Completing a home energy audit on your house involves making a checklist of potential problem areas and concerns and conducting a thorough inspection (both inside and outside) of any possible areas where air may be leaking from the home. Letting warm air escape in the winter months and cool air escape in the summer months leads to an increase in your energy costs and goes a long way towards making your home inefficient.
Once you’ve gone over your list and all it entails (baseboards, door frames, window frames, air intakes, outdoor faucets, etc.), you can take comfort in knowing that you may have just started saving money on your monthly energy costs. But, there is a few more things to check over before you can call your energy audit complete – Insulation, climate control equipment (cooling/heating) and lighting.
When it comes to insulation, heat loss can occur in both the ceiling and walls if there is not enough insulation to meet the minimum requirements of your home. This will depend on the regulations at the time of construction.
Depending on the age of your home, those standards may have changed considerably by now. One thing is guaranteed – energy costs right now, today, are higher than they were when your home was built. Even if your home was built in the last few years there has been a noticeable increase in energy costs for everyone. Like real estate, energy costs will continue to climb, making energy conservation a much more viable and valuable option.
Checking the Attic
Begin by inspecting your attic – is the entryway to your attic above an air conditioned area? If so, ensure it is as insulated as the attic and seals tightly. Inside the attic, any ducts, pipes, etc. must be examined to make sure that any gaps are sealed tight and there are no drafts. Weather stripping is usually necessary to help seal any these leaks.
As with windows and doors, caulking or spray foam insulation can be used to create better seals. Your attic may also need a vapor barrier – usually this is achieved with tar-paper, plastic sheeting or special paper attached to fiberglass insulation. An insufficient vapor barrier can lead to two major issues: reduced efficiency of your insulation and structural damage to your home.
Identify what kind of insulation is in your attic and how much. You can then back into what r-value you have and whether or not you have a tight air seal on your home. One of the best investments many homeowners make is an inch of spray foam insulation on the floor of their attic.
That inch gives you an air tight seal and separates the living space from the attic. Once that air tight seal is in place, you can heap on the other insulation on top of the inch of spray foam in order to build up the r-value.
Checking Your Walls
Next you will want to check the insulation levels and quality in your walls. This is trickier than checking insulation in the attic since nothing is exposed. There are a few relatively easy ways to check what kind of insulation you have in your walls.
Begin by turning off the breaker for any outlets on the wall you want to test. Remove the coverplate from the outlet and using a long screwdriver (*or any long stick like object) push the screwdriver into the opening – slight resistance to your probing may indicate you at least have some insulation.
A better way to test is to make a small hole (*how you do this is up to you, but exercise caution) in an out of the way spot such as behind a sofa or the back wall of a closet for the purpose of seeing what the wall cavity is filled with. You can at least guess from your findings whether or not your walls are sufficiently insulated. If you want to be thorough, you can look into having a professional thermographic inspection of your walls.
Regulations are requiring higher and higher insulation levels in homes now. So much so that the old standby forms of insulation most of us are used to often can’t get to the r-value levels required in walls. That makes spray foam even more of an asset as wall insulation.
Checking Heating & Air Conditioning
Household heating and cooling equipment should be inspected annually, or as recommended by the manufacturer. Forced air furnaces are still very common. If you have one, check the filter regularly and replace when necessary. During the winter and periods of high usage, you should check more frequently.
Current energy consumption standards and appliance technology have made for energy efficient furnaces and cooling systems today that are a much better option. If your furnace or A/C unit is an older model, you should inspect it carefully as it may also be a source of air leakage.
Any dirt or dust streaks present around the seams of air ducts are a sign that your furnace is leaking air. This can be remedied in the short term by using duct tape. Make sure the area is completely dust free before applying the tape to ensure full adhesion.