Guest Post by Ryan Sauer
We all know it’s not easy to keep home energy costs low, which is why many people hire professionals to perform a home energy audit to help them save money. Another less-costly option is to perform a home energy audit yourself, something that is quick to learn and much easier on your budget.
This could be an especially smart choice if you notice a sudden spike in your energy bills and would like to get to the root of the problem yourself, and as quickly as possible. Read on for more information and guidance on a DIY home energy audit.
Compare Your Energy Bills
First, pull out all your monthly heating and cooling bills from as far back as you can and take a careful look. If you haven’t saved them, contact your utility company and ask them to provide back statements. If you are able, enter the data into a spreadsheet on your computer to make it a little easier to spot changes or trends.
Then, do some digging. Any particular trends that stand out? What changes do you see, either from month to month or season to season? What situations might have caused a spike in usage? Pay attention to how much your company is charging per KWH as well as how many kilowatt hours you use.
This will give you a baseline financial picture from which to measure future changes, and a general idea of what you should be looking for in your audit.
Locate Air Leaks
Did you know that simple air leaks can reduce your home’s energy efficiency by up to 30% a year? This figure, from the U.S. Department of Energy, should inspire you to examine the places in your house where different building materials intersect and/or meet. Examples of these are where pipes and wires exit the home, along the foundation, corners and by chimneys. Are there good seals around all your windows and doors? What about mortar? Is it cracked?
One low-cost way to detect air leaks is by performing the “incense test,” where you carefully move a lit incense stick along your walls. Wherever the smoke wavers, you will probably find air sneaking in and out. If you live in a cold climate, take a look at your roof after a snowfall. If the snow has melted from your roof more quickly than your neighbors’ chances are you are losing heat.
Do an insulation inspection. Check your basement walls, exterior walls, floors and ceilings – even your crawl spaces. If your insulation levels are lower than the recommended minimum, you could have significant heat loss through the walls, floors and ceiling of your house. It’s especially crucial to check the attic. Check for a vapor barrier; if there isn’t one, you can paint your interior ceilings with vapor barrier paint, thus reducing the amount of water vapor that will pass through the ceiling. While you’re in the attic, look for openings in spots that should be sealed, such as chimneys, pipes and duct work, and seal any of these openings you find with expanding foam caulk or something similar.
Inspect Heating and Cooling Systems
It’s no surprise that home cooling and heating are usually the biggest home energy users. Check and replace furnace and air conditioning filters regularly, as often as every one or two months during peak seasons. Another option is to purchase an electrostatic permanent filter, an investment which will cut waste and clean air much better.
Also, check your central A/C coils inside and outside and vacuum any dirt off of them. Duct work should be examined for dirt streaks, and if your ducts are extremely worn or dirty, bring in a professional for a cleaning or replacement. While you can and should check your heating and cooling regularly, it’s a sound practice to have an annual professional inspection done.
Lighting, Appliances and Electronics
Do a light bulb inventory for the entire house and replace inefficient bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (Cf Ls), LED or energy-saving incandescents. Carefully examine your electronics and appliances and estimate how much energy they use. If you find a high number of guilty gadgets, devise a strategy that will reduce usage, or begin planning for replacement appliances. Check out the video below for more information about lighting and lumens.
By conducting a DIY home energy assessment, you will be able to determine what areas of your home are using the most energy, and then take necessary action, whether it’s a simple fix or one that requires the help of a professional. You may spend a few dollars now, but the savings will more than make up for this initial investment.
Ryan Sauer is a writer and editor for Bisk Education. He covers topics such as, sustainability in project management, corporate sustainability, and establishing a sustainable lifestyle.
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