How To Conduct a Simple DIY Home Energy Audit

Reader Contribution by Sarah Hancock
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While implementing renewable energy options at home, such as solar panels or wind turbines, can offset your energy usage and potentially reduce your utility bills, it’s a good idea to periodically check on your home’s efficiency and ensure that you’re not wasting energy unknowingly.

Performing a home energy audit is a quick, simple, effective way to reduce your carbon footprint, maintain your home, and save money on your energy bills. The following 7-step guide will help you to determine which areas of your house have room for improvement, as well as provide recommendations that you can implement for a more energy-efficient home.

Step 1: Find Air Leaks

Air leaks can let air from your heating and cooling systems out, let outside air in, and make your home drafty. Common spots for air leaks include doors, window frames, baseboards, and electrical outlets.

To determine whether or not you have an air leak, go around to the spots mentioned above and hold a feather or string in front of them. If it moves, there’s likely an air leak.

If you do find air leaks, use caulking, expanding foam, or weather stripping to fill and seal them. For air leaks near electrical outlets, place an electrical or switch plate insulation pad behind the plate.

Step 2: Examine Lighting 

Do some research on your light fixtures and figure out the size and wattage of bulbs they require. Then, consider switching your current bulbs out with light emitting diodes (LEDs) or compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), as these can put off the same amount of light as a normal incandescent bulbs while using much less energy.

Step 3: Check Windows

Sun rays streaming into your home through windows can put a huge strain on your cooling system, so in hot summer months, ensure that your windows are shaded or covered. You may consider putting up awnings or investing in solar screens.

However, during colder winter months, you should un-shade your windows, as letting sun rays in will help heat the home.

Step 4: Inspect Plumbing 

Standard shower heads, sinks, and toilets utilize a significant amount of energy. To save water, energy, and money, consider switching to low-flow options.

You can also conserve energy by turning down your water temperature. To determine your current water temperature, run hot water to your sink and test it with a kitchen thermometer. The Department of Energy recommends setting your water heater to 120°, so if the water is hotter than that, turn down the dial on your hot water tank and test again in a few hours.

Step 5: Look at Electronics and Appliances

Keeping your electronics and appliances plugged in at all times, even when you’re not using them, utilizes a significant amount of unnecessary energy. If you don’t want to worry about plugging and unplugging your devices, you may consider purchasing a smart power strip to plug your devices into. Then, you can simply turn the strip off when your electronics are not in use. 

When it comes time to replace appliances, buy Energy Star rated products, which are certified to meet certain standards of energy efficiency and save on operating costs.

Step 6: Assess Heating and Cooling Systems

Check the ductwork for your heating and cooling systems and make sure that they are all connected, both to each other and to the unit. Like you did with your windows, doors, baseboards, and electrical outlets, test for air leaks in the ductwork of your systems and seal any leaks that you find.

It’s also a good idea to have your heating and cooling systems serviced annually to ensure they are in top working condition, as well as replace the air filters in your HVAC systems as often as recommended.

Step 7: Evaluate Insulation

Attics, basements, walls, and pipes should have their insulation checked every few months.

Looking across your attic, if the insulation is level with or below the floor joists, you probably need to add more insulation. Make sure the insulation in your attic is evenly distributed with no low spots.

To check insulation in your walls, cut the power and remove outlet covers. Shine a flashlight into the crack around the outlet box and you should be able to see if there is insulation in the wall and how thick it is. If you think you may need more insulation in your walls, it’s a good idea to have a professional take a look. 

If your water pipes don’t have any insulation, you can reduce heat loss by adding pipe wrap insulation wherever you have access to the pipes. Pipe wrap insulation is easy to install: simply duct-tape one end to the end of a pipe (if the insulation isn’t already self-adhesive) and wrap the insulation around the pipe, overlapping it by at least one-half inch with each wrap. Completely cover the pipe, taking care not to leave any areas exposed, then tape the end in place.

Sarah Hancock educates consumers about the workings of the solar industry to help people make decisions that benefit both their own interests and the environment. Connect with her on the Best Company Solar Blog and on Twitter.

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