Whether you’re looking to sell your home in the near future, or to simply reduce your own bills and increase your home’s efficiency, it makes sense to give your home a good energy audit.
Inspecting your home for energy issues, and fixing them as soon as you can, will both reduce your carbon footprint and increase the value of your home. The process of an energy audit isn’t as complex as it sounds — you can start the inspection on your own, as long as you know what to look for.
Here’s a breakdown of the process for auditing your home’s energy use.
Inspect For Air Leaks
Carefully examine any opening between your house and the outdoor world. Windows and doors are prime areas for air leaks. You may also find air leaking around attic hatches, plumbing vents, dryer vents, crawl spaces, outdoor faucets, fireplace dampers, outlets, and light fixtures.
While ventilation is important to prevent buildup of dangerous gases, too much unwanted airflow will allow your warm air to escape in the winter and your cool to air escape in the summer. That means your HVAC system must work harder to keep the house at an ideal temperature. A good HVAC system will provide all the ventilation and air exchange your home needs, so there’s no reason to leave these extra cracks open.
Feel around the frames of your doors and windows for drafts. Look in the attic to see if there are gaps in the foam caulk that need filling, or openings where the pipes, chimneys, or ducts run. Check other areas at risk of leaks, such as vents and light fixtures — both inside and outside the house!
If you do feel drafts, you can usually patch the cracks with caulk. If the gaps are too large for simple caulk repair, you may need to call a professional to replace your doors and windows. Not only will that help seal up cracks, but it will give you a chance to invest in energy-efficient models.
Check Your Insulation
Poor insulation can dramatically impact your heating and cooling costs, because it will allow too much heat exchange between indoor and outdoor air. If you have an old home, your insulation may not be up to par with today’s standards, and may be driving up your energy bill.
Start in the attic to see if there’s enough insulation. If you’re not sure how much insulation you should need, consider calling a professional home inspector to take a look and give you guidance. While you’re in the attic, make sure none of your attic vents are blocked by the insulation.
To check exterior walls for insulation, turn off a power outlet, remove the outlet cover, and shine a flashlight into the crack around the outlet box. You should be able to see how thick your insulation is from that vantage point. If you need to, you can pull a very small sample from the wall to examine the type of insulation. Be sure to check more than one wall, especially if you have older and newer portions of your home — there may not be insulation everywhere. If you don’t find insulation in the exterior walls, it’s time to call a professional to get it installed. You can lose valuable energy by leaving your walls bare.
Another good way to check for insulation is to check for heat exchange around areas that aren’t heated. For example, feel the interior walls adjacent to the garage, or the floors above the basement. If these areas feel cold, you might have inadequate insulation.
Review Your Appliances
Appliances are some of the biggest energy eaters in the home. Take a look at the settings on your washing machines, dishwashers, and other large appliances to help reduce energy consumption whenever you run these.
If your appliances are older and weren’t Energy Star certified when they were produced, they won’t run as efficiently as newer appliances. Replacing your non-Energy Star certified dryer with a new Energy Star model can save you up to $70 in energy costs per year. An Energy Star certified washer can save up to 25 gallons of water per load. If your appliances are over 10 years old, it’s probably time to replace them for models that waste less energy.
Inspect Your Heating and Cooling
Your heating and cooling equipment will use over 300 gallons of gas equivalent each year in energy consumption — for each unit! An inefficient heating or air conditioning unit needs immediate attention. Start by checking the age of your system. If it’s over 15 years old, it’s likely time to look into replacing it for a new energy-efficient model. Check the air filters monthly, and replace them as needed to ensure they continue to work efficiently. Call a professional to service and clean your heating and cooling equipment annually.
Replace Your Bulbs
The energy used for lights in your home makes up about 10% of your total electricity bill, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Replacing your bulbs for energy-efficient options can help reduce some of those costs. Choose the brightness of bulbs carefully — the brighter you go, the more energy they’ll typically use. Consider installing sensors, dimmers, or timers to help reduce the unnecessary or excess use of light in the home.
Examine Your Water Heater
Another major appliance you don’t want to forget about is your water heater. If it’s a decade or two old, it’s likely not running up to par; it may be necessary to invest in a newer, more efficient model. You should also check to make sure it’s well insulated. Wrapping your water heater in insulation ensures the heat won’t escape to the surrounding air, which saves the appliance from having to work too hard to deliver warm showers and hot water.
Hire an Inspector
The above-mentioned tips will get you pretty far in your DIY energy audit, but to get the most out of your home audit, it’s best to hire a professional inspector. An expert can help you pinpoint the locations of your greatest energy losses, and give direction on what you can do to fix them. In some cases, you may need to call in another professional to service systems like your heating and cooling equipment. This will save you time on maintenance and repairs in the future.