Energy Audits: Wasteful or Worth It?

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Lori and Marek Fuchs have never fought in their 16 years of marriage — except over money. In this column, Mr. and Mrs. Fuchs, a real-life married couple with three kids (ages 12, 8 and 5), articulate their very different approaches to personal finance.

This week, the Fuchs talk about their recent energy audit. He says, despite his original doubts, the audit was worth it. She says "I told you so."

Mrs. Fuchs: Admit it.

Mr. Fuchs: Absolutely not. Admit what?

Mrs. Fuchs: That we were right to have that energy audit of our house, even though it cost $300.

Mr. Fuchs: While it pains me to admit you were right, — ouch, ouch, oh, the agony — you were. But, man, I was really apprehensive at first. They came to our house with a big exhaust fan, which they affixed to the front door, blocking out all the space around the fan. Then they turned it on and the ensuing air flow revealed cracks and crevices where the breeze from the outside comes into the house and replaces warm, expensive heat with outdoor chill.

Mrs. Fuchs: That’s right. You thought that the only solutions would be to install new windows and to insulate the whole house from top to bottom. Both were so expensive that you all but dismissed even the assessment. You didn’t reckon that, thanks to the assessment, we’d learn relatively inexpensive solutions that will save us a lot of money by using less electricity and natural gas, and that there are financial incentives to do so.

Mr. Fuchs: It’s the story of our lives — you knew it all.  In all seriousness — actually, that was kind of serious — I’ll admit it: the idea of a giant exhaust fan seemed like a gimmick. And I never quite realized that simple solutions like caulking between the baseboards and floor, where there is space in an old 1920s era house like ours, can save money and make your toes feel more comfortable on a daily basis.

Mrs. Fuchs: As long as you use a certified person for your assessment, it can be quite educational and useful to homeowners from both an economic and comfort level. As in our case, many certified assessors are willing to roll the price of the assessment toward fixes. And the fixes run the gamut from the inexpensive, like caulk, to a full insulation job. And even that can pay for itself in energy savings, in our case in less than eight years. There are federal and state incentives too.

Mr. Fuchs: Tell them what you did. You became the neighborhood HMO for insulation.

Mrs. Fuchs: Well, I don’t know about an HMO — people had choice here. But I did get us buying power by organizing about a dozen neighbors, so we could negotiate as a group. (Not to mention using each other’s expertise and instincts to find the right companies.)

Mr. Fuchs: Interestingly enough, out of the dozen or so neighbors in our energy assessment collective, a lot opted for an economical, half-way insulation, which is supposed to pay off in three or four years, according to estimates. This, though, involves insulating the rim joints (where your house hits the foundation and, after settling over years, leaves gaps) and the attic, where heat rises and, without proper insulation, dissipates into the sky above. Those who went this route paid about $4,000.

Mrs. Fuchs: They’ll save money, the environment and the tips of their toes.

Mr. Fuchs: Toasty toes. Money spent wisely.

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