Healthy Beginnings

Home Energy Audit

whole-house-energy-management-300Q: You wrote a while ago about how to do a home energy audit. Someone told me recently they had an energy rating conducted on their home and it sounded like the same thing to me. Why the different wording?

A: There’s really a big fundamental difference between these two home strategies that are both becoming more popular all the time. An energy audit is a thorough inspection of a home to find out ways to improve its energy-efficiency, while a rating is a numerical score based on an energy audit that is used for such purposes as easily comparing the efficiency of different houses and to qualify for an energy-efficient mortgage.

An energy audit examines all aspects of a home, ranging from the efficiency of its heating and cooling systems and the tightness of the windows to the levels of insulation in the attic and the energy use of the appliances. It’s something you can do yourself, or have your utility company do, or have conducted by a professional energy auditor who might use a number of tools like blower doors or infrared photography to get precise measurements.

An energy rating includes a thorough audit, but goes a step further by having the rater put the score into a computer program that quantifies its level of efficiency between 0 and 100. This gives a standardized evaluation of the home’s energy efficiency and its expected energy costs. There’s a growing industry around the country of trained and certified energy raters who conduct the audits and prepare the ratings. If you’re selling your home, a good energy rating gives you a strong marketing tool. If you’re buying a home, a good rating lets you know that the home is energy-efficient, it will help pinpoint areas that might be improved, and it might qualify you for a special mortgage that can qualify you for higher-priced home and even lower your mortgage rate.

I strongly encourage people to have ratings conducted before they buy an existing or a new home or do any remodeling. While a house is the biggest investment most people make, it also comes with a fair amount of upkeep costs in energy bills over its lifetime. Knowing what to expect in energy use can help plan your budget and better estimate the true costs of home ownership.

You can find a listing of certified energy raters in your state at list is maintained by the Residential Energy Services Network, and their raters have undergone extensive training and demonstrated their technical proficiency to earn their certification.

Q: Winter will be here soon, and my neighbor mentioned to me that she was going out to buy new houseplants because they keep her home warmer in cold weather. Does this really work?

A: Actually it does. Plants give off humidity, and this can make you feel warmer. But let me point out that there are a number of common-sense things like this that you can do to keep warm in winter while keeping your heating costs low.

One of the most important things you need to do is open your drapes and blinds during the day to let the sun’s warmth in, and then close them at night to keep that heat from escaping. Get your heating system inspected before the real cold weather gets here to make sure it is operating efficiently. Keep the thermostat no higher than 68 degrees, and when outside temperatures are the lowest at night, turn the thermostat down a few degrees to minimize heat losses. And dress for the weather. Putting on a sweater and warm clothes indoors will keep you warmer, reducing the temptation to adjust the thermostat up a few degrees.

Ken Sheinkopf is a communications specialist with the American Solar Energy Society ( Send your energy questions to