It’s like preparing for a physical. You know you need it, but you don’t want to hear what the doctor finds.
And you hate it when he pokes around everywhere.
I didn’t have a physical last month; my house did. I volunteered to be tested as part of the Home Energy Solutions program — a CL&P solution to high energy bills. (How oxymoronic does that last phrase sound?)
So — as part of the kickoff to the Westport Home Energy Challenge, whose goal is to conduct an HES assessment in at least 10 percent of the town’s homes over the next 3 years — I signed up to have my ducts inspected and doors blown. They would even twist my bulbs.
At the stroke of 8 on a recent Saturday morning, 2 men from New England Smart Energy — a CL&P subcontractor — rang my bell. Val Siretsanou — a personable, knowledgeable and (ho ho) energetic “home energy specialist” — took the lead.
He explained the process. First he would test my house for tightness and drafts; then he’d fix problem spots with foam, caulk, tape or whatever.
Next he would test my air conditioning and heating ducts for air flow, and seal as needed.
Finally he’d replace faucets and shower heads with low-flow devices, and replace up to 25 incandescent bulbs with energy-savers.
All that, for just a $75 co-pay.
As Val readied his equipment, we chatted. Every day is different, he said. He treats split levels, Colonials, big new homes, converted barns — you name it.
In terms of energy efficiency, age matters less than the tightness of the home’s “envelope.” I didn’t know houses had envelopes, but Val said that the amount of attention paid by a builder to things like insulation was key.
That’s sort of like a doctor saying the key to good health is good genes. We’re all at the mercy of stuff that happened long before we were born/bought our home.
The blower test.
It was a cold morning, but Val opened a sliding door. Using my square footage, he calculated how much air my home needed to be both energy efficient and healthy (too low a flow leads to mold). The answer: 718 cubic feet per minute.
I had no basis of comparison to know if that was good or horrible.
Next, Val attached an MRI-size device into the open door. The blower test took 5 minutes. I felt like I was waiting for the pathology report.
My air flow, I learned, was 3 times what it should be. I thought I’d failed.
Val put on his best reassurance face. “It sounds like a lot,” he says. “But that’s about average.”
Next, Val and his assistant used a smoke-like device to test my recessed lights. Drafts snagged the smoke and carried it high; it was clear my lights were sucking heat skyward. Val’s solution: Replace them with mounted fixtures.
On to my duct system, and good news: They were in great shape. Embarrassingly though, Val discovered that a heating register in my kitchen was closed. I hadn’t even known.
After a bit of caulking, sealing and other snuggifying measures, Val redid the blower test. This time my air flow was only twice the recommended rate. “We got it down by 600 cubic feet per minute,” he said. “Usually it’s only 200 to 250. That’s great!”
I high-fived myself, as if my doctor just reported that my cholesterol was way, way down.
The smoke test shows heat escaping through recessed lights.
Two hours later, my bell rang again. Brittany Chamberlin — New England Smart Energy’s “energy advisor” — was there to interpret the results, and answer questions.
She scanned the information, and praised the “great reduction” so far. She looked at the recommendation to replace recessed lights, and scheduled an electrician’s visit. She assured me that the changes were “little, not life changing,” quality-of-life-wise.
But, Val said — consulting his calculator — they would mean big payoffs. I’d save $245 a year on my electricity bill — and another $140 from the energy-saving bulbs alone.
Val and Brittany gave me extra goodies: printouts galore, with more arcane data than most hospital charts.
A glossy brochure on energy-efficient (CFL) light bulbs, which apparently are a tough sell for some people but which I immediately liked.
Flyers for rebates on everything from refrigerators and hot water heaters to insulation and dehumidifiers. Fortunately, most of my equipment is in fine working order.
This was a checkup I always knew I should have. Like many people, I put it off far too long. The results are in, and now I can breathe easier.
Especially because my air flow is so good .
(Interested in a Home Energy Solutions assessment? Click here — and tell ’em Dan Woog sent you!)