While not as thorough as a professional home energy audit, a DIY home energy audit can help you identify some quick and easy fixes around your home.
Here are the items you’ll be reviewing:
- Heating and Cooling (HVAC)
- Air Leaks
- Electricity Cost
- Appliances & Electronics
Biggest Focus of DIY Home Audit – HVAC
If your home is like most, your central heating and cooling system drive 50% of your electricity bill. That’s why it’s a top focus of your DIY home audit.
Here are the items you need to review:
- Review your filter replacement schedule. Replace every 1-3 months depending on the type of filter. The cleaner the filter, the less strain on your HVAC system.
- Check the age of the HVAC system. Modern HVAC systems are ultra efficient and can save on your electricity bill. HVAC systems have a typical life-span of 15-20 years.
- Check air ducts to identify holes, moisture or any gaps between duct work and the registers.
TIP: Never use regular duct tape to repair holes in your HVAC duct work. The adhesive used in general purpose duct tape is not built to withstand the hot and cold temperatures and moisture of an HVAC system. Always look for an HVAC-specific cloth duct tape if you need to patch a hole.
To properly maintain your HVAC system you should also make sure to keep the condensate drain clean, clean your evaporator coil, remove obstructions around the exterior system and have an HVAC tune-up regularly. (Learn more on HVAC maintenance and how to keep your A/C running coldin these additional ElectricityPlans.com articles.)
Locating Air Leaks During a DIY Home Energy Audit
The next biggest opportunity for your home energy audit is air leaks around the home.
Air leaks can greatly impact your home’s energy efficiency and increase your electricity or natural gas bill. Air leaks can carry hot humid outdoor air into your house in the summer. Or an air leak can carry warm moist air from a bathroom into the attic in the winter.
During this part of the home energy audit, you’ll be looking for gaps, or feeling for air flow where there shouldn’t be any. Here are places to check:
- Baseboards and edge of flooring (look for gaps)
- Electrical outlets and light switches (feel for air flow)
- Windows and doors (look for gaps)
- Recessed lights (feel for air flow)
- Fireplaces and chimneys (look for gaps and check for air flow)
If you have gas appliances, you should also check the gas line from the wall to the appliance. This is especially important if you converted appliances like your cooktop or your dryer from electricity to natural gas. In cutting a hole in your wall to run the line, the service person may have left a gap. You can use spray foam installation to fill this gap.
How will you know if you have an air leak? Here are three ways to find air leaks:
- Hand Test. Hold your hand up to the area you are checking. If you have an air leak, you will feel air coming through the affected area.
- Dollar Bill Test. Test your door and window seals with the dollar test. Shut a door or window on a dollar bill. If you can easily pull the dollar bill out, you’re losing energy.
- Match Test. Light a match and then blow it out. Hold the smoking match up to the electrical outlet, wall switch or other area you are checking. If the smoke continues to rise straight up, you are good. If the smoke moves out of that initial air column, you have an air leak.
Caulking and weatherstripping are the most common ways to cut air leaks in windows and doors. Use caulk for leaks around door and window frames. Replace worn or cracked weatherstripping on the bottoms of doors. This is an easy fix with self-adhesive weather stripping. If your fireplace flue is leaking air, look into an inflatable chimney balloon. These fit below your fireplace flue when not in use.
How to Check Ventilation in a DIY Home Energy Audit
It’s important to seal air leaks where they aren’t supposed to be. But the reality is if you seal your home too tightly it can be dangerous. Ventilation needs to be in place in certain areas of your home for moisture control.
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. Your home also has exhaust fans that must be clear of debris.
Here are things you should review:
- Check bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans for blockage; clean vent covers.
- Check the laundry dryer exhaust for blockage. Clean your ventilation hose at least once per year to avoid a fire hazard and keep your dryer running efficiently.
- Check the attic for evidence of moisture, rot or humidity. These are signs that you need to improve your attic and roof ventilation by adding roof vents or soffit vents.
How to Review Your Insulation for a DIY Home Audit
After checking for drafts where there shouldn’t be, and ensuring air flow where it should be, next you will want to check your insulation. Here’s what to check, and where to check.
Insulation should completely fill the space between the joists in your attic.
TIP: You’ll want a tape measure and notebook, to make note of the type of insulation and the thickness in each area of your home.
- Attic: If you can see the joists (the 2×6 or 2×8 wood boards across the attic floor) above your insulation, you don’t have enough insulation. Insulation should completely fill the area between the joists.
- Attic Access Door: Your attic door should be insulated to keep warm air in the attic where it belongs. You may also want to consider installing an attic tent above the attic access. This will keep hot air from entering the home from the attic.
- Walls. Review the insulation you have in your outer walls. You can view this by removing an electrical socket (turn off the power first). Then look behind the socket box to view the insulation. Use a plastic crochet hook or other plastic stick to pull a sample of the insulation.
- Basement. If you have a basement, make sure there is insulation under the living room flooring (i.e. on the ceiling of your basement.)
Once you’ve determined the type of insulation you have and it’s thickness, you can calculate the R-Value of your current insulation. The higher the R-Value (or thermal resistance) the great the insulating effectiveness.
Here is how to calculate the R-Value of your existing insulation:
TIP: Insulation disintegrates over time. Even if your home was properly insulated at one time, you may need to add more insulation as your home ages.
Now that you know the R-Value of your current insulation, you will want to look up the recommended R-Value for your area of the country. Then proceed with adding the proper insulation or hire a contractor to do so.
Reviewing Your Electricity Bill in A Home Energy Audit
You want to lower your electricity cost right? So don’t overlook a review of your electricity bill!
If you are in a deregulated electricity market like Texas, Ohio or Connecticut, you can shop for your electricity rate. Take a look at your bill to see if you are in contract. If not, you are paying a high month to month market rate. And even if you are in contract, it doesn’t hurt to review current prices and see if you could save by switching (keep in mind there may be an early termination fee!)
If you are a Texas resident, we can even help you shop for your electricity with our PlanScan service. Just complete basic information from your bill, and we’ll send you plans that are custom picked for you.
Not in a deregulated electricity market? You can still contact your local utility company and ask about energy savings programs that they offer. Who knows, they may even offer a free home energy audit!
Evaluating Your Appliances and Electronics in a Home Energy Audit
Your appliances account for approximately 20% of the average electricity bill. Examine the appliances and electronics in your home and estimate their energy usage based on the wattage of each device. Consider replacing older appliances with more efficient models.
Energy Star rated appliances use up to 50 percent less electricity than non-Energy Star appliances, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Energy Star washing machines and dishwashers are also designed to help save water, giving you even bigger benefits over the long term. Energy.gov has a helpful appliance and electronics calculator to estimate how much energy specific devices use.
Your electronics can also be a drain on your electricity bill. Even if a device is turned off, it may still be drawing power in “quick power up” mode. Use power strips for your television, gaming system and computer so you can easily flip the switch when they are not in use.
Or use a Smart Power Strip that includes circuitry designed to prevent household electronics from wasting power.
Review Your Home Lighting in Your Home Energy Audit
The Department of Energy reports that lighting accounts for 10 percent of a home’s electric bill. Replacing incandescent lighting with energy-efficient LED or CFL lights lowers your electric bill while also reducing the amount of heat emitted by light bulbs
The average 60 watt equivalent LED only uses nine watts of electricity, where your average CFL (compact fluorescent light) of the same equivalency uses 13 watts.
That might not seem like a lot, but that’s a full 30% reduction in electricity usage per LED bulb. When you consider the number of light bulbs in your house, that’s a cost savings that cannot be ignored.
How to Prioritize Repairs After a DIY Home Energy Audit
Once you have identified all the issues, it’s time to prioritize them. Here are some of the things to think about:
- How much money do you spend on electricity? This will help determine the impact your changes can make.
- Are there small steps you can take (like caulking windows) while saving for more expensive items (like replacing windows)?
- How long do you plan to own your current home?
- Can you do the job yourself or do you need a contractor?
- How much money will repairs cost?
DIY Home Energy Audit Checklist (free pdf)
Our downloadable DIY Home Energy Audit Checklist will help you conduct your home energy audit, and help you decide your priorities.
With this information and checklist, you are well on your way to making your home energy efficient and saving on your electricity bill.