by John Lawson, Loan Officer

Our office is freezing. At one point, it was so cold that an employee brought a heated dog bed from home to warm her feet at her desk. Honestly, I blamed the cold temperatures on the thermostat being set too low in order to be more “green”.

Grace, our president, suggested that we have an energy audit performed as part of our push to “greenovate” the office. As a loan officer for Appalachian Community Enterprises and Georgia Green Loans, I’ve worked with a few clients who were energy auditors- someone who inspects the energy efficiency of a building. This sounded like a great idea for someone who was thinking bout purchasing a new home or office, but I failed to see how it could help a current occupant do more than save a few dollars on their electricity bill each month.

When we were making our initial plans, we looked at the energy audit as a way to fine-tune our efficiency. We were hoping, for example, to determine the cost-effectiveness of replacing a few light bulbs and single-pane windows. Instead, our energy audit, which focused on the HVAC system, insulation, and air leakage, let us know that our office had areas of much greater significance that should be addressed immediately. It would also show us why the temperature in the building was uncomfortable.

hvac-test In order to test the efficiency of our HVAC system, the auditors measured the airflow of  each supply and return vent and inspected the attic t0 see how the ducts were routed.  Their study revealed that the airflow in our system is about half as efficient as it should  be. This is due to sharp turns in the ducts, using the wrong kind of air filter, and  having only one relatively small return in the entire building. We were also told that  the ducts should never touch the roof of the building, as this aides the transfer of  energy between inside and outside of the home. Rerouting the ducts and adding a new  return will significantly reduce the load on our HVAC system and will efficiently direct  the warm air into all of the rooms of the office.

Second, the auditors visually inspected our insulation in the attic and crawl space. We  were surprised to find that our attic insulation is rated at R-11, which is approximately  one third as effective at insulating as R-38, the rating that is recommended in our  area. The inspectors also checked the crawl space for flooring insulation, discovering  that there was none. This means that the warm air supplied by our heating system can  escape through the floors and ceilings at a much faster rate than is acceptable.

Finally, the inspectors conducted a blower door test to measure the airflow that naturally passes through the building. Thisblower-door test is conducted by closing all of the doors and windows and placing a special barrier and fan in one open door. The equipment measures how much air is being pulled through the barrier. The results from this test shocked our employees. When an internal door was opened in one room, there was enough air leaking from the rest of the house to visibly blow the auditor’s hair away from the door. The system found that our office exchanges outside air approximately 1.06 times per hour without any assistance. This means that every hour, the volume of air that leaks into and out of the office is greater than the entire volume of the building. While some air loss is expected in any building, this rate far surpassed an acceptable amount. With this much leakage occurring, our heating and air systems have to run much more often than they should.

To most of our employees, the findings of the energy audit were shocking. We were amazed to see how inefficient our building is. The inspection has really shown us where we can see the greatest benefits from making changes to our building. In the upcoming weeks, we are contacting various contractors, who will remedy the problems that we have. In the meantime, we will continue wearing our coats in the office.