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Energy audit helpful step in improving home's efficiency

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Rhett Major, owner of Energy Doctor of North Huntingdon, demonstrates how to set up a blower door test on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. The test helps determine where a home has air leaks. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

When heating bills rise as the weather turns colder, the owner of a Murrysville-based home energy audit company expects to get busy.

“Home energy audits become real popular in the winter time. Once the December and January bills come in, we get busy in February, March and April,” said Michael J. Ashburn of Pittsburgh Energy Audit, which has conducted residential energy audits for five years in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.

Such an audit helps a homeowner determine whether a house is losing energy and money — and ways to correct problems and boost energy efficiency, according to the Department of Energy.

A professional technician can check a house for leaks, examine insulation, inspect the furnace and ductwork, perform a furnace blower door test, and use an infrared camera to detect leaks.

The government operates the Energy Star program, which claims to have helped people save $18 billion on utility bills in 2010 through energy-efficient products and practices. With energy conservation work performed by trained contractors, the Energy Department says, homeowners could slash utility bills by 20 percent.

Proper weatherization of a home is crucial to conserving energy and cheaper than buying a furnace or air conditioning unit, Ashburn said. Sealing leaks and adding attic insulation are important, he said.

“One-half of the heating we lose is in the ceiling” through the attic, Ashburn said.

Heat loss also can occur through walls, which cover more square footage of a house than the ceiling, said Rhett Major, owner of Energy Doctor of North Huntingdon, who does energy audits for commercial and residential properties. He has been in the business 25 years.

Armed with a thermal imaging detector to determine heat loss, Major said he finds that heat doesn't just escape around windows or doors. “Hidden heat loss” can occur in the basement.

The potential to save money prompted about 450,000 West Penn Power residential customers to participate in at least one of the utility's energy conservation programs since January 2010, when Act 129 mandated statewide utility conservation programs, said Todd Meyers, a spokesman for West Penn Power in Greensburg.

About 48,000 customers took advantage of its energy-efficient appliance rebate program, Meyers said. Almost 9,000 customers retired old, inefficient refrigerators, freezers and air conditioning units for recycling, Meyers said. About 13,000 customers took advantage of the utility company's free home energy online audit.

Customers can get a walk-through energy audit for $50. The auditor might install energy-saving products worth up to $50, which can include compact fluorescent light bulbs, energy-saving surge protectors, water heater tank wraps and water heater pipe insulation.

A walk-through or energy survey that identifies problems and suggest cost-effective solutions can cost $225 for most homes. A home energy tune-up with a detailed report on energy efficient measures can cost $335.

Though people might hesitate to have a home energy audit because of the cost, following an inspector's advice could save a homeowner money, said Douglas Arrison, CEO of, a Washington-based firm that markets the services of energy auditors in Pittsburgh and other cities.

“One of the best ways to save is not to use the energy,” Arrison said.

Arrison recommends homeowners select an independent energy auditor.

“The good auditors are the ones who don't do the repair work,” Arrison said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or

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