Any home can benefit from an energy-efficiency audit. Learn how to do one yourself and save money. You might lower your monthly utility bills and your insurance premiums, too.
As you set out on your DIY home energy assessment, keep a checklist of areas you’ve inspected and issues you’ve identified. Then prioritize your energy-efficiency upgrades based on your checklist. And keep in mind that energy-saving technology evolves constantly, so even a recently built home has the potential for improvement.
1. Air Leaks. First things first: Check for drafts. Reducing drafts can save you 10-20% in annual energy costs – or up to $200 a year for the average homeowner according to EnergyStar.* Check for leaks in gaps along baseboards and where walls and ceilings meet. Check windows, doors, lighting and plumbing fixtures, switches and electrical outlets. Re-caulk around faucets, pipes and electric outlets as needed. Look for cracks and holes in the mortar, foundation and siding of your home and seal with caulk or weatherstripping.
2. Insulation. The Alliance to Save Energy estimates half of U.S. homes lack adequate insulation.** Take these steps to determine whether yours is one of them, starting at the top floor:
- Make sure your attic hatch is weather-stripped and closes tightly.
- Seal attic openings for pipes, ductwork and chimneys with an expanding foam caulk or other non-combustible sealant and seal electrical boxes with flexible caulk.
- Check for presence of a vapor barrier under the attic insulation. Vapor barriers keep water vapor from seeping into insulation. An easy fix: Paint your ceilings with vapor barrier paint.
- Line your attic floor with the recommended amount of insulation.
- Check wall insulation levels. There are two ways: 1) Pick an exterior wall and turn off the circuit breaker or unscrew outlet fuses, then test the outlets to make sure they’re not "hot." Remove an outlet cover plate and insert a thin, long stick or screwdriver to feel for insulation. 2) Make a hole in a closet or behind a large piece of furniture to see whether the wall contains insulation. NOTE: DIY insulation checks are not foolproof. For best results, hire a professional to do a thermographic inspection.
3. Plumbing. A plumbing update can help prevent burst pipes. It can also lower your insurance premiums. Here’s what to put on your checklist:
- Install low flow-faucets and showerheads and save up to 8 gallons of water per minute.
- Install an energy-efficient water heater.
- Check for toilet leaks. Here’s how: Add three drops of food coloring to the toilet tank. Wait 30 minutes. If you see color in the bowl, chances are you have a leak.
4. HVAC. Inspect heating, cooling and ventilation systems every year. Replace forced-air furnace filters every other month. Hire a professional to check and clean your equipment on an annual basis. Consider replacing any outdated heating or cooling systems with energy-efficient units.
5. Lighting. Did you know lighting accounts for 10% of your electric bill? Replacing inefficient light bulbs can make a big difference. Choose energy-saving incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Reduce lighting use with sensors, dimmers or timers.
6. Appliances and Electronics. Estimate the energy use of your home’s appliances and electronics. Reduce energy use by unplugging items like toaster ovens, coffeemakers and computers when not in use. Invest in new, more energy-efficient appliances and electronics.
The bottom line: Once you find out where you’re losing energy, calculate what you’re spending on it. Think about your budget and how long you plan to stay in your current home, then formulate a plan to make your home more energy-efficient. You’ll save money and the planet.