Energy audits help find holes to plug

Robert Coffman, with AirTight Energy Audits, talks to homeowner Tony Schmidt about his home's energy loss and ways to fix the problem. The audit, which was done March 3, is one way Lawrence residents can participate in the Take Charge Challenge.

Lawrence energy auditor Robert Coffman hadn’t even reached the front door of Tony Schmidt’s house before he spotted trouble.

The drain pipes were starting to plug up and there was erosion by the front steps.

“There are times that a leak like this eventually ends up in the basement,” he told Schmidt.

Schmidt has lived in the house for 20 years, raising his four children there. But it wasn’t until this month that the beige, five-bedroom house had what Schmidt referred to as a “physical checkup.”

As Coffman circled the house, he was on the lookout for dirty insulation — a sure sign that air is flowing in and out — and cobwebs.

“Cobwebs are our friend when we are looking around,” he said. Spiders build cobwebs near food sources. And if insects are coming in and out of homes, air is as well.

Right now Coffman is wading through energy audits, thanks to a program through the Kansas Energy Office that offers $100 audits, hundreds of dollars less than what they are worth.

So far, close to 1,100 energy audits have been done throughout the state. The program, known as Efficiency Kansas, is funded through stimulus money and allows the homeowner to take out loans either through a traditional bank or utility. Those loans will then go toward fixing the problems uncovered in the audit. The most cost-effective improvements are tackled first.

“This is a terrific incentive where we can get our home tuned up for a mere $100,” Schmidt said.

The energy audits are one way Lawrence residents can participate in the Take Charge Challenge, a competition that pits Lawrence against Manhattan to see who can save the most energy.

Until two and a half years ago, Coffman couldn’t make a living as an energy auditor and largely stuck to restoring historic homes. Today he has 60 audits in front of him.

While the focus is on energy savings, Coffman said the audits often reveal much more. He’s found recluse spiders, mold, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and broken exhaust pipes.

“This is really about large holes in our house. And it is really becoming in addition to that a health and safety issue,” Coffman said.

In the case of Schmidt’s home, the audit took several hours. Along with walking along the outside of the home, Coffman looked over energy bills and performed what was known as a blower door test that depressurizes the home and exaggerates air leaks.

He’ll then spend another two hours on paperwork, writing up a report that shows how much energy is being lost and what are the most cost-effective ways to improve the home’s efficiency.

Of particular concern to Coffman was an unused chimney and a squirrel that had somehow managed to make its way into the house, which indicates a large air leak.

One feature that won’t likely get upgraded is the windows.

“I understand people want to get windows,” Coffman said. “But a lot of this work isn’t that glamorous.”