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Before homeowners can make meaningful improvements to increase their home's energy efficiency or comfort level, it's useful to get a report card, or audit, of what's working well and what could be changed.

Kevin Gilleran, a Santa Rosa-based energy management consultant, is among a cadre of North Bay professionals trained to scrutinize a house by conducting a comprehensive energy audit. Gilleran has two bachelor's degrees from Sonoma State University, in economics and energy management and design, and has 20 years experience in energy engineering and management.

Q: Why would a homeowner ask for an energy audit?

A: A homeowner might have several motivations. They may have comfort issues, such as the back of the house is too cold and the front is too warm. They may have utility bills that are higher than they want., or they may have heard about the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP).

Q: How do you know who to hire to conduct an energy audit?

A: The minimum threshold should be finding someone who is certified to do this type of analysis. The SCEIP program has a list of people certified to do Home Energy Rating System audits for existing homes, or you can contact the California Building Performance Contractors Association for a list of certified energy auditors.

Q: How much does a typical energy audit cost?

A: The cost varies based on the approach taken, but will probably range between $500 and $1,500. It might depend on the age of the house, its size, and ease of access to the areas that need to be evaluated, such as the basement and attic. We also look at a minimum of one year's energy and water usage bills to measure the utility data. The audit can be divided into two parts — looking at the big picture of how well the house is operating and at the scope of improvements needed to make the house more energy and water efficient and more comfortable.

Q: Does the homeowner participate in the audit?

A: It's good when the homeowner accompanies us as we do the audit. Studies have shown the homeowner is more likely to make improvements if they've been with us while we're evaluating the home's efficiency. Sometimes we even ask them to help us take measurements.

Q: What are the health issues impacting energy inefficient homes?

A: There are heating systems with ducts in crawl spaces that have standing water and are pulling in moisture and pushing it into the house. This can be a problem for people with asthma and dust allergies and other allergies. Improving air filtration can reduce mold and mildew, which is a health concern for everyone.

Q: What kind of upgrades might homeowners learn about during an audit?

A: They may see the air leakage at a doorway and find out how to make the doorway tighter. If there is water leakage, we might talk about how they can save money with a more efficient faucet or showerhead. It's important to make suggestions the homeowner can live with and show them a range of options. They might save money by getting rid of an old refrigerator or desktop computer monitor. I try to open their eyes to how the building is being used. If you just give someone a document, it's likely to sit on their desk.

Q: If you're planning a home remodel or renovation, is it a good idea to have a contractor or architect accompany an energy consultant while doing an audit?

A: Yes, it's beneficial for the contractor to walk through with us or have the architect involved in a goals meeting for the house. Some contractors are more familiar than others in making the recommended energy optimization upgrades. The county's Joblink program has funds to train contractors how to do this work.

Q: What exactly do you do during an audit and what devices or tools do you use?

A: We follow the California (Home Energy Rating System) guidelines and the national Building Performance Institute test procedures. We look at the building "envelope," meaning the box that protects us from the outside. Is there proper insulation, windows, doors, caulking and sealing? We do building envelope investigations with a blower door, infrared camera, duct tester and combustion analyzer. We look at heating and cooling devices and big electrical usages such as lights and pumps. We observe building water management, such as are there broken gutters, deteriorated siding and water drainage issues. With the heating, ventilation and air condition systems we do duct testing, air flow and air speed measurements. We audit the use of electrical, gas and water using appliances. We borrow a device from PG&E, which we leave on for two weeks, which logs data pertaining to a house's energy efficiency.

Q: What can homeowners do with the information they get following an energy audit?

A: There might be a one-page executive summary, and the complete report might be 4 to 10 pages. It will include a priority list of measures they can take to make the house more energy efficient. The homeowner can then ask a contractor for a request for proposal based on the recommended work.

Q: What are some simple energy upgrades a do-it-yourselfer could do on a weekend with purchases from a hardware or home improvement store?

A: You can take off the aerator on a faucet or showerhead and replace with a low-flow device. In the yard or garden, convert from hand watering to drip irrigation. Replace pop-up high-flow sprinklers with low flow sprinkler heads.

Put electrical devices on a "smart" power strip so you can easily turn them off. Purchase a power strip with a built-in occupancy sensor and put it on your desk so it turns off your computer and lights when you're gone.

The nonprofit Energy Federation's Web site, EFI.org, has some good ideas about easy energy upgrades for homeowners and offers online shopping for products like nightlights, thermostats, air filters, smoke alarms and portable fans and heaters.

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