Of all the energy consumed in the United States, about $100 billion worth, approximately one-fifth is used to heat, cool and light our homes and operate home appliances -- stoves, toasters, microwaves, washers, dryers. Your expenditures each year for household energy can be minimized, sometimes with simple changes or alterations of energy usage practices.
The most energy is used for heating and cooling; therefore, it is a wise economic practice to identify and correct any energy losses from your home. Do-it-yourself or professional home energy audits will help you.
With a careful walk-through of your home, following the tips below, you can conduct a Do-It-Yourself Audit, which will enable you to identify and correct most problem areas. To help prioritize problems, take notes as you carefully inspect each area.
Do-It-Yourself Energy Audit
Correcting Air Flow Problems: Discover if and where air leaks are occurring. This area alone can provide up to 30% in energy savings, if corrected properly. The indoor areas to check are gaps along baseboards and floor edges, and ceiling and wall junctures,. Other areas to check for drafts are window frames, electrical outlets and switch plates, weather-stripping around doors and windows, fireplace dampers, attic hatches, gaps around pipes and wires, foundation seals, and mail slots. Keep in mind that weather-stripping may need to be reapplied from time to time.
When inspecting windows and doors, look for obvious signs of leakage, such as, window rattling or daylight visible around the frames. Storm windows should be checked as well for breakage and fit. Windows and doors manufactured today are considerably more efficient then the ones installed years ago. Replacing old ones may often be the best practice. If this, however, is not feasible, consider installation of weather-stripping and use low-cost plastic sheeting over windows during the winter.
Indoor Air Quality: Remember that indoor air quality is also very important. Although sealing openings to prevent undue loss of energy is one factor, there may also be an effect called "backdrafting." This happens when a home's exhaust fans and combustion appliances compete for air. Exhaust fans may pull combustion smoke into living areas making air quality unsuitable and even unhealthy. It is important that furnaces or stoves, which supply heat with fuels such as natural gas, fuel oil, propane or firewood, have an adequate air supply. Your local utility, energy services company or HVAC contractor.
Your home's exterior: Walk around the outside of your house and give close attention to cracks and holes in areas where two different building materials meet -- corners where brick meets with chimneys or sidings, and at foundations. Openings around outdoor faucets, pipes, electric outlets, and wiring should be sealed properly. Routine checking of the exterior caulking around doors and windows is important to ensure its effectiveness.
Insulation: The insulation level in your ceilings and walls determines to a great degree the amount of heat loss in your home. The recommended minimum for your home at the time it was built may not be the current recommended amount. The amount of insulation is determined by the climate, type of heating, and the size of the area to be insulated.
Attic: Examine the exposed structural frame/ceiling joists, as well as openings around pipes, ductwork, chimneys, and the hatch. Each of these areas should be insulated or caulked with the proper material. To prevent fire hazards, recessed lights should not be covered, but instead a three-inch space allowed around each light fixture (unless the fixture is rated as insulation covered). If there are electrical boxes located in the ceiling's floor, they should be sealed with flexible caulk and covered with insulation. There should be a vapor barrier (tar or Kraft paper, plastic sheeting) under the attic insulation to prevent moisture from passing through the ceiling. To keep airflow open, be sure that vents are not blocked by insulation. The minimum insulation level is R-30
Walls: To determine the existence and level of insulation in walls, select an exterior wall, turn off the circuit breaker or inactivate the fuse for any outlets on that wall, remove the cover plate from an electric outlet and carefully probe the interior of the wall with a long, thin object. If resistance is felt to the probe, it should indicate the presence of insulation. You could also make a small hole in an unobtrusive place on an outside wall to allow you to see if, and what kind of, insulation is present.
Basements: Unheated basements should be insulated. A minimum level of R-19 under the living area flooring is recommended. If the basement is heated, the minimum recommended insulation for the foundation walls is also R-19. Water heaters, hot water pipes, and furnace ducts should be insulated as well.
Lighting: Electricity costs for lighting account for approximately 10% of your energy bill. Half of the energy used for lighting is wasted in unoccupied rooms or inefficient lighting sources. Energy-conserving lighting can be as simple as flipping a switch to the off position or using more efficient light bulbs.
The Professional Energy Audit
During a professional home energy audit the auditor will examine the outside of your house and each internal space, as well as assess past utility bills. To prepare for the audit:
- List existing problems or concerns you have with any part of your home, such as drafts and condensation.
- Copy or summarize your home's energy bills for the past several years. Your utility company can provide these if you have not kept them. The energy audit will take into consideration such house features as its size, the number of windows and doors, seasonal thermostat settings, each room's amount and time of use, and other related factors. Professional auditors may use several tests to determine energy efficiency:
- A blower door test to find a home's air infiltration rate. A strong fan mounted into an exterior door's frame pulls air out of the house. This lowers the air pressure inside and causes higher outside air pressure to flow through all unsealed openings and cracks. This useful information is used to correct air leakage, moisture condensation, drafts, and possible indoor air pollution problems.
- A thermographic inspection or infrared scanning test to determine any air leakage in your home. This is done with use of an infrared video and still cameras which see light in the heat spectrum. Thermography can determine whether or not insulation is needed or if it has been installed correctly.
Benefits of a professional audit include accuracy and possible immediate energy conserving measures at the time of the audit. A residential audit of four to eight hours generally costs between $300 to $500, depending on the work needed.