars spent, however, not gallons of oil and kilowatt-hours consumed, so we asked for a monthly breakdown of usage.

That was a benefit, we found out. We could see that although our bills kept on increasing, the wood stove had actually cut oil consumption in half, even though our use of electricity was distressingly high.

The audit took three hours and was split into four parts: (1) interview, (2) examination, (3) calculation, and (4) recommendation.

We looked at the fuel oil and electricity figures together and talked about our family life style.

The house examination began in the basement with a thorough inspection of the heating system, including the smoke reading, percentage of carbon dioxide, net stack temperature, and combustion efficiency. The auditor discovered that the efficiency of the oil burner had dropped 10 percent since its midsummer tuneup.

We learned also that we could install a flame-retention device at very low cost, which would further increase the burner's energy efficiency.

The auditor pointed out that the heating pipes had been insulated with asbestos, which was beginning to deteriorate, and showed us how to wrap the pipes with an elastomeric covering to prevent any health hazard.

Although the hot-water heater was new and had interior insulation, the addition of an outside insulation jacket was an inexpensive way to reduce heat loss even further.For the same reason he strongly advised us to insulate the hot-water pipes as well.

The next step in the house examination was to look at all the places where warm air could escape. The energy auditor looked at crawl spaces, door, windows , walls, and the attic. Throughout the process, he pointed out areas where our home was losing heat unnecessarily and described methods and materials to remedy the problem.

We talked about renewable energy resources. While we took advantage of passive solar heat, we had not seriously considered an active solar-energy system to heat out water.


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