Thursday, February 19, 2009

Energy audit vs energy rating: What's the difference?

Essentially, an energy audit is an inspection resulting in a report of the energy usage of an existing building. An energy auditor can test the various components of your house, checking for the efficiency of the appliances and HVAC system, helping you analyze your utility bills, and suggesting repairs, upgrades, and maintenance items that will result in energy savings. A certified auditor (look for an auditor that has been certified by HERS) has tools that are not commonly available, such as the capability of doing thermal tests of the building envelope and pressurizing the house to discover hidden sources of air leakage. Standard home inpectoions, used for decades when buying and selling houses, do not substitute for a good home energy audit. Often, many of the corrections noted are not costly, such as caulking, sealing leaks, adding insulation where electric junction boxes are on exterior walls, etc. Anywhere that we can conserve energy reduces our utility costs, reduces our personal carbon "footprint" (coal-fired power plants put out a lot of carbon into the atmosphere, as well as other toxic pollutants), and can reduce our country's dependence of foreign energy sources. Good all around! An energy audit will cost between $400 and $550, but will teach you things about your house that you could never have learned another way!! As a certified Eco realtor, trained in energy and environmental issues surrounding property, I can help you find an energy auditor. Your energy audit is a bonus when you go to sell your house, since it shows that you have taken steps to reduce the utility bills for the property. Now, let's talk about an energy rating. At this point in time, it is not possible to "rate" an existing building, but new construction can apply for an energy rating. The most well-know and oldest rating system is a LEED rating, which predominantly rates commercial construction. The developer designs the project to include as many energy and environmental attributes as possible from a detailed list of possible "green" building techniques, materials, and design guidelines. Depending on how "green" the final project, it is then rated as LEED Gold, LEED Platinum, or other levels of enviromental and energy efficiency. LEED is working on ratings for new home construction. New homes are more typically submitted for an Energy Star rating, which is set up by the EPA and includes a checklist of the many design, materials, and techniques that can be used in residential construction. You will find more and more new homes projects advertised that the community is being built as an Energy Star rated community. The builder will then provide the prospective homebuyer with a list of the elements that make the property conform to the Energy Star rating. It is not yet possible to rate older construction for energy usage and environmental advantages. Older homes were built with using many different techniques, types of materials, siting, etc., but there are moves in the field to create a credible rating system for existing homes. At this point, we are happy to be able to have our older homes audited so that we can make them as earth-friendly and energy efficient as possible.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Commuting vs. housing cost trade-off

As I noted in the April 15, 2008 post on this blog, there is growing demand for housing near transit with buyers weighing the advantages of location vs. possible loss of living square footage and some privacy. The link at the end of that post is no longer working, so this link is the one to use to calculate the cost-benefit in the location choice, It is possible to save several addresses, edit each category shown in the calculator, and compare the cost of living in a specific location with the cost of the commute to work for that household. Check the Information link for specific instructions or just play with the categories to edit them. The calculator was created by the Urban Land Institute, an organization that develops land use policy in the DC Metro area. You will find all kinds of interesting information on their site; check the navigation panel to the left of the calculator tool.