How to do a home energy audit yourself!
The following article has been prepared as a step by step guide on how to conduct a do it yourself home energy audit. It is not my intention to replace the services offered by a professional energy evaluator; instead this article shall serve as a DIY guide for families that (for what ever reason) choose not to hire a professional at this time.
Identify Air Leaks (Drafts) In Your Home
Stopping cold air drafts in your home is essential to maximizing the efficiency of your home’s heating and cooling system. According to the US Department of Energy, the potential energy savings from reducing drafts in your home can range from 5% to 30% per year. It has been estimated that the average home has 10 square feet of cracks and gaps it’s exterior wall construction (the equivalent of having a large window or door open all day long throughout the winter months).
One advantage a professional energy auditor has in determining air leaks in your home is the use of a “blower door”. A blower door is an air tight liner that seals off inside an exterior door frame. Built into this liner is a powerful fan that blows air from inside your home outward. This creates a vacuum on the inside of your home magnifying the ingress of cold air from the outside making it easier for the auditor to identify and draft sources in your home.
You may not have the luxury of a blower door, but you can create a similar condition in your home by simply closing all windows, doors, and hatches in your home and turning on your bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans (if you have them). If your home does not have exhaust fans, another technique is to position a box fan in a window and seal the gaps around the window frame and fan housing with cardboard, blankets, or other material.
Once you have created a “vacuum” in your home be sure to check these areas of your home where air leaks (drafts) are most common:
Electrical outlets along exterior walls are notorious for allowing cold drafts from the outside in. The reason is there is typically inadequate insulation between the electrical box and the exterior of the building. A quick solution is installing child safety guards over the plugs to eliminate any drafts, and spraying some foaming sealant around the outside of the gain box to improve its insulating properties.
Light Switch Plates:
Switch plates along exterior walls can be just as problematic as the electrical outlets described above and can be dealt with the same way.
Laundry Dryer Vent:
Dryer vents use a sheet-metal flapper to reduce drafts. On windy days, you may hear these flappers banging off its frame. This is very primitive technology and does not provide a positive seal to stop air from leak back into the house. Compounding the problem is that over time, lint clogs the flapper valve causing it to stay open.
Most likely you will feel cold air around your dryer; you can remedy this problem by installing an Energy Saving Clothes Dryer Vent Seal. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use saving energy. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.
Window and Window Frames:
If you have older windows in your home and can’t afford to replace them (or you rent), a great alternative is to seal the windows with plastic film and tape. You can buy kits from most home improvement stores for under $10 that will cover an averaged sized house and reduce heat loss through your windows by 15% or more.
In addition to the plastic film, you may want to caulk around the window trim boards if you feel any drafts around the window frame itself.
Weather Stripping Around Doors:
Check for any air leaks around the edges of your exterior doors. There is a good chance that your doors weather stripping is either out of place or damaged and in need of replacement. Installing new weather stripping on your doors is a simple project that can be complete in a few minutes for less than $10.
Another good test to determine if there are gaps in your door’s weather stripping is to get a flash light and shine it along the cracks from the outside once it gets dark. Have a person on the inside of the door with the inside house lights off as well. Follow along the edge of the door while the person on the inside looks for any light penetration. If any light gets though the edges of the door, you can bet that cold air will find its way in too.
Your chimney is an opening that leads directly outdoors. Even if the damper is shut, it is not air-tight. Glass doors don’t stop the drafts either. The fireplace is like a giant straw sucking your expensive heated or air-conditioned air right out of your house!
An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to install a Fireplace Plug . A Fireplace Plug is an inflatable pillow that seals the fireplace damper, eliminating drafts, odors, and noise. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after.
When attic stairs are installed, a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood.
An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an insulated Attic Stair Cover which are available in various sizes to fit your attic hatch’s dimensions. An attic stair cover seals the stairs, stopping drafts and energy loss. A more cost effective method would be to simply g
lue or stable a rigid piece of insulation to the back side of the hatch and put some weather stripping around the edges.
Wall or Window Mounted Air Conditioners:
Make sure you remove your window mounted air conditions before the cold winter months get into full swing! If you have wall mounted air conditions make sure you block off the ventilation duct and seal it with a Fan Shutter Seal or similar material to keep the cold air drafts out!
When your home was built, the builder most likely installed the minimum amount of insulation recommended at the time. If your home is more than 5 years old, there is a good chance that the insulation levels are not ideal especially given today’s high energy prices.
Before you seal your attic hatch as recommended above, there are a couple of things you can do in your attic to imrove your home’s insulation factor. Peak into your attic and check to see whether openings for items such as pipes, duct work, and chimneys are sealed off. Seal any gaps with an expanding foam caulk or some other permanent sealant. If your attic has no floor and exposed trusses, be very careful if you need to move around to get a view of any hard to see areas.
While you are inspecting the attic, check to see if there is a vapor barrier under the attic insulation. Most insulation “batts” have at least one side that is coated with moisture resistant paper. If there does not appear to be a vapor barrier, you might consider painting the interior ceilings with vapor barrier paint. This reduces the amount of water vapor that can pass through the ceiling. Large amounts of moisture can reduce the effectiveness of insulation and promote structural damage.
You should also check that the your attic’s vents are not blocked by insulation, and seal any ceiling fan or light boxes with expandable foam sealant similar to the electrical outlet and light switch project mentioned in the previous section. Finally, cover the entire attic floor with at least the current recommended amount of insulation.
Now it’s time to check the exterior walls of your home for proper insulation. Select an exterior wall and turn off the circuit breaker or unscrew the fuse for any outlets in the wall. Be sure to test the outlets to make certain that they are not “hot” (you may want to get someone to help you if you are not comfortable with this task). Check the outlet by plugging in a functioning lamp or portable radio.
Once you are sure your outlets are not getting any electricity, remove the cover plate from one of the outlets and gently probe into the wall with a thin, long stick or screwdriver. If you encounter a slight resistance, you have some insulation there.
Many professional auditors will make a small hole in a closet, behind a couch, or in some other unobtrusive place to see what, if anything, the wall cavity is filled with. Ideally, the wall cavity should be totally filled with some form of insulation material. Unfortunately, this method cannot tell you if the entire wall is insulated, or if the insulation has settled. A professional may use an infrared camera to determine energy deficiencies in your home’s exterior wall insulation.
If your basement is unheated, determine whether there is insulation under the living area flooring. In most areas of the country, an R-value of 25 is the recommended minimum level of insulation. The insulation at the top of the foundation wall and first floor perimeter should have an R-value of 19 or greater. If the basement is heated, the foundation walls should be insulated to at least R-19. Your water heater, hot water pipes, and furnace ducts should all be insulated. Be sure to check out my guide to maximizing the efficiency of your hot water system.
Ensure that your home’s heating and cooling systems are maintained as recommended by the manufacturer. It is also a good idea to have a HVAC professional inspect your homes equipment on an annual basis.
If your home is heated or cooled by forced air, check your filters and replace them as needed. As a general rule of thumb, air filters should be checked at least once a month and replaced about every three.
If your homes furnace or air conditioning unit is more than 15 years old, you may consider replacing it with a more efficient model. There have been tremendous advancements in HVAC equipment over the last decade and the expense of adding a new system can be recouped in only a few short years in the form of less expensive energy bills.
If fitted, you should inspect your home’s duct work for signs of leaks, especially near seams. A tell tale sign is streaks of dust or lint along the duct work. Any signs of air leakage should be remedied with a good quality duct tape.
It is also important to insulate any ducts or pipes that travel through unheated spaces. An insulation R-Value of 6 is the recommended minimum.
Your Home’s Lighting:
According to the US Department of Energy, lighting accounts for 10% of the average home’s electric bill. The best way to reduce the energy use of your home’s lighting, take a look at the wattage size of the light bulbs in your house. You may have 100-watt (or larger) bulbs where a 15 watt compact fluorescent light bulb will suffice. Get into the habit of turning lights off in rooms that are not in use. I need to do a better job of this myself and set an example for my kids!
Good luck, and don’t forget to leave a comment below with any additional suggestions or techniques!
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