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How to Perform a Home Energy Audit

The key to lowering energy costs is to use as electricity as efficiently as possible. This is not a news flash; however, most people have no idea of all the different ways they may be wasting energy in their homes. This is because, for the most part, energy loss is subtle and hidden, and unless homeowners or renters know where to look, they will never even realize how much electricity is being used up without performing any useful work whatsoever.

There are two remedies available to help those who are looking to solve the problem of inefficient energy use. One is to hire a professional auditor to come to your home and check things out thoroughly and to make recommendations on changes that can be made to reduce unnecessary consumption of electricity. The second option is to save the money and do it yourself, and if you know what to look for, this approach can yield results that are every bit as good as what can be achieved by hiring an expert.

Plugging the Leaks

Interior climate control can be significantly compromised by air leaks that allow hot air or cold air to enter or escape. While most of these leaks are quite small, when they exist in large numbers – as they do in most homes – the energy loss they are each responsible for can add up quickly. Estimates are that in the average American home, energy inefficiencies caused by small undetected holes or cracks leading to the outside account for at least 5 percent, and in some cases as much as 30 percent, of total household consumption of electricity.

How To Design and Construction of Self-sufficient Houses…

The secret to detecting these leaks is to be meticulous, patient, and thorough. Among the places that should be checked for anomalous and unwanted drafts and currents include:

  • Doors (alongside and beneath)
  • Window frames
  • Electrical outlets
  • Switch plates
  • Wall- or window-mounted fans and air conditioners
  • Baseboards
  • Entrance holes for pipes or wires
  • Fireplace or wood stove dampers
  • Attic hatch doors
  • Electrical and gas service entrances
  • Mail chutes of doggie doors
  • Dryer vents
  • Cable TV and phone lines

 

Some of these leaks are naturally quite difficult to detect, which is why you should consider using the incense test to help you find them. This involves lighting an incense stick and then holding close to the areas you are checking for leaks to see if air currents are present that can affect the flow of the smoke. If you don’t like the smell of incense, a normal candle will also do just fine, since air flows from most leaks should be strong enough to make a candle flame flicker.

When leaks are found, it is a simple matter of applying some caulking or stuffing in some insulation to close up these energy-draining openings. One way that will help you perform a much more thorough, comprehensive, and effective search is to involve everyone in the family. Assign everyone one or two rooms where it will be their job exclusively to find any air leaks that might exist, and turn it into a contest that gives some kind of reward to whoever finds the largest number of these tiny openings. The reason why an approach like this works is because this part of a home energy audit can quickly become a tedious and boring task, and if you try to do it all yourself, the chances are you will start to lose focus and concentration and end up missing a lot of the smallest leaks. So, dividing the responsibility and giving out prizes is a good way to be sure everyone pays attention and the job gets done right.

Improving Your Insulation

You should of course already have a good layer of insulation inside the walls of your home. But one place where skimping often occurs is on the top and bottom floors. If your house has an attic or a basement, or both, the ceiling of the latter and the entire area of the former including the floor should be insulated with materials that have an R-value of 19 or better if the room is heated, and 25 of better if it is not (the R-value measures an insulating material’s resistance to air flow). In the attic, the insulation in the walls and the ceiling should have some kind of vapor barrier over it to keep moisture in the air from penetrating, since insulation works much better if it is kept dry. The vapor barrier could be tarpaper, a plastic sheet, or special paint with vapor-resistant abilities.

In the basement, any pipes that carry hot water (and the hot water heater itself) should all be wrapped with insulation to prevent unnecessary heat loss to the surrounding environment.

Checking Your Heating and Cooling Equipment

Furnaces and air conditioners have filters that can become easily plugged with dust, hair, dirt, and particulate matter, and they should be cleaned often to keep them in good working order. With forced-air furnaces, it is necessary to replace the filters every one or two months, and a professional repairman should be brought in once a year to give the unit a complete cleaning. Ductwork should be checked closely for leaks, which can be spotted by looking for the dirt streaks that will form on the area just outside the leaky seams. Duct tape was made for use with ductwork (hence the name), and it can work quite well as a sealant when applied to these seams. It is also a good idea to insulate any ducts or pipe work that pass through unheated spaces with insulation that has an R-value rating of 6 or higher.

In addition to the heating and cooling units, vents should also be regularly vacuumed out and dusted, and any vents that open into rooms that are lightly used should probably be kept shut most of the time.

If a furnace or air conditioner is more than fifteen years old, it is probably not working at peak efficiency any more, and even if it is, the newer models that are now available are much more energy-efficient than these older, outdated units. So buying a new heating or cooling unit in this case could be worth the significant upfront expense, especially if you are living in a climate that has extreme temperatures in either the summer or the winter.

Eliminating Phantom Energy Loss

Modern electronic devices use standby power setups that allow them to be activated at a moment’s notice even when they are turned off, and this design leads to what is called phantom energy loss. Even though each individual electronic appliance or device will only use up a small amount of extra power this way, when you have a house full of these devices and they are kept plugged in when they are not in use, the electricity used up needlessly to supply standby power could drive up your level of energy by as much as 5 percent.

Unless there is some characteristic of a particular electronic gadget or appliance that requires constant power, you should unplug all of your computers, printers, fax machines, stereos, televisions, DVD players, etc. when they are not in use. Power strips can make things more convenient by allowing a number of different devices to be switched on and off in unison, eliminating the necessity of going around the house to unplug things individually before you go to bed each night.

Increasing Appliance Efficiency

With larger appliances like refrigerators, stoves, and washing machines, making sure that coils, motors, or heating units are kept clean and dust-free will keep them running smoothly while reducing their energy input requirements. Refrigerators in particular are big-time energy users, but their energy consumption can be reduced by moving them farther away from the wall for more efficient venting of heat, changing the interior temperatures (most fridges are kept much colder than they need to be), and by cutting down on the number of times you open and close the door on a daily basis.

Since the 1980s, all electric appliances and devices have been required to carry a yellow EnergyGuide label. This handy little sticker provides complete details about how much power appliances use, which allows the consumer to comparative shop to find the most efficient fridge, washer and dryer set, television, or what have you. You should check out the yellow stickers on your appliances to find out just how efficient they really are, and if they don’t have these stickers, this means they were manufactured before the EnergyGuide label came into use, which means they are highly inefficient and therefore good candidates to be replaced.

Slash your lighting bill by 90% … and never change a light bulb again…

Lighting

Most homes consume about 10 percent of their electricity to light interior spaces. This percentage can be reduced, however, if you replace all incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or LEDs, the latter of which could cut down on energy usage by as much as 90 percent. Even though LED bulbs are more expensive than the alternatives, because they save so much energy and last so long, they will undoubtedly pay for themselves over time.

Light usage patterns need to be closely monitored over a period of days as a part of any home energy audit. You should check to make sure lights are never being left on anywhere when no one is in the room, and you should remind everyone to keep them turned off completely during the daytime in any location where abundant natural light is available.

Developing an Efficient Consciousness

One of the neat collateral effects of performing a home energy audit, especially when everyone in the family is involved, is that it helps create an anti-waste mindset that can change the way we look at ourselves and at our normal patterns of living. Even those who have chosen to go off the grid usually carry certain ingrained habits with them, and being oblivious to the amount of energy we routinely waste is frequently one of these habits.

A home energy audit can be the first step toward a whole new outlook on life. The new consciousness that this process helps create can save you money and energy in the short-term, while also delivering a host of long-term intangible benefits that can be useful to all those who want to learn how to live more efficiently and with a far greater sense of purpose and self-determination.

©2012 Off the Grid News

© 2008-2014 Off The Grid News

11 comments

  1. While homeowners can do many online Green Energy Audits, it is much safer to have a professional do this for they can change the way air flows to heating units and cause serious damage to not only their health, but also the property. Many States have utility programs that pay a portion of the Green Audit.
    We have a home energy savings guide with 30 years of FYI’s to HELP.
    http://www.savemoneyonenergy.com/index.html

    • Hi Carlos, here is a link to the search tool for finindg service organizations that can perform the energy audit.If you are in Durham region, Peterborough, Kawartha lakes, and East GTA, I would be able to recommend a reliable auditor if you contact me.

  2. Many electric utilities also perform FREE energy audits … contact your local electric utility company to see if they provide this service.

    • fakiir wrote standard radaint barrier sheathing does the same job, possibly cheaper, but you dont get the benefit of sealing all the tiny cracks. Radiant barrier adds about 300 dollars to a job, foam about 10,000, just so you know you fckn moron. And since most of the country isnt dumb enough to put their hvac in the attic, insulating it would be a complete waste in most of the homes in the country. A 10,000 dollar waste.

  3. If you can find a ‘blower door’ to rent it will help to pinpoint the air leaks. A blower door is
    a big fan unit that will fit into your door frame and blow air into the home. Using the incense
    trick you can see the leak because the smoke will flow right to the leak and out of the home,
    instead of smoke blowing into the room. It’s kind of like the smoke ‘points’ to the leak. The
    blower door pressurizes the house and the air flows outward through the multitude of leaks.

    • Blower doors should rarely be used to PRESSURIZE a home. Do you know how many things can go wrong if you do that?

  4. In SE Texas I decreased my AC useage by improving the attic in my 1800 sq ft single story. Prior to flooring in my attic (for useful space) I fluffed up all my blown in fiberglass and added some bats where needed. This helped a small amount. The greatest improvement I did was to add the vented 4′ wide radiant barrier to the undersides of my rafters. Last summer, instead of getting very hot, the attic temperatures remained close to outside temps. Estimate a 20% reduction in my cooling costs. My attic improvements cost less than $500 DIY and probably saved me $250 in cooling costs last summer. From what I understand the radiant barrier also helps keep it warmer in the winter by reflecting heat back into the house.

    • For the drain sys. a plug is placed in the line sohewmere near the end of the sys. Then the sys. is filled with water. The time frame differs from place to place inspector preferance. After the set time if there has not been a significant drop in the water level, it is determined the sys. is water tight.For the supply side, caps are installed at the end of all the pipe runs with a pressure indicator at the end of the run. Again at the end of a set time if there is no sig. pressure drop the sys. is determined to be water tight.

  5. As a home energy professional for the last three years, I’m actually slightly appalled by this article. There are many incorrect statements made about improving the efficiency in your home . But I’m not going to call each one of them out. Rather, I am going to make an argument that if you want to do some work on your home, START with a professional energy auditor.

    Really, there’s no excuse not to have a professional come in and audit your home. Costs in Colorado are anywhere from FREE to $500 to get an energy audit performed. It may cost you 10′s of thousands of dollars in renovation work if you mess something up when you are doing improvements. It can even cost you your family’s lives. Ever heard of carbon monoxide? Its a real danger. And I’ve seen it first hand.

    I apologize for a long rant here, but I want to make sure that people understand that their HEALTH and SAFETY can be on the line, if improvements are not done properly. All just to save a buck or two on a professional energy audit. Let’s get out of the “bargain” “Walmart” way of thinking, and begin to move into a conversation of value. You can spend $100′s of dollars caulking your home, but will you really see the kind of improvement in energy savings and comfort that you were looking for? Its like buying a t-shirt that was on sale for $3, and then having to buy another one a month later when the seams start to unravel on the first one. Did you really save any money?

    Your home is a mini ecosystem. What happened when they took the wolves out of Yellowstone? The ecosytsem was thrown out of equilibrium….for a long time. The same thing can happen in your house. Let’s say you find all those leaks on your own (without the assistance of a blower door and infrared camera, which could be done in a few hours with a professional) and you seal them up. Do you know if your house is too tight now?
    Real world example: I went into a home where the owner had done an EXTREMELY good job of sealing his leaks. (His house was already tight, but he didn’t know that) He had mold in the bathroom and attic. The house was too tight, and there wasn’t sufficient ventilation. 10′s of THOUSANDS of dollars later, the problem was fixed, ventilation installed, and now he has a very energy efficient home. Could he have saved the money, time and hassle of having to remedy the mold issue if he had contacted an energy auditor before he made improvements? I venture to say YES, if the auditor was worth his/her salt.

    Another common mistake is to DIY fiberglass batt insulation in your attic. Unless it is perfectly installed (even professional installers miss places with batts) you will not see the R-Value you were looking for, and will effectively see little to no improvement in comfort or your utility bills. You might as well light your money on fire, for the poor results you will see from that kind of installation.

    Another point on attic insulation. Insulation is a thermal barrier, NOT an air barrier. Insulation slows the transfer of heat, but does not STOP air. Don’t believe me? Go into your attic or crawlspace and look at the exposed insulation. If it looks dirty, there’s an air leak. The insulation essentially filtered the air, but did nothing to save you money or improve your comfort. A professional should install high grade foam at all top plates, penetrations, chases, etc. to make sure the attic is properly SEALED. THEN you add insulation. (NOT batts!!) Sound complicated? It is. Do you know what components need fire-rated applications? No?

    And rent a blower door? Would you know where the red hose goes, and where the green hose goes? What do the numbers on the manometer’s screen mean? What calculations will you need to perform to see how leaky (or tight) your house is? Don’t know? Maybe you should hire a professional for a modest fee and have them do it in a few hours.

    And how about that carbon monoxide? Were you trained in HVAC to know when your heat exchanger might be cracked and have the potential to leak carbon monoxide throughout your entire home? How often should you change your furnace filter? 3 months? 1 month? Would you be able to figure out if you have spillage or backdrafting at your water heater? A professional energy auditor will be able to tell you.

    I’m not against people doing work themselves, but because homes are very complicated, and each component can affect another component of your home, don’t you think it would be best to save yourself the time (and possibly thousands of dollars in repair work if you mess it up) and have a professional diagnose the home, create a plan, and give you instruction based in solid building science principles?

    I wouldn’t even think about fixing my car myself, as I am not a trained mechanic, and having a SAFE car to drive is important to me. I hope that the safety of your family is important enough to you, to bite the bullet and spend a couple hundred dollars on a professional.

    Thank you,
    Melissa

    • Cool your jets Melissa, no one is trying to put you out of business. Read the second paragraph again: “if you know what you are doing”. This is not an indepth DIY article, just an overview of what to look for. Intelligent people with do more research before getting involved in something. I have watched so many “Holmes on Homes” episodes where the professionals screwed things up too! The rule here is to educate yourself whether you are DIY or hiring a professional. People, If you don’t educate yourself, we might see “you” on “Holmes on Homes”.
      I would much rather have seen a short (say 10 point) checklist of what to look out for, the perils of DIY or maybe how to hire a “good” contractor for this specific topic!
      You have some passion about this, just watch the presentation and who your readers are and go for it!

  6. Ive built more homes than youve seen in your life. I was there at the trade shows when foam tried becoming ppoular in the seventies. I have hired more than one professional energy auditor to run savings numbers on foam. They say the same thing, most climates in the US do NOT justify using foam, the cost will take too long to repay itself. And only retarded deuschebags on youtube think its the re-invented wheel of insulation.

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