Home Improvement, but Smarter

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Somedays homeownership feels more like home repair triage to me. Managing and completing our home improvement / maintenance projects can seem never-ending. Adding energy efficiency to our goals makes the task even more daunting. I've been considering a comprehensive home energy audit so I can better understand our energy use. Thankfully, I found a FREE! online tool for evaluating our home efficiency projects. Behold the Home Energy Saver.

There are so many factors (price, operating cost, lifespan) to consider that choosing one home upgrade over another feels like a shot in the dark. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in conjunction with the DOE, EPA, HUD, etc. has created the Home Energy Saver. The Home Energy Saver quickly computes your home's energy use based on methods developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, based on a detailed description of the home which you provide. By providing more information about the home you will receive increasingly customized results along with energy-saving upgrade recommendations.

Here is a quick list of pros and cons for the Home Energy Saver.

• It's Free!
• Energy use report is tailored to your zip code
• Questionnaire can be filled out in about an hour (it's detailed, can specify light fixtures, wattage and hours used)
• Saveable Session - the questionnaire and report can be saved and edited at will
• Upgrade Report gives a payback period for each upgrade and you can specify the upgrade and its costs
• Upgrade Report also calculates ROI on energy improvements

• This isn't a comprehensive performance audit (e.g. no blower door test), it relies on estimates and averages
• Questionnaire didn't easily account for a LCD computer monitor or line-drying clothes.
• You need to have energy use info for each appliance, furnace, water heater, etc.
• Garbage In, Garbage Out*
• I found it by accident!

* If you enter bad or incomplete data you'll get inaccurate results. I already know much of the efficiency info for our home but it still took a while to gather all the data needed for the questionnaire.

If you have a competitive streak there is one more feature you'll want to check out. The Home Energy Saver compares your home carbon footprint to your neighbors! After completing the questionnaire, click the green foot with 'Map Your Home's Carbon Footprint'. A pop-up window ranks your energy use by state, zip code or by individual user. Now you can find out if your neighbors have fat (carbon) feet, or if you do!

Our home has an estimated annual carbon footprint of 8.2 tons, which is pretty good for our zip code. More importantly, the Home Energy Saver helps me compare various possible upgrades (a new refrigerator vs. water heater vs. more insulation) for payback period and R.O.I., not just the upfront costs. Adding in utility rebates and tax credits make some of these upgrades even more affordable. My list of projects isn't any shorter, but at least I can compare them on a more equal basis.

More Info:

Home Energy Saver

Wikipedia - Energy Audit

What is a HERS Rating?

Residential Energy Services Network

PNM Rebates and Discounts

Federal Tax Credits for Consumer Energy Efficiency