Conducting a home energy audit is one of the first and most effective steps any homeowner can take towards making their home more energy efficient. A home energy audit will assist in the evaluation of home energy consumption levels and spotlight areas where efficiency requires improvement (and can be improved). It is very important to realize that the purpose of the audit is to expose previously unseen areas of neglect and to showcase where changes must be implemented once these areas are exposed.
The payoff of the audit is in knowing what the problem areas are; once problems have been identified, it is simply a matter of using solutions and making the necessary changes. Implementing changes will have a long term result of enhanced energy efficiency, increased comfort at home and – this is the big hook for most – lower energy bills. So the next question then becomes: how is an audit conducted?
The great news is you can do the audit yourself. While it is entirely possible to hire a company to come to your home and conduct an energy consumption audit of your home (*and many choose to defer to an experienced source of knowledge), it is also possible for you to simply do it yourself. Regardless of what type of house you live in, a step by step walk through of the entire house can expose many factors and existing conditions that are likely making your energy use non-efficient in some areas.
The first thing you should do before you begin is to make a checklist of all the areas of your home you are going to inspect (example – list all bedrooms, windows in each bedroom, electrical outlets, etc.), leaving yourself some room to record your findings as well as proposed solutions. Make sure you date everything accurately as this will serve as a means of checking in and making sure that your solutions are holding up over time.
The first things you can search for easily around the house are instances of air leakage or drafts. Surprisingly, some of the most unassuming areas of the home can be the source of small drafts that can make a significant impact on your energy bills over the course of a year. Even a small amount of air leakage can increase your energy bills from 5 to 25% per annum.
An easy way to test for leaks is by using a stick of incense. Simply light it and hold it close to windows, door frames, etc., and watch to see if the smoke wavers at all. Common places to look for leaks and drafts are:
• Window frames
• Electrical outlets
• Window (and wall) mounted air conditioners
• Mail slots and pet doors
• Weather stripping
• Any places with caulking or rubber seals
In addition to the list above, go over all windows and doors thoroughly. If they move or rattle when you shake them gently, chances are they may be a source of drafts. If you can see daylight around window or door frames, then you’ve uncovered another leak. Depending on severity, you have a few options. Leaks can be sealed in a number of ways that aren’t too costly (*unless you’ve decided there are too many leaks and you’d rather replace doors and windows outright): weather stripping, caulking and spray foam are excellent sealants, plastic sheeting can also be used over windows but isn’t a solution for doors.
After assessing the inside of the house, you can now move to the outside. The criteria outside of the house are fairly basic: any place where different building materials come into contact with each other are potential locations for leaks. Common places for leaks are:
• Any areas where the foundation and siding meet
• All corners
• Areas where chimney and siding meet
• All electrical outlets, faucets, pipes, etc.
• Mortar, foundation and siding
• Exterior caulking on windows and doors
Be aware of backdrafts when resealing leaks around the house. A backdraft occurs when any of your combustion based appliances compete for air with exhaust fans. An exhaust fan will pull gases from combustion appliances back into the home. This has the potential to be very hazardous to your health and very dangerous to your home. Appliances that burn fuel (natural gas, oil, propane, etc.) must have an adequate air supply. If you aren’t sure of whether or not you are getting the correct air to Btu ratio (one square inch of air vent opening per 1000 Btu of heat), consult your electric company or a specialist (construction contractor, energy professional, etc.) to make sure everything is safe.
In our next post, we will discuss how to conduct a Home Energy audit focused on the insulation in your home.