Conversation with an Energy Auditor: David W. Malone

David W. Malone
1st Choice Energy
Austin, Texas

1st Choice EnergyWhat is the biggest overall misconception that homeowners have about energy efficiency?

I think the biggest misconception is that energy efficient measures cost a lot of money and aren't sound financial investments. To the contrary, when a homeowner in our part of the country takes the basic steps of insulating, weatherizing, and solar shading their home properly, the cost is not substantial. The "break even" point only takes a few years and the financial payback continues for decades – not to mention the immediate improvement in comfort.

Tell us a little about energy audits. Why are they important? What should homeowners expect?

The audit process is straight forward. Contact a local energy auditor in your community and ask them to perform an audit on your home. Tell them your concerns and the things that you've observed about the comfort and inefficiency of your home. Share with them your last twelve months of energy bills. Depending on the size of your home, an audit can take as little as an hour or as long as a day. As members of a family, a local community, and the larger world community, we all need to be good stewards of the natural resources we have. Each of us can do our part in conserving these resources by assuring that our homes – where we spend the majority of our time – are energy efficient. That's where energy audits come in and that's why they play such an important role.

In your experience, what are homeowners always the most surprised to learn from their energy audit results?

In our area of the country, ductwork is located in the attic, and the most surprising result of a duct leakage test is to learn the volume of conditioned air that goes into the attic and never reaches the interior of the home. Average duct leakage is 20% to 30% for homes ten years or older. I've seen it as high as 70%. This basically means homeowners are paying to heat and cool the local county! This is the kind of audit finding that homeowners can understand and really appreciate.

Are there any specific energy efficiency challenges that homeowners in your state or region face?

It's really the basics of energy efficiency that need continual attention. Our area of the country is hot and humid, so that means that windows need proper shading from solar heating using low-e coating, solar screens or film, awnings, etc; attics need adequate insulation; ducts need to be properly sealed to less than 10% leakage; and doors and plumbing penetrations need to be properly weatherized to reduce unwanted air infiltration.

What advice would you give a homeowner who is hesitant to schedule an energy audit because they fear the recommended improvements will be too expensive?

Well, you'll never know unless you ask! You may very well find that the needed repairs are simple and inexpensive. Uncorrected repairs can be expensive if they go uncorrected for years. I've audited homes with absolutely no insulation in the attic. The payback for correcting this type of condition can be as short as a year or two. My local utility company provides significant rebates for these types of residential energy upgrades. Check with your local utility company to see if they provide any financial assistance.

In that same vein, what's one low-cost weekend project that homeowners can do to make their homes more energy efficient?

Look under your kitchen and bathroom sinks and in your water heater closet. Are the holes in the wall sealed where your plumbing pipes penetrate the wall? You may need to slide back the chrome ring on the water or drain pipe to see if the penetration hole has been sealed. If you can see the inside of your wall, you need to seal the penetration. Use silicone caulk if the gap is small, or a can of expanding foam if the gap is large. This simple process will increase your indoor air quality by reducing the volume of unfiltered and unconditioned air entering your home.

Now it's time for some inspiration. Tell us about one of the best home success stories you've seen in your time in this field.

My favorite is the home with 70% duct leakage. They closed off their family room from the rest of their home because it was too uncomfortable. An air conditioning contractor advised that a larger air conditioning system was needed. However, an energy audit revealed completely deteriorated flex ductwork blowing open into the attic. Once the ductwork was replaced, they were able to comfortably heat and cool their family room again, and therefore reclaim it as a functional part of their home. It's always nice to help people save money and live more comfortably – all in the same process!