ANNUAL MANUAL: GIMMESHELTER: Energy Audits: Where are you $$$ going?

Mandi Burbage
Project Manager, Charlottesville Community Design Center


Q: We'd like to make sure our home is more energy efficient this winter and in years to come, but where do we begin? How do we know what parts of our house we should improve? And aren't there government incentives for this stuff? 

A: Of course, sealing leaks around doors, windows, electrical outlets, and duct work is the obvious place to start, but understanding how much energy you are really using at home is a critical first step to lessening your energy use in the long run. 

Household energy use varies widely depending on climate, total square footage, and the number of people living with you. It's estimated that homes built before 1960 spend 20 percent more on energy than homes built after 1960. In Charlottesville, approximately 47 percent of homes were built before 1960. 

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, here is how a typical household's energy consumption breaks down:

Heating and cooling 44%

Water heating 13%

Lighting 12%

Refrigeration 8%

Home electronics 6%

Laundry appliances 5%

Kitchen appliances 4%

Other uses 8%

To know exactly in what areas your home could stand improvement, it's a good idea to get a professional energy audit to assess the energy performance of your home. These typically cost between $250 and $500, depending on the size of your home.  Auditors look at your heating and cooling system, water heater, lighting, and appliances to determine exactly where your energy dollars are going. 

The entire process takes between three and five hours, depending on the size and condition of your house. After the evaluation is complete, the rater will share with you a list of recommendations for improving your house's overall energy performance. He or she will work with you to identify the most cost effective improvements that can be made to address your home's energy inefficiencies.

While an audit is a good thing to do, it can be cost prohibitive for some households. For the do-it-yourselfers out there who know where the problem areas are and just want to fix them, we are distributing free copies of the Virginia Energy Savers Handbook (put out by the VA Dept. of Mines, Minerals & Energy) at  the Charlottesville Community Design Center. The guide is very user friendly and will walk you through many effective household improvements aimed at reducing energy use.

Once you've invested in an energy audit, it's important to follow through with the auditor's recommendations in order to actualize the potential cost and energy savings in your home. Ask your auditor to provide you with a prioritized list of improvements that quantify the length of time it will take to see a return on your investment in household energy savings.

You can also check out  common energy-related improvements with cost analysis by the visiting the U.S. Department of Energy's Home Energy Saver website at ( The CCDC's new website, SPARK! (, is also a great local resource for learning more about energy conservation, both locally and globally. In fact, the SPARK! program has three Kill-A-Watt meters that it will lend out to people for a week at a time so they can measure how much energy different household appliances are using. Those interested can stop by CCDC at 100 5th St NE on the Downtown Mall or email SPARK! director Eric Gilchrist at

And yes, there are government financial incentives for improving your energy efficiency, both at the federal (visit the Department of Energy's website to find out more: and local levels. Property owners in Charlottesville who are able to demonstrate that a building's energy performance exceeds the Virginia building code by 30 percent are eligible to take a one-time 50 percent property tax deduction. The incentive applies to both residential and commercial properties. You can visit the City's Neighborhood Development Services website ( to learn more about this incentive program. 

Considering an energy audit? Consider these local pros: Airflow Diagnostics: Tom Kavounas, 293-4556. Airflow Home Energy Diagnostics: Jimmy North, 979-4328. Cville Enviro: Russ Edwards, 882-1781. Home Tune Up: Jim Gannon, 263-6521. Think Little Home Energy: John Semmelhack, 409-3970.