Turns out Duct Tape Cannot Fix Everything: Things I Learned during our Free Energy Audit

by on June 21, 2010 · 11 comments

It is nice to have an experienced professional come into your home and objectively review its inefficiencies without an ulterior motive; AC repairmen want to sell you products, and home warranty companies want to hide your home’s defects so that they do not have to pay to have them fixed. But an energy audit from an electric company—a company that makes profits from you keeping all of your inefficiencies in high gear—is a good way to find out what is really adding to your electric bill’s bottom line.  

With four full-time energy consultants, Reliant Energy is offering Reliant Energy Customers in the Houston area a free energy audit as of May of this year.  While I am not currently a Reliant Energy customer, I agreed to be a guinea pig for my readers and have one of their consultants audit our home. Boy am I glad I did—the experience led me to an energy enlightenment.

Energy Usage

To begin the audit we discussed our energy usage since moving into our home last September (typically an audit will look at energy usage over the past two years).  Over the winter we averaged $45 a month in electricity bills at 10.5 cents per kilowatt, and $120 per month in natural gas bills. While we have not been in this home for a summer season, the month of September last year was stifling and our electric bill was $150, while our natural gas bill was $27. The consultant was noticeably impressed as he plugged our numbers into a sheet. Apparently, homeowners with the same square footage as ours typically average $310 per month in electricity costs—a figure that floored me. Still, I sheepishly admitted that we would like to see our energy costs come down even more. 

Energy Inefficiencies

The consultant put all of the paperwork away, and delved into the physical mechanics of our home, something I could tell he was itching to do. First stop was the attic where he found several sizable holes in our ductwork. He pointed out the area he was talking about, and told me that it is a do-it-yourself (DIY) project that we would just need to purchase some tape for (as he was speaking, I envisioned a Frugal Confessions Friday entry complete with duct tape, flashlights, and bandanas to hold back the gobs of sweat). I was excited by this first nugget of information, as not only had he diagnosed part of the problem behind our stagnant air situation, but he offered a solution that did not involve bringing a repairman onto our property. I asked if the standard duct tape would do, and he told me that I need to use something called UL-181 tape because it will hold up in the heat of the attic. This tape has been used to close up the seams around the rest of the system, but he pointed out that the tape has a shelf life, and that we should reapply.

Another issue with our attic appears to be with the insulation. Our home was built in 1975, and the value on the insulation used was R-12. Currently the EPA recommends R-38, so we are well behind the times. Once again though, an easy enough solution: blown-in insulation you can do yourself. He mentioned that typically the machine rental is free if you purchase the actual insulation.

Next, he moved downstairs. With a little laser-beam gun, he was able to determine the inlet temperature into our AC system, and then the outlet temperature from each of our vents. We are actually in the process of having our downstairs AC compressor replaced with our home warranty company (an upcoming article), so we knew the stats would be bad. For our living room, the air is going in at 79 degrees, and coming out at just 76 degrees. In our bedroom it’s even worse with a pathetic outlet temperature of 81 degrees, which means that essentially air is being heated up in our AC unit…not cooled down. He noted that typically you should see an outlet temperature of 60 degrees. After taking a look at our very, very old system outside, he commented that an AC unit will reach its peak at about 10 years. The age of our unit is 20 years, which explains why our cat Lyla now takes to lying completely flattened out on our cool tile floor, or why we have taken to napping in the afternoons when the heat in our home has literally sucked the life out of us.  

Energy Savers

Looking at our home, the consultant found some great energy savers, such as the solar screens on the east and west facing windows and the CFL light bulbs I installed all around the house after first moving in. Plus, he was particularly impressed when I discussed our unplugging habit.

Energy Efficiency Resources

To find out your own home’s inefficiencies and focus your efforts and dollars on fixing the problem, Reliant customers can schedule a home energy audit by calling 1-888-339-7378 or contacting HomeEnergyAdvisor@reliant.com. For people who are not Reliant energy customers, you can contact your energy company and ask if they offer a similar service. Energy Star has a list of resources for finding a good home energy auditor, or even on how to conduct your own home audit.

Before making any energy updates to your home this year, check out the tax incentives to do so. Only certain models of products apply, so make sure you choose one off of the list and wait for sales to maximize your savings. Some state governments still have cash available for rebates on energy upgrades under the Cash for Appliances program (unfortunately rebates are closed for Texas). Also, currently the Senate and Congress are hashing out the Cash for Caulkers bill to provide further tax incentives to upgrade old appliances and inefficient house systems. Experts think this new legislation will be introduced in the latter part of the year, and could be quite lucrative for people looking to make their homes more energy efficient.

Finally, here are some articles about saving money on your utility bills:

Our New CenterPoint Smart Meter: Will it Really Save Us Money?

Reduce Your Electricity Bill by Choosing an LCD TV Instead of Plasma

Old Appliances Really Do Use More Electricity

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Mrs. Accountability

I’m sure you will be able to lower your electricity bill with the new information from the audit, especially the holes in that flex duct! Ours is under our home and my husband has to examine it every so often because small critters chew holes in it causing leaks. Eventually we plan to replace the flimsy flex duct with insulated metal. Thanks for the link to my article on how old appliances use more energy (tons of it!)

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Amanda L. Grossman

Hello Mrs. Accountability! Yeah, aside from the heat, I cannot wait to get up in our attic and tape up all of those seams and holes. I can feel the extra money in my pocket all ready….:).

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Little House

It’s great to hear that an energy audit can really save you money. We really need to ditch the old refrigerator that is in our rental home. However, because we don’t own it, we’re stuck with it until we move. It runs constantly and I know it is the reason for half our electric bill! Thanks for that link.

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Amanda L. Grossman

Hello Little House!

You are welcome–I am glad you found it useful.

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Thankfully Thrifty

I love this! Wish we could take advantage of this, but I’m not in Houston. However, we had to have our AC replaced today. (I think you’d appreciate my post on that: http://www.thankfullythrifty.com/2010/06/bargaining-on-home-repairs/ )
And when I was taking bids for this, we were told the same thing about our ducts leaking out cool air and letting hot attic air in and to DIY with tape! I think this must be a common problem in older houses.

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FruGal

Hello Thankfully Thrifty!

I am glad you are enjoying my blog–great minds think alike:). I will definitely check yours out!

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Sustainable PF

We wrote about the program up here in Ontario Canada and how we will get about 35% of our retrofit investment back. Great idea – greening the home.
Sustainable PF recently posted..Weekend Reading – The Renewable Energy Edition

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Bonnie Majmundar

This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your magnificent post. Also, I have shared your website in my social networks!

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