Today we had a visit from B, an enthusiastic young man who works for an energy auditing firm. His company also does remediation work, and installs solar panels and geothermal systems and the like. But for today, we were simply interested in a complete energy audit of our 137-year-old home. We already knew from last winter that we had some serious issues; drafty doorways, cold floors, closets that felt like ice boxes, and crazy high oil and electricity bills. What we need to know is what is causing these problems and how we can fix them or change them for the better.
We started our four-hour meeting by discussing the house--its age, how we live in it, and what I knew about the current heating systems and how the home was built. We also went over a year's worth of utility bills for the propane, oil, and electricity. Then B got out his infrared camera and I showed him around the house, pointing out areas we had already noticed as weak spots in our energy fortress. R (under the weather and home from school) was roused from the couch long enough to see the dog on infrared, pronouncing it "Cool." I learned that our oldest son's room stays warmer in winter because the chimney for the furnace runs through his wall and emits heat. I also learned that what we had already suspected was in fact true: our exterior walls are NOT insulated. Not at all. Not one little bit. Nada. Zip. Nope. Nothing.
B then spent some time measuring rooms and ceiling heights indoors, and perimeter measurements outdoors. He went to the basement, where he checked the efficiency of our furnace and also inspected our crawlspaces; this was followed by a trip to the attic, from which he returned quite excited about "all the possibilities for improvement!" (Read: Your attic is so leaky you may as well not even have a roof on it!) After this, things got a little magical; B set up a door frame wrapped in red material, into which was placed a large fan. This whole contraption was wedged into our exterior doorway (door open) and the fan turned up to a speed of about 25mph. B brought out a special wand and we proceeded to walk around the house again as he held his wand around doors and windows and gaps and crevices, and swirly vapor appeared---sometimes it just kind of sat there, indicating normal to minimal leakage, but other times it blew and grew and moved, indicating a big ol' gap somewhere in the wall.
B will now write up a report with recommendations on how to improve our energy efficiency and save some coin. He prioritizes recommendations based on where he believes we will see the biggest improvements; whether that be in comfort or cost, I don't know. I am sure saving money will no doubt entail spending money; the question is how far are we willing to go? One of our motivations in doing this audit was our plan to put in central air in the next year or two. We know this is essentially pointless if our home is a sieve, so we need to have it sealed up enough to make a new heating/AC system worthwhile.
Some of the ideas tossed around today seem quite feasible: weatherstripping, caulking, and crawlspace insulation, for example. Air sealing and insulating the attic. But insulating the exterior of the house? We could get a patchy, but okay result attempting to blow stuff into the walls from the attic and basement; or a better result ripping off a few layers of siding, drilling holes every 16", blowing stuff in, filling the holes, and replacing the siding--but if the siding is damaged, it has to be replaced, and if it doesn't match? Hmm. We'd have what B called a "house scar"--ouch! I have even read about other people with older homes basically building a whole new exterior sheath, with the insulation between the old exterior and the new--but this seems way out of the realm of our possibilities....
When I get the final report I will be sure to share the results, as well as whatever decisions we make in our quest to "tighten" our home.