Long-overdue energy audit raised spirits, lowered energy bills

February 20, 2010|By Jacques Kelly

The other night, my brother stood in my front hall and handed me a compliment. He told me my house felt warm.

Leave it to family members to speak their minds. What he really meant was that my house is not chilly, the way it had been for the previous 30 winters. Although my home is built much like a classic Baltimore rowhouse, long and narrow, it is free-standing. Cold air leaked in on all four sides.

And like many of Baltimore's aged homes (mine dates to the 1870s), it was expensive to heat. And despite my paying high fuel bills, each room seemed to adopt a different temperature.

About a year ago, I had had enough and called in the energy auditors. This was after frozen water pipes burst the morning of Jan. 17, 2009, and a few days later my prized tin kitchen ceiling had to be pulled apart to repair the extensive damage.

Friends suggested this professional energy audit, wherein your home undergoes about a half-day of tests for air leaks. I initially thought this would be too much science for me to accept. I was also skeptical.

I took a deep breath and called in BGE Home for the energy audit. (The price last year was $260 for the home checkup. There are other auditors out there, and Baltimore also has a weatherization program open to economically qualified families and individuals.)

The BGE Home people told me I needed to insulate around the areas where every floor joist joins the masonry walls in my basement. Once I had gone that far, I decided to proceed the rest of the way and brought in handyman contractors. The first contractor did not like the tedium of the job and more or less quit after his patience ran out, leaving the task half-done. He was polite and told me that he had other work to do. I don't think I would like working for hours at this task, but it needed to be done.

I found two brothers to finish the job. Along the way, we bought a lot of goopy insulation shot from aerosol cans. The stuff looks like yellow whipped cream. It also works.

Almost as soon as the work started, my old house began to feel more comfortable and less drafty, although a good wind still gets my doors rattling like a horror movie.

Each month, as a new BGE bill arrives (I heat with natural gas), I compare the month with the counterpart pre-energy audit month. The insulation work cost about $2,400. But so far, my bills have dropped $1,092. At this rate, in a little more than two heating seasons, I will have recovered the costs. The most drastic price drop came in the January bill, when the heating and electric tab was $362 cheaper than the previous January.

I also had another decline. Almost every winter, mice treat my kitchen like their own version of Florida. Part of the energy audit required that we fill up a zillion little air holes around pipes and counters. The result? I have not had a mouse invade the kitchen this winter. Some years the mice are so bad they climb the stairs and rattle around in my bedroom's wastepaper baskets. I've had them get in the TV room and watch old movies with me. No more. They've been audited out.

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