Don’t know where to start saving money on your home energy use? Maybe your home has air leaks and drafts? Does it have proper insulation? Are your appliances and lights energy-efficient? Still don’t know? It’s time to perform a DIY energy audit. Doing a home energy audit yourself is very easy, plus it will show you where your Texas energy dollars are going. You don’t need a big fan and hi-tech infrared imaging equipment. In fact, you can get started with a sheet of paper and a smoking stick of incense.
The first step is to turn off all the ceiling fans and ventilation equipment in your home. Wait a few minutes for the stack effect to kick in – the stack effect is what happens when heated air rises up through the house. As it exits the house, it pulls cool air in from the outside through cracks and holes in your foundation, wall, windows, doors, and other holes in the form of drafts. This makes your heat and AC work harder to condition your home, adding to your energy costs. The fewer drafts you have, the more efficiently you’ll be able to heat and cool your home.
Light your stick of incense. Carefully avoiding drapes or curtains, or anything flammable, move the stick slowly near:
- Electrical outlets
- Window frames
- Weatherstripping around doors
- Fireplace dampers
- Attic hatches
- Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners.
Watch the smoke for signs of a draft. When you find one, make a note of it. An alternative to smoldering incense is to wet the back of your hand and feel for drafts. If you are having trouble finding leaks, try:
- Closing all exterior doors, windows, and fireplace flues.
- Turning off all combustion appliances such as gas-burning furnaces and water heaters.
- Then 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.
You should be able to detect air leaks more easily. An affordable tool you can use is an infrared thermometer with a built-in laser pointer. This lets you pinpoint cold spots on your walls that might have drafts behind them. They cost around $47.00 and pay for themselves by saving you LOTS of time during your DIY energy audit.
Another thing to look out for on your walls is mildew. This means that there is a draft inside the wall cavity that is letting cold air in during the winter, causing the warm, moist air inside your home to condense on the wall near that draft and encourage mildew and mold to grow. The moisture will damage walls, and the mold and mildew will damage your health.
Also, check for air leaks where your floor meets the foundation. Often, these air leaks can be closed cheaply with a little caulk or expanding foam sealant. And don’t forget mail slots, they can also let in drafts. Check to see if caulking and weather stripping on windows and doors are applied properly and in good condition since they are common sites for drafts that reduce your home’s energy efficiency.
Next, consider the amount of insulation in your home. Most buildings are built with 3 1/2 inches of insulation in the walls and attic. This sounds like a lot but in reality, the DOE recommends insulation with an R-30 (about 10 inches) in attic spaces for most of the country. Adding insulation to your walls is difficult and usually expensive. However, adding insulation to your attic is easier and cheaper — note that it is a dirty, hot, and tiring job. Just know, adding insulation WILL save you money.
Let’s look at your Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning system (HVAC). The biggest culprits that rob the energy from your HVAC are a clogged air filter and air leaks from the ductwork. A clogged air filter just needs replacing or cleaning and should be done every three months or so. Air leaks in the ductwork come from poorly joined or broken ductwork that blows heated or cooled air into places where you don’t want it to go. Consequently, you spend more money on your heating and cooling.
Sealing your ductwork can save you about $300. Plus, insulating ducts in the typical American home can save up to 30% on the energy for heating and cooling. Air leaks are identified easiest by a visual inspection for holes and then sealing the ductwork joints with either a ductwork mastic or aluminum ductwork tape.
And before you try it, that vinyl cloth stuff called “duct tape” does not withstand the temperature range in HVAC systems and fails in just a few months. Make sure each and every joint is either sealed with mastic or aluminum tape. Don’t forget to do the same for the return ducts since they pull air from your rooms. When properly sealed, a home’s HVAC system will pressurize more completely and deliver more conditioned air to where you need it.
The last item you want to look at is your electrical appliance and lighting use. How efficient are your washer, dryer, dishwasher, and water heater? How old are they? Chances are, if any are 10 to 15 years old, you might want to consider replacing them. Most tank water heaters, for example, are under-insulated, and a simple $2 insulated water heater jacket kit and some pipe insulation can cut your hot water costs – all DIY.
Lighting accounts on average for about 10% of your Texas electric bill. If you are still using incandescent, then remember that 90% of the energy they emit is heat. So, if you are paying $1 to use a 60-watt incandescent bulb, that means you are only getting 10¢ worth of light while dumping 90¢ worth of heat into your home! In the summer, that adds to your home’s heat load. CFLs are a good alternative since they are more energy-efficient and produce less heat. A 15 watt CFL produces the same amount of light (lumens) as a 60-watt incandescent but is six times more efficient. LED bulbs are a bit more expensive, but they produce almost 90% light for 3 to 5 watts and emit very little heat, saving you money in the long-run.
Also, don’t forget to stake out the “energy vampires” lurking in your home. Energy Vampires suck electrical power even when they seem to be asleep or switched off. One or two may only drain a drop of electricity. A house full of gadgets, though, can bleed you dry. If you aren’t using an appliance, unplug it to prevent this waste.
An energy audit will not only show you where to start saving money during the hot summer months, but it will also identify heating problems that cost you in the winter. Do it yourself as soon as possible so you can identify your home’s problems and develop a plan of action.