Give Your Home the DIY Energy Audit It Deserves
How Energy-Efficient is My Home?
There are dozens of factors at play when it comes to the size of your monthly energy bills. If you want a detailed report on your household energy efficiency and what you can do to improve it, a professional home energy audit is a good option. While that service is often worth the time and expense, you can also conduct a DIY home energy audit in a single afternoon and identify all sorts of ways to make your home more energy-efficient.
So if you're ready to save a few bucks and roll up your sleeves, use this DIY home energy checklist to guide your efforts.
Identify Air Leaks
One of the most common ways in which homes waste energy is by letting outside air seep in and indoor air seep out. A well-sealed home is an energy-efficient home.
- Check the weather stripping along all window and door seals. Good weather stripping should feel rubbery to the touch and be free of cracks. With enough time, any weather stripping will become brittle and cracked. Replacing old weather stripping is a simple job with the help of self-adhesive strips. While you're inspecting your weather stripping, give it a thorough wipe-down with a damp paper towel; clean weather stripping seals better.
- Search for air leaks through wall cracks, gaps around plumbing pipes and other tiny crevices. Some of these may be obvious, especially in drafty areas of your home, but smaller drafts can be found with a candle flame or a stick of burning incense. Just turn off your HVAC system and slowly walk through your home, and if the flame or strip of smoke is suddenly disturbed by a puff of air, you should be able to trace it back to its origin. Many of these drafts can be sealed with caulk or spray foam insulation, and doing so can make a huge difference in energy waste.
- Don't forget your ductwork! When your ducts are leaky, your furnace and air conditioner are just pumping treated air into crawl spaces, basements and other uninhabited areas. If you find gaps or air leaks in exposed sections of ductwork, you can patch them with aluminum tape. Sealing leaks in hidden areas of your ductwork is usually a job for a professional, but there are ways to get this job done without tearing up your walls.
Check Attic Insulation
Air leaks represent just one threat to the loss of your HVAC-treated air -- poor insulation is another. Insulation is especially important on your attic floor, where it can block out superheated air in the summer and seal in the warmth in the winter.
The effectiveness of insulation is measured in R-value, and different insulating materials have different R-values per inch. The total R-value of insulation you should have in your attic depends on where you live. The colder the climate, the more insulation you need. This U.S. Department of Energy R-value map shows the recommended R-values for eight different climate zones throughout the U.S.
Read more about attic insulation.
Check Attic Ventilation
While you're in the attic, check on your ventilation. Attics must be properly ventilated, usually through some combination of soffit vents (at the bottom edge of the roof, near the rain gutters), roof vents (near the top of the roof) and attic fans. Make sure these vents are clear of insulation on the inside and free of debris on the outside. There may also be ventilation and exhaust pipes that extend through the attic and roof. Inspect the seals separating these pipes from your living space and the outdoors to make sure they're intact.
Read more about attic ventilation.
Use Light to Your Advantage
With the right light bulbs and window treatments, you can get all the light you need for a few bucks per year.
- Upgrade to LED light bulbs throughout your home. If you haven't price-shopped LED bulbs in several years, check them out and see how affordably you can replace all of the bulbs in your home. While they still cost slightly more per bulb than their incandescent equivalents, the long bulb life and massive energy savings make upgrading a no-brainer.
- Be disciplined about your use of artificial light. Just because you're saving big with LED bulbs doesn't mean light waste won't cost you. Make it a habit to turn off lights in unoccupied rooms, and if it makes sense for your home, consider motion-detecting light systems for certain rooms or outdoor areas. You can also use smart plugs or smart bulbs to control the lights from the convenience of your smartphone.
- Get free light where you can. If you're home during the day, keep the lights off and the blinds open to bask in the natural light.
- But don't open the shades at the expense of unwanted heat. In the dog days of summer, the free light through the windows might not be worth the excess heat. The decision of whether to draw the shades and turn on the lights may come down to the insulation value of your windows and the intensity of the sunlight at a particular time of day. Of course, during cold weather, the free heat is a bonus!
Check in on Your HVAC System
Roughly half of your home's energy consumption goes into heating and cooling. If there's any one system you should make sure is operating in tiptop shape for energy efficiency's sake, it's the HVAC system.
Furnaces, air conditioners and heat pumps should all be professionally inspected and tuned up every year. So if you've fallen behind on your maintenance schedule, your first action item should be to schedule a tune-up and set a reminder for next year.
While the tune-ups themselves aren't DIY jobs, there are still a few things you can do to make sure your system is running as best it can:
- Keep the filter clean. Most homeowners use disposable filters that should be discarded and replaced every 30 to 90 days. There are also reusable filters that can be cleaned with a vacuum or hose.
- Keep air conditioner condensers free of debris. These are the big boxy units that sit outside homes that have central air conditioning. Weeds, tall grass, dead leaves, tree limbs and other debris can restrict airflow, which hurts your energy efficiency.
- Reduce heating and cooling load. Try turning back the thermostat and using other means of staying comfortable, like ceiling fans and weather-appropriate clothing.
Read more about HVAC efficiency.
Reduce Energy Waste from Appliances and Electronics
Major appliances like your refrigerator, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer can make a big dent in your monthly energy use. Electronics like your TVs, computers and game consoles can really add up, too. Take stock of the appliances and electronics in your home and consider the steps you can take to save:
- Replace aging appliances with energy efficient models. This can bring you some major savings when it comes to large kitchen and laundry room appliances. Look for the federal ENERGY STAR certification label when you shop to find an especially energy-efficient model.
- Use your current appliances more efficiently. With your dishwasher and washing machine, that means only washing full loads, using cold water in the laundry room and avoiding heated dry for your dishes. In the kitchen, use a toaster oven or smaller cooking appliances than your oven whenever the dish fits.
- Disable energy-wasting features in your electronics. With televisions and game consoles, for example, many models are set to "always on" mode by default. This may allow for voice activation features or faster startup, but it comes at the expense of 24/7 energy consumption.
- Use power strips to turn off several devices at once. Unplugging individual electronics to prevent "vampire" energy waste is a hassle, but if you use a power strip in areas where you have lots of electronics, it's quick and easy. Try this trick in your living room entertainment center or at your computer desk to reduce energy waste with the flip of a switch.