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DIY energy audits probably won’t yield most efficient solutions

Q. I know my house has poor energy efficiency and I’d like to get an energy audit to learn more about what to do about it, but I don’t want to pay $500 for an audit. Is there a less-expensive way to get an audit?

A. Some utility companies offer low-cost or free energy audits, and you should contact yours to see what is available. You can also conduct your own audit, which costs nothing except some time, but of course you won’t get the benefit of high-tech equipment that pro audit firms use, such as blower doors to detect air infiltration and infra-red cameras to detect poorly insulated areas. The website of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division gives an excellent outline for a self-conducted audit, with directions for finding air leaks and checking insulation, heating/cooling systems, and lighting. The air-leak section even includes directions for setting up a makeshift blower door, which makes it easier to find leaks in the building shell that allow outside air to seep inside and conditioned inside air to escape. To access the audit, visit and type “Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Assessment” in the search space. The home page of this site also contains a veritable encyclopedia of energy-saving information.

Q. My wife plans to buy me a cordless drill as a holiday gift. I am lobbying for one with a lithium battery, but she points out that drills with ni-cad batteries cost less. Which is the best buy?

A. I think it depends largely on what you plan to do with the drill. If you are planning major projects, such as building a deck, room addition or converting a basement to living space, a drill with lithium batteries would probably be the best buy. It has been my experience that lithium batteries hold their charge longer and provide stronger, steadier power than ni-cads.

If you plan to use the drill for occasional tasks like drilling a few holes or driving a few screws, nickel-cadmium batteries are just fine. Most heavy-duty drills of both types have 18-volt batteries, while light-duty drills generally have 12 volts. Most drills also include two batteries, so that one can be charged while the other is in use. While drill-drivers with lithium batteries generally cost more – often $200 or more – there are a few lithium-powered tools available for considerably less. For example, Craftsman offers a 19.2-volt lithium drill-driver with just one battery for about $100. In addition to the source of power, buyers of a cordless drill-driver should also consider the weight and size of the tool. Large, heavy tools can be awkward and tiring to handle. Since you will be using the tool for some years, it would be a good idea to check out some of the drill choices at tool dealers near you. You can then give your wife an educated assessment of the drill that would be most suitable for you.

Q. The surface of the concrete wall at the rear of our garage is peeling off in spots. I have vacuumed it several times. Much of the wall is buried in the earth behind the garage. What is causing this and what can we do about it?

A. The peeling is almost certainly caused by moisture in the concrete, which wicks up from the earth underneath. The surface crumbles when the moisture forces its way out of the concrete. Unfortunately, there is not a great deal you can do to correct the problem, which is not unusual in some old concrete walls. The wall can be given a thin coat of a grout made by mixing cement and water, or a coat of stucco. That will improve the appearance for a time, but the coating is likely to peel off in spots because of the moisture problem. If the earth behind the garage can be re-graded so it slopes away from the wall, that would also help somewhat.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.