Assess Your Home’s Efficiency with an Energy Audit
Liz Schneider, President, North Coast Building Industry Association
Do you want to save money on energy bills but don’t know where to start?
A good first step is to conduct a do-it-yourself (DIY) energy assessment, also called an energy audit. An audit can identify many of your home’s energy deficiencies, helping you make simple improvements to save money in the long term.
You can conduct an inspection of the areas listed on this page in one afternoon, track your findings, and start making energy improvements. Some can be solved quickly with a bit of elbow grease and a trip to the hardware store. If you discover major issues, you may consider following up with a professional energy audit.
As you conduct your audit, you may also identify behaviors that result in excess energy use and cost. Once you note these behavior patterns, you and your family can work to modify them.
Finally, you can track the benefits and payback of your efforts. Monitor your monthly consumption and cost for the previous year of fuel bills. Track use going forward and compare each month to determine your savings. You can also use this information to get a Home Energy Yardstick score from ENERGY STAR®.
All it takes is a thorough inspection of the following areas. Keep a checklist of the problems you find so you can note your repairs. Create your own or use this sample from Virginia Energy Sense.
By working to stop or minimize drafts, you can save on annual energy costs. The Department of Energy notes that consumers could save 10% to 20% per year, and your home will likely be more comfortable. Search throughout your home for air leaks. Once you have identified the leaks, seal them with caulk, weather stripping or the same material as the original seal. Note that when sealing your home, you should be aware of the danger of combustion appliance backdrafts (flue gases being pulled back into the house instead of exhausting through the chimney).
Check for gaps and see if existing caulking and weather stripping is in good condition. Some places to inspect are gaps under baseboards and doors as well as around windows, door frames, electrical outlets, switch plates and pipes. If you can see daylight around door or window frames, or you can feel the air moving, it leaks.
When inspecting the exterior of your home, look at areas where two different building materials meet, such as corners and water faucets. Look for cracks and holes in the mortar, foundation and siding. Check all penetrations through the outside walls (pipes, vents and wiring).
You may have insufficient insulation in the ceiling and walls, especially if you have an older home. Your attic door should be insulated and closed tight. If you see that attic insulation is level with or below the attic floor joists, you probably need to add more. Make sure your attic vents are not blocked by insulation.
Measure the depth of your insulation. Use these ENERGY STAR resources to calculate your existing R-value and locate the recommended R-value for your climate zone. A vapor barrier will also improve your home’s performance, if properly installed; you may want to consult a building professional for this upgrade.
If you have an unconditioned crawlspace, look for insulation under the living area flooring. If your crawlspace is enclosed and contains appliances, air ducts and/or plumbing, it may be better to insulate the entire crawlspace perimeter instead.
Checking for insulation in your walls is more difficult. You can make a small hole in a closet or other out-of-the-way place and probe into the wall with a long stick or screwdriver. If it’s an outside wall, the area should be completely filled with an insulating material. Please note that you probably won’t be able to check all of your walls. To conduct a thorough profile of your wall insulation, you will need a thermographic inspection, which is typically included as part of a professional home energy audit.
Heating and Cooling Equipment
Every year inspect your heating and cooling equipment, and have your equipment checked and cleaned by a professional. If you have a forced-air furnace, replace your filters as recommended, generally every 30 to 60 days. See if your ducts and pipes located in unheated spaces are insulated. Dirt streaks around your ductwork, especially near the seams, are evidence of leaks.
Look at the type of light bulbs in your home. LED bulbs provide ample light, can be used in most applications, and use the least amount of energy. For specialty applications, use the lowest wattage that provides enough light for your needs. Consider motion sensors and timers to keep the lights off when not needed.
An “energy vampire” is a device that continues to use energy and drain power even when it is turned off. Energy vampires lurk throughout your home and account for as much as 20% of your electric bill. Some examples are coffee makers, toasters and other appliances that are plugged in but aren’t in use all the time. Identify the culprits and unplug them or connect them to advanced power strips that will cut power when appropriate. Check your losses with this Vampire Calculator from Duke Energy.
To learn more about energy audits or who can perform one for you, contact the NCBIA.
The North Coast Building Industry Association is your local not-for-profit trade association representing member companies from accountants to window washers and those involved in all aspects of home building, remodeling, and other aspects of services available to help you in the future as well as more information on the above topic. So, you can see it is for your protection that you use a NCBIA member. If you are unsure that your contractor is a member of the NCBIA or you are looking for a list of NCBIA members, you can visit our website at ncbia.com or call 440-934-1090. We also have a job posting board (under the Industry tab).
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