Green Inspections

As the green revolution enters the mainstream market, more people are becoming familiar with environmentally sustainable products. With gas prices on the rise, energy efficiency has become a major priority for consumers. Global changes have led us to seek out ways to improve our everyday lifestyle, especially in our homes. The federal government has been a leader in providing us with efficiency information through its Energy Star program.

The Energy Star logo can be found on eco-friendly appliances, and now even newly constructed homes can carry this seal of approval. To further its efforts, the Energy Star program has professionals who can asses and measure your home's energy efficiency. This relatively new breed of home inspectors is often referred to as either energy auditors or energy raters.

New Inspection Trend

These professionals are usually independent contractors who have gone through a certification program offered by Energy Star. Because many of these energy raters come from the home-inspection industry, there is a feeling that this might be the new trend in home inspections. Although a home inspection may prove useful to any consumer, it is generally done during the sales process of a home. Energy audits are mainly being done by homeowners who want to improve their home's energy efficiency. Many older homes would not pass such an audit, so I do not believe that the real estate industry would encourage such an investigation during a sale. The cost to hire an energy rater can range from $500 to $700.

But if you're looking to keep your expenses down, you can actually conduct your own energy audit by following the steps outlined on the Energy Star web site. This basic investigation of your home can provide you with a good deal of information. However, an energy rater has the equipment to discover where the problem areas of your home really lie. They will be looking at the insulation in the attic and walls, the seals around windows and the appliances and mechanical equipment (like your AC unit). Much of this can easily be handled by a homeowner.

Thermography is Accurate

One of the techniques used by the professional is thermography, also known as thermal imaging. This latest technique has been creating a lot of buzz in the home-inspection industry, especially with some inspectors claiming its usefulness at detecting mold. The thermography process produces an image that relays information about the amount of heat in a given object. A trained contractor can interpret these images to tell you if your home is lacking insulation or possible moisture penetration points, which is then confirmed with a moisture meter. Because this equipment is expensive, the cost of this specialized inspection has been kept higher than a standard inspection in your area. As the cost of the equipment drops in the next five years, the price and availability of this type of inspection will increase. Thermography is an accurate way to detect areas in your home that need more insulation.

One problem that I see with this audit is determining the efficiency of the appliances or equipment in your home. My favorite example of this is Bosch. This company out of Germany has been known to produce some of the most energy efficient appliances for the home, but they do not carry the Energy Star logo. The firm simply does not submit its products for evaluation. Energy Star does not test everything that may go into your house -- this would be too costly for them -- so they only evaluate consumer goods that are submitted to them. If you look on the nameplate of your dishwasher, you will see that there is no data on it that can help you to determine the machine's energy efficiency. Inspectors usually look at the amount of energy used per hour (kilowatts/hour) or we rely on the certification logo.

Follow these easy tips if you want to improve your home or are preparing to buy a new home that's more energy efficient:

• Look for Energy Star logos on appliances.
• Check out the home's windows and walls for insulation.
• Try to identify older mechanical appliances, such as a water heater, that may need to be upgraded or replaced with a more energy-efficient model.

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