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No matter how well a home's building envelope performs, air can still infiltrate through cracks around windows; gaps under the front door; or penetration points for cam lights, wires and pipes

December 01, 2009

 

FLIR systems, such as this Fluke model,

spot air leaks and temperature changes.

No matter how well a home's building envelope performs, air can still infiltrate through cracks around windows; gaps under the front door; or penetration points for cam lights, wires and pipes, says Mickey Schuch, president of home auditing and retrofitting firm Building Energy Experts. The government agrees, too. The U.S. Department of Energy says these leaks can account for as much as 30 percent of a home's annual heating cost.

Home energy audits, Schuch says, are a blend of high technology and common sense. The main weapons auditors employ are the well-known blower door tests coupled with Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) Thermography cameras that can see subtle temperature swings around the inside and outside of a home.

Thermography, according to The Residential Energy Services Network, measures surface temperatures by using handheld infrared video and still cameras. These tools see light that is in the heat spectrum. Images on the video or film record the temperature variations of the building's skin, ranging from white for warm regions to black for cooler areas. When a blower door test is conducted, says Anthony Stonis of Building Energy Experts, air leaking out of electrical outlets and cam lights can be seen as black streaks in the image. The resulting images help the auditor determine whether insulation is needed. They also serve as a quality control tool to ensure that insulation has been installed correctly.

Schuch warns that there is a fairly hefty investment for a remodeler to re-tool his or her business. "We have about $35,000 in each truck on the road — just in testing equipment. It's just like any high-technology item. The technology in the cameras has gotten so much better, but the price tends to stay about the same."

Though Schuch says the tools can add up, those interested in conducting energy audits will also have to hit the books. Remodelers and contractors, says ASERusa's Gary Fries, C-HERS, G-HERS, NAHB-AV, will probably need to take at least two extensive courses at about $1,200 each.

"There's plenty of work to be done for auditors," says Fries. "The top problems we see are HVAC duct distribution. Leaks average 30 percent before reaching each room in the home."

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