In January 2019, the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability released first-year figures for the Home Energy Score program. The average Portland home got an overall energy score of just 4.6 out of 10 (higher is better). This means there are many opportunities to increase energy efficiency in the average Portland home, reduce gas and electric bills, and bump up the home energy score.
Just replaced the windows and hot water heater? That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a great result on your Home Energy Score report. Over and over again, assessors are finding some common culprits that keep Portland homes from performing at their best. Here’s our list of the worst offenders.
Culprit #4: Leaky Ducts
Description: Got warm air circulating through your home this winter? Thank ducts! They’re the middle-person between the furnace or HVAC unit and the rooms of the house, but they’re much more prone to leakage than, say, water lines. Ducts are typically made of sheet metal, fiberglass, or other materials.
Identification: Check exposed ducts for cracks and punctures that could be allowing air to leak out. While you’re there, check for ductwork that is sagging — it could be a sign of improper installation and will definitely impact the performance efficiency of the system. Insulation around the duct itself should also be present (up to R-8), even in heated spaces. Check to see that it’s in good shape, with no gaps or exposed ductwork.
Neutralize the issue: Start by sealing the ducts anywhere you detect air leaks (use any of the methods described in the air leak section below). Use duct mastic, not tape. Reinsulate ducts anywhere you find less than R-8 completely covering the duct. Consider finishing the basement or attic to minimize heat exchange between ducts and unheated spaces. Get guidance from a licensed contractor or hire one out.
Culprit #3: Basement or crawlspace
Description: Whether the area beneath your house if a fully-finished rec room or a ventilated crawlspace, there are opportunities to improve air sealing and — by extension — your entire home energy performance. Because basements and crawlspaces are in constant contact with the moist earth, they can also be culprits in moisture issues in Portland homes.
Identification: Is your basement cold and drafty? Do you have mold and mildew issues? These are signs that your basement or crawlspace could be doing more to support a warm, dry space above, ie in your home. In fact, most Portland crawlspaces were designed to be vented, or purposefully kept open to allow moisture to escape. This means they’ll stay at outdoor temperature all winter long, or close to it. It’s like adding a fifth wall to your house!
Neutralize the issue: Unfortunately, the vents on a vented crawlspace can’t be simply closed off because this could lead to moisture or even radon issues down the road. Talk to a contractor about properly sealing an open crawlspace to improve energy efficiency. If your basement or crawlspace is already closed, check out our blog post on insulating the space. And always, check for air leaks before you start to ensure that you’re eliminating all the drafts.
Culprit #2: Air Leaks
Description: Heated or cooled air sneaks through gaps and cracks around windows and doors, and even places you wouldn’t expect like electrical outlets, light fixtures, baseboards and crown molding. Also known as weatherization, the process of finding air leaks and sealing them off can be painstaking, but the payoff can be huge — for your efficiency and for your Home Energy Score.
Identification: There are several methods to locating air leaks in your home. You can find drafts on a cold day with the heat on indoors. Hold your hand up around windows, doors, vents and fans. For smaller openings, use a candle or a stick of incense and walk around the outside of the room, watching for places where the flame or smoke seems drawn. Don’t forget to check recessed lights and the attic hatch. There are also air leak detecting devices, or you can hire a contractor to perform a blower door test. The blower door sucks all the air out of the house, forcing air to come in through any leaky areas.
Neutralize the issue: Most air leaks can be taken care of using a low-expansion foam product sprayed in the gap. For widows and doors, use weatherstripping, being sure to purchase the right thickness for the gap to be sealed. An insulated attic — and attic hatch — will cut down on leaks as well because you’ll be equalizing the temperature differential between the two spaces.
Culprit #1: The Attic.
Description: Literally at the top of the issue for Portland homes, this cobwebby space above the main living area is often uninsulated or under-insulated. Heated air will be sucked up into the space and out of the living area.
Identification: The problem is usually an uninsulated or inadequately insulated attic. To tell if your attic insulation is adequate, Energy Star recommends measuring the depth of batt (such as fiberglass) or cellulose insulation with a ruler. Insulation is measured in R-value, and the Home Energy Score goal for attics in the Portland area is R-38. Estimating R-3 per inch of insulation, you can get a pretty good idea of your attic insulation value. For example, if you measure 8 inches of attic insulation, your attic is insulated to (8×3) R-24.
Neutralize the issue: Don’t just attack this problem with a load of insulation — proper preparation will ensure the job is done right (and your Home Energy Score will benefit). First, look for air leaks using home tests or by hiring a contractor.
Think you’ve caught all the culprits? We’re ready to run our Home Energy Score Assessment for your Portland home. Give us a call or schedule online today!