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Home energy audits add up to savings

By Peter Tonge / July 29, 1981

Medfield, Mass.

To Art McCarty it had to be "one of the best investments a homeowner can make." For just $10 he had received the sort of detailed information that would save him hundreds of dollars in the months ahead and who knows how many thousands over the years.

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To Joe Mitchell, who had just completed a two-hour, cellar-to-attic energy audit on the 170-year McCarty home, pointing up the energy leaks and other energy-waste spots, the savings accruing to individual homeowners add up to most impressive energy savings for the state and almost incredible savings for the nation as a whole.

As someone once put it, the US could be the Saudi Arabia of energy savings in this world. But to get there, says Mr. Mitchell, every home, office building, and factory needs an energy audit if it was erected before tight construction and thick insulation became the very recent norm.

According to researchers at Princeton University, a nationwide auditing program on America's 70 million homes, if followed up, could cut home-heating demands in half and save the equivalent of two-thirds of our current Arab oil imports. Think what that would do to extend world oil supplies and curb rising prices? The federal government is aware of all this, which is why it now is promoting home-energy audits, subsidized by the utility companies of each state.

In Massachusetts, where the largest and most comprehensive of the nation's utility- sponsored programs got under way recently, the savings in this first year are projected to total $14.5 million -- and that will come with only a modest response from homeowners.

In the relatively expensive Northeast, insulating the walls of a home will cut fuel costs, at current rates, by between $350 and $500 a year. Ceiling insulation savings can amount to between $55 in small homes to almost $500 in larger houses. Caulking and weatherstripping all doors and windows saves between $102 and $146. Insulating the hot-water heater saves between $5 and $30 ; water pipes, $15 and $50; hot-air ducts, $50 and $80.

Installing a clock thermostat that automatically turns down the central-heating system during the day and puts it back up shortly before you return home from work, can cut between $160 and 270 from the annual bill. Replacing the old oil burner with one of the newer efficient units can save between $390 and $485; new gas-furnace savings amount to between $200 and $380 at current prices.

So much for the general estimates. An audit, on the other hand, will tell you exactly what steps to take to upgrade your home, how much each of these steps will cost if (a) you do it yourself or (b) you get a contractor to do it, and how much each of these improvements will provide in annual savings at current energy costs.

Moreover, this is done right in your own home. A portable computer, tied in by telephone to the central data bank, makes this remarkably efficient service possible.

At the McCarty's home, for example, the auditor dialed a phone number, placed the receiver on the portable computer, and tapped in information on the home from its moderately efficient oil burner in the cellar to its three inches of insulation in the ceiling.

What returned moments later in printout form were nine suggestions to upgrade the energy efficiency in the home, the cost of implementing those suggestions, and the savings each year at that day's fuel rates.