Energy Audit-Homeowner Education

During an energy audit, I occasionally come across a homeowner living in a newer home they had built or had purchased that did not received any training on the home’s systems or how to maintain the home.  In my opinion, understanding the basics of how your home works is an important detail in owning a home.  This weeks blog, homeowner education.

Let’s get a misconception out of the way first, nearly every system and product in a home will require at least some maintenance.  None are truly maintenance free.  There are a lot of materials and equipment in a home that require minimum maintenance.   As an example, lets look at vinyl siding, a minimal maintenance product.  At some point it will require a washing to continue to look new, and last longer.  This maintenance may only be required every few years.  Some equipment requires maintenance more often, such as cleaning the lint out of the dryer vent every few months.

There are a few critical systems in a home in both heating and cooling climates that can create problems within a home if not maintained. A good example is the heating system. In my climate, not performing regular inspections, adjustments and filter cleaning/changing will have a detrimental effect on not only the comfort of the home during cold weather, but if that system should fail, other systems will be effected, such as frozen water lines or damage to the structure of the home. Most homeowners cannot test modern heating and cooling systems for proper operation, this needs to be performed by a trained HVAC professional.

How about a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV). I have been in many homes where the homeowner didn’t have any idea what the thing hanging from the ceiling in the utility room was doing. I conducted an energy assessment on a home where the homeowners had purchased the home several years earlier. The HRV unit ran continuously during that time and was never inspected or cleaned. I educated that owner on how the HRV worked and instructed them to call an HVAC professional to come clean and test the unit. I knew enough not to open the HRV, it would be completely full of dead insects. A mess I wasn’t prepared to clean up.

Inside an HRV unit that has not been maintained.  Notice all the debris in the bottom of the unit, bugs!

Have you ever maintained your water heater? Storage style water heaters should be periodically drained and flushed to remove any sediment that accumulates in the bottom of the tank. Click here to see an entertaining water heater autopsy by Matt Risinger.  Instant or tankless water heaters also need to be maintained at least yearly.  Depending on usage, may be more often.

Even some electrical devices need periodic testing.  Arc fault breakers and ground fault circuit interrupters are an example.  Has a builder or electrician ever told you to push this button every few months?

A GFCI/AFCI combination breaker.  That purple button needs to be periodically pushed.

Recent changes in building codes have forced builders to construct very tight envelopes.  A home built 20 years ago will perform much differently than one built today.  Add the complexity of the systems within the home, a high efficiency furnace, HRV, automation in lighting and electrical controls, the list goes on and on.  Training the homeowner is critical!  I see the need in my community for not only educating the homeowner on the equipment within their home, but also education on the best practices when building and remodeling existing properties.  The custom showers and granite countertops are the pretty part of the home, what’s behind the drywall is even more important.

Because of what I see lacking in homeowner education, I am looking into starting a community education class, one that is very informal, based on a few other classes I’ve seen popping up in other communities around the country.  The class is call “Beer and B.S.”, short for beer and building science.  I am in the early planning stages of the class, hoping to have something scheduled for this coming winter.  For those of you in Northern Minnesota, I will be sure to announce the date and time of any classes on my Instagram account.

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