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Energy Audits Can Make Iowa Winters Less Costly

Credit Pat Blank/IPR
Home energy specialist Jason Jefferson looks for areas in a home's basement that could allow heat to leak

Once the weather turns cold, the first utility bill following the temperature dip usually prompts homeowners to look for ways to rein in costs. Most Iowa utility companies and rural electric cooperatives offer ways to save energy free of charge.  Some offer to bring in a home energy specialist like Jason Jefferson.

"We often call these things an audit that implies there’s a punishment or pass or fail, it’s more like an assessment," he says. "I’m just giving you my two cents I’m just someone who’s been in a lot of homes and who’s been certified by the building performance institute and give a good honest opinion on what your home needs.”

Jefferson likens himself to a doctor whose job is to make a diagnosis of the situation and suggest remedies to make it better. He begins with a quick test for carbon monoxide, then it’s down to the basement.

"This is where I like to start the audit, this is generally where all the action is and generally where there’s gonna be the biggest problems that people aren’t aware of," he says.  "See that piece of wood right there? That’s the only thing between the outside and us.”

Jefferson has been contracted for the job by Alliant Energy.  Alliant’s Energy Efficiency Project Manager Rob Buchanan explains sometimes a weatherization solution is a relatively quick fix requiring a small investment.

"We expressively offer them to be unbiased, so if the home needs insulation, they’ll recommend that, if the furnace and air condition needs to be improved, they’re gonna recommend that," he says. "I don’t know if you’d find many heating or cooling contractors that would say your furnace is in great shape you don’t need to do anything with it.”  

Besides the basement, the other part of the house most likely to be inefficient is the upstairs or the attic. On warm days like the one in September when the assessment was conducted, it’s extremely warm, but energy assessor Jefferson says that actually means trouble in the winter.

Most homeowners and renters know about caulking windows or using plastic to cover leaky doorways, but  Efficiency Project Manager Buchanan says a deep assessment that takes a couple of hours provides a much better picture .

Buchanan says many consumers, whether connected to one of Iowa’s largest utilities or a small municipality, have no idea that matching grants and rebates cover many of the improvements. A quick check of your utility’s web site should provide you with a place to start if you’d like to pursue lowering your bill through an energy audit.

Pat Blank is the host of All Things Considered