Although homeowners might be concerned about drafty windows or uncomfortable interior spaces, remodelers and other contractors  should take a whole-house approach when conducting a home performance audit, Asa Foss, of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), told several hundred pros attending the Greenbuild Conference in Phoenix last week.

“When you impact one part of the house, it impacts other parts of the house,” said Foss, manager of LEED Homes Technical Development. “That’s why we have to think of a house as a system.”

Foss, who was speaking during the conference’s Residential Summit, is a certified Building Performance Institute (BPI) building analyst and certified envelope professional, a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) rater, and a LEED AP Homes professional.

Foss said your local utility is a “great place to start” to find certified home performance auditors. He noted that HERS raters specialize in new construction and BPI auditors in existing houses. But, he added, becoming a certified auditor is a great way for remodelers to boost their business because they also can  perform the upgrades.

Foss outlined the steps of a thorough whole-house performance audit:
1.     homeowner interview
2.     exterior inspection
3.     interior inspection
4.     combustion safety testing
5.     blower door testing
6.     report to homeowners

There are a number of issues that might be uncovered during the audit, such as leaky ducts or cold walls, Foss said, noting several common fixes: 
--Air sealing
--Adding insulation.
--“Trying to install insulation in existing walls is difficult,” he said. “Focus on the attic, basement, and rim joists.” but always seal the house before adding insulation.
--Duct sealing
--HVAC upgrades, such as tune-ups or replacement of existing equipment
--Upgrading to Energy Star-rated appliances and windows

“With a $4,000 to $5,000 investment, you could see a 20% energy savings,” said Foss, who previously developed the Maryland Home Performance with Energy Star program. “That’s for big, old leaky homes or small ones.”

Besides providing utility bill savings, energy upgrades have other benefits, such as improving the comfort, health, and safety of the home’s occupants; reducing water usage; and making the structure more durable.

Nevertheless, Foss said that replacing windows is not cost effective. “That’s a great marketing pitch by window companies,” he contended. “Windows should be the last thing you replace,” unless, he added, they don’t work or are rotting. “If a window feels cold, buy curtains.”

But during the question-and-answer portion of the program, the green building advocate did say that storm windows are a cheap solution for leaky windows.

Jean Dimeo is Chief Editor Online for EcoHome.