Save Money with these Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Assessments from the U.S. Department of Energy
With this simple but thorough Home Energy Assessment (or audit) recommended gy the U.S. Department of Energy you can identify and correct many problem areas in your home that may be leading to unnecesarily high utility bills. As you do your assessment, keep a check-list of the parts of your home that you have inspected and any problems found to help you prioritize actions that need to taken.
Locating Air Leaks
First, check for any obvious air leaks. Your savings could range from 5% to 30% by simply reducing the number of air leaks (or drafts) in your home not to mention making your home generally more comfortable. Common locations for air leaks to occur include gaps along the baseboards and junctures of walls and ceilings. You should also check to see if air can flow through these places:
- Electrical outlets
- Switch plates
- Window frames
- Weather stripping around doors
- Fireplace dampers
- Attic hatches
- Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners.
Other likely locations for air leaks include gaps around:
- Pipes and Wires
- Electrical Outlets
- Foundation Seals
- Mail Slots
Also check your weatherstripping and caulking for gaps or crack and replace or recaulk if necessary.
Check your windows and doors to see if you can see daylight around them. If light can get through, so can air. Also check to see they fit tigtly in their frames. If you can "rattle" them, there are likely gaps that can allow air through.You can usually seal leaks around your doors or window frames replacing the weather stripping or by recaulking them. If your windows are old, you may want to consider replacing them with newer high effieciency double pane windows.
A basic buiding pressurization test can help you to locate any leaks. Follow these steps to perform the test:
- Close all exterior doors, windows, and fireplace flues.
- Turn OFF all combustion appliances such as gas burning furnaces and water heaters.
- Turn ON all exhaust fans (generally located in the kitchen and bathrooms) or use a large window fan to suck the air out of the rooms.
Following these steps will create draw air from outside your home through the leak sources.To identify the leaks dampen your hand with water and place it near where you suspect the leaks to be. Any drafts will feel cool on your hand. You can also use and incense stick to locate the leaks. Light the stick and place it near a suspected air leak source. If a leak is present the smoke will waiver.
On the outside of your house, inspect all areas where two different building materials meet, including:
- All exterior corners
- Where siding and chimneys meet
- Areas where the foundation and the bottom of exterior brick or siding meet.
Caulk any holes or penetrations from faucets, electrical outlets, wiring, or pipes. Seal any cracks or holes in the foundation and siding.
When sealing any home, you must always be aware of the danger of indoor air pollution and combustion appliance "backdrafts." Backdrafting is when the various combustion appliances and exhaust fans in the home compete for air. An exhaust fan may pull the combustion gases back into the living space. This can obviously create a very dangerous and unhealthy situation in the home.
In homes where a fuel is burned (i.e., natural gas, fuel oil, propane, or wood) for heating, be certain the appliance has an adequate air supply. Generally, one square inch of vent opening is required for each 1,000 Btu of appliance input heat. When in doubt, contact your local utility company, energy professional, or ventilation contractor.
Heat loss through the ceiling and walls in your home could be very large if the insulation levels are less than the recommended minimum. When your house was built, the builder likely installed the amount of insulation recommended at that time. Given today's energy prices (and future prices that will probably be higher), the level of insulation might be inadequate, especially if you have an older home.
If the attic hatch is located above a conditioned space, check to see if it is at least as heavily insulated as the attic, is weather stripped, and closes tightly. In the attic, determine whether openings for items such as pipes, ductwork, and chimneys are sealed. Seal any gaps with an expanding foam caulk or some other permanent sealant.
While you are inspecting the attic, check to see if there is a vapor barrier under the attic insulation. The vapor barrier might be tarpaper, Kraft paper attached to fiberglass batts, or a plastic sheet. 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.
Make sure that the attic vents are not blocked by insulation. You also should seal any electrical boxes in the ceiling with flexible caulk (from the living room side or attic side) and cover the entire attic floor with at least the current recommended amount of insulation.
Checking a wall's insulation level is more difficult. 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." 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. You could also 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. Only a thermographic inspection can do this.
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. For more information, see our insulation section.
Inspect heating and cooling equipment annually, or as recommended by the manufacturer. If you have a forced-air furnace, check your filters and replace them as needed. Generally, you should change them about once every month or two, especially during periods of high usage. Have a professional check and clean your equipment once a year.
If the unit is more than 15 years old, you should consider replacing your system with one of the newer, energy-efficient units. A new unit would greatly reduce your energy consumption, especially if the existing equipment is in poor condition. Check your ductwork for dirt streaks, especially near seams. These indicate air leaks, and they should be sealed with a duct mastic. Insulate any ducts or pipes that travel through unheated spaces. An insulation R-Value of 6 is the recommended minimum.
Next Month: Common AC Problems