The home energy audit: Just do it

My husband and I have had a conversation each winter that goes like this: I point out that we have ice dams, and he swears we don’t really have a problem because we have enough insulation in our attic. Then we go on to another subject.

This spring I finally scheduled an energy audit to resolve this issue. If you are like me, you’ve meant to do this for years, but you were afraid it would lead to costly fix-it projects and so you put it off.

I made the call to the Center for Energy and Environment. The guys from the Center came to our home, checked out how tight it was by doing a blower test, and gave us some green freebies: they installed low flow showerheads, replaced seven remaining incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent ones, and weather stripped our doors.

They did all this for the $70 fee. Our 67-year old house stood up surprisingly well to their scrutiny. According to the Home Energy Report they gave us, our wall insulation, our new furnace, and our windows and doors were all taking care of us quite nicely.

But while our attic insulation met minimum standards, they recommended we upgrade it. We had spaces around pipes that needed to be sealed off because heat was rising up through these spaces, melting the snow on the roof, and creating the dreaded ice dams, which can make water can back up along the eaves and leak into your home.

They also said we should have supplemental insulation blown into the attic to fill gaps. They included an estimate for this work along with information on approved contractors and low interest loan programs.

We went ahead with their recommendations this fall. The work cost around $1,500, just as they’d said it would. The audit guys had let us know that we would probably qualify for a $300 air-sealing rebate from CenterPoint Energy and for a federal tax credit. It appears that these perks expire at the end of 2013.

I got two contractor estimates, chose one, and had the work done just before Thanksgiving, shortly before temperatures plummeted and wind chills dropped way below zero. Our home feels so snug. We haven’t gotten our post-upgrade gas bill yet, but it will be interesting to see how much we save each month. This, like the rebate and the tax credit, will help offset the cost of the improvements.

If you possibly can, get moving on that home energy audit. I just read the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report called, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction, January 2013.” The flat tone in such government documents can be maddening. If the whole country were sliding off a cliff into the sea, the official report would read: “Country tilts slightly, with slippage probability. Will produce biennial updates.”

The Minnesota Legislature decided that by 2015 we would reduce carbon emissions 15 percent (from 2005 levels). By 2010 we’d reduced them only 3 percent, according to the MPCA report. Dips in emissions typically occur during economic downturns, and so the contraction in 2009 helped us out. Now we are in a period of economic growth. Suffice it to say that the chances of us meeting the emissions goal are slim to none.

There is no statement in the MPCA report sounding the alarm, nothing like the following: “State turns its back on even modest efforts to ward off catastrophic climate disruption. Build moat around your home. Secure drawbridge.”

The following poem from Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, has been lifting my spirits this past week:

You are not surprised at the force of the storm —

you have seen it growing.

The trees flee. Their flight

sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:

he whom they flee is the one

you move toward. All your senses

sing him, as you stand at the window.


The weeks stood still in summer.

The trees’ blood rose. Now you feel

it wants to sink back

into the source of everything. You thought

you could trust that power

when you plucked the fruit;

Now it becomes a riddle again,

and you again a stranger.


Summer was like your house: you knew

where each thing stood.

Now you must go out into your heart

as onto a vast plain. Now

the immense loneliness begins.

The days go numb, the wind

sucks the world from your senses like withered



Through the empty branches the sky remains.

It is what you have.

Be earth now, and evensong.

Be the ground lying under that sky.

Be modest now, like a thing

ripened until it is real,

so that he who began it all

can feel you when he reaches for you.


Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at the Loft Literary Center.