Conducting a green home audit Ã?Â¢Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½ the ultimate eco-trip.
Words by Lisa-Ann Hurlston-McKenzie
Does your home get a passing grade when it comes to being 'green'? A green home audit can help determine the eco-friendliness of your living environment by assessing your home's environmental performance based on the lifestyle of its inhabitants. Audits provide a guide to saving money and creating healthy living spaces by identifying opportunities for greater energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction and use of local products or services. Still relatively new across the Caribbean, the number of companies offering energy audits continues to grow. So, while do-it-yourself green home checklists are readily available, results tend to be more comprehensive when conducted by a professional trained in industry accepted standards.
Beyond the ‘feel good’ factor of living a greener lifestyle and channelling your inner eco-consumer, an audit can reap a wealth of rewards over and above saving you that vital chunk of change on utility bills. Proven to enhance the wellbeing of occupants, lower healthcare costs and increase productivity, improving indoor environmental quality offers benefits to both businesses and families seeking to ensure safe, healthy environments. What is more, undertaking an audit can boost the durability and green marketability of your house as in the US, where green homes that are professionally certified to ensure against ‘greenwashing,’ often attract higher asking prices.
So what is involved in a green home audit? A survey of your basic utility information, lifestyle choices and current practices is followed by an interior and exterior walk-through to examine opportunities to improve energy and water efficiency, air quality and natural resource use. Professional assessments can be quite involved and use sophisticated testing and monitoring equipment.
ENERGYThe energy audit will generate the biggest cost savings and greatly reduce your household’s environmental impact. Energy experts claim that most properties can cost-effectively achieve up to a 30 percent reduction in consumption through increased efficiencies in space cooling or water heating, with payback typically in two to three years. Your auditor may perform a blower door test for air leakage, use infrared equipment or temporarily install monitoring devices to accurately assess areas for improvement. Longer-term energy management tools for the homeowner are easy-to-install meters (e.g. Kill-A-WattTM Monitor) and wall-mounted or web-based whole house energy dashboards. Among other things, your home will be audited for:
- Energy-efficient appliances and electronics (e.g. Energy Star), units left in standby mode which suck ‘vampire’ electricity, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or light-emitting diode (LED) lighting;
- Efficiency of air-conditioning systems, temperature settings and air filters;
- Air leaks around doors, windows and other areas;
- High efficiency hot water heater or tankless system, efficient temperature setting and insulated hot water pipes;
- Fridge and freezer efficient settings, clean coils, good ventilation and airtight door seals;
- Washing machine cold-water setting and clothes line;
- Insulated walls and attic;
- Energy-efficient windows;
- Renewable energy systems.
- Drip-free faucets and no leaking fixtures (a number of companies offer leak detection services);
- Faucet aerators, low-flow shower heads, dual flush or water saving toilets (e.g. WaterSense);
- Grey water reuse and rainwater harvesting for irrigation or toilet flushing;
- Xeriscaping (water-efficient landscaping) or drip irrigation systems.
- Minimally packaged goods, bulk purchasing, purchase of reusable, refillable and long-life items and reusable shopping bags;
- Recycling and compost storage bins and no garbage disposal;
- Separation of garden and food waste for composting.
- Signs of mould;
- Central vacuum system and highefficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) air filters;
- Kitchen range hood, bathroom exhaust fans and clothes dryer vented to outside;
- Low volatile organic compound (VOC) paints, furnishings and cleaners;
- Eco-labelled or environmentally preferable products (EPP), e.g. phosphate-free, biodegradable and lowirritant cleaning products;
- Organic pesticides, insecticides and fertilisers.
- Locally produced, made from renewable resources or composite recycled content, recyclable;
- Certified (i.e. third-party verified) sustainable materials;
- Non-toxic (no VOCs, formaldehyde or PVC, arsenic-free).
FOOD AND CLOTHING
- Locally grown food products, preferably naturally and seasonally grown;
- Designated area for home garden;
- Organic hemp and other natural clothing.
Finally, the auditor’s report will contain recommended improvements along with calculated return on investment (ROI) or payback for measures. Some audits may estimate your home’s carbon footprint and offer ways to become ‘carbon neutral.’ Prioritise the implementation of recommendations based on your audit goals (i.e. lower utility bills or healthier home). Change need not be made all at once; rather, start with simple lifestyle choices or select budget-friendly options with one to three year paybacks. Once you start seeing monthly savings, the extra funds can go toward further green home improvements or big-ticket items. Any way you look at it, getting audited never felt so good.