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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Running a household can get expensive. Between regular maintenance and utility costs, things add up quickly over the course of a month. One of the most costly parts of owning a house is usually heating and cooling it. And if your house isn’t sealed or energy efficient, your heating and cooling costs will probably climb higher and higher every season.
Fortunately, there are ways to find the spots around your house where cooled and heated air escapes. Have those areas sealed up, replace old windows and doors, and you’ll see a difference in your utility costs.
An energy audit is one of the ways to find areas of air leakage and other inefficiencies around your house. Some HVAC contractors offer energy audit services. There are also home energy audit firms that cater exclusively to residential needs. And if you’re comfortable with a DIY route, you can do your own home energy audit yourself.
Keep reading to learn more!
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What is a Home Energy Audit?
A home energy audit is a series of tests that reveals how well your house keeps in cooled or heated air. Older homes sometimes lack enough insulation, which can cause air leaks. The caulk and weather stripping around windows and doors can fail over time. When this happens, your windows and doors get drafty. Flashing around the vents and pipes on the outside of your house can also deteriorate over time. This is another source of drafts.
The exact number of drafty spots in a house varies. According to the US Department of Energy, the average house has enough individual air leaks to equal the energy loss caused by a two-foot-square hole leaking air 24 hours a day. This is why home energy audits are helpful.
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How to DIY Your Home Energy Audit
If you want to try your hand at a DIY home energy audit, the first step is to gather the tools you’ll need.
Use this list:
- Camera or pen and paper (to document any issues)
- Incense sticks
- Sheet of paper
- Tissue paper
- Ladder (possibly)
Once you have those items, use the outline below to audit your house.
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DIY Home Energy Audit Process
- Check to see if the holes for your wiring, plumbing, or piping are properly sealed and insulated.
- Check the hatch leading into the attic for air leaks. Test for air leaks by closing all the windows and doors and turning on the air conditioner or furnace. Hold a lit stick of incense near the hatch. If the smoke rises between the hatch and the wood frame, there might be an air leak.
- Test for air leaks by turning on the heat or air conditioning in your home and feeling the ducts for any leaks. If you aren’t sure, shine a flashlight on the ducts and see if any dust is blowing.
Furnace and water heater
- Check the manufacture date on the furnace and water heater. These appliances lose efficiency over time. Furnaces should be replaced after 25 years, on average. Water heaters should be replaced after 10 years.
- Check your water heater’s insulation. If the water heater is hot to the touch, then it isn’t retaining heat properly.
- Check the furnace filter. If it’s dirty or hasn’t been replaced within the last three months, it’s making your HVAC system work too hard.
Windows and doors
- Check for drafty windows or doors. Do this by closing all the windows and doors and turning off the air conditioner, furnace, and fans.
- Hold a lit stick of incense near all sides of the window or door frame and underneath the door. The direction the smoke wafts will tell you if there’s a draft.
- Check the fireplace damper for leaks. To do this, close the damper and light a small piece of paper in the firebox. Watch the smoke. If it goes up the flue, you have an air leak.
Switches and outlets
- Even though your switches and outlets are covered, they can still have air leaks.
- To test this, remove the switch plates and outlet covers. Tape a piece of thin tissue paper over the outlet. If the tissue moves or blows, there is an air leak.
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What To Do After Your Home Energy Audit
So you’ve finished up your DIY home energy audit. That’s great! Now it’s time to address any issues you found. Some of these fixes are straightforward enough that you can handle them on your own. For others, you might need to bring in the pros.
To get started, check out the list of fixes below. Also take a look at our list of five upgrades that will boost your home’s energy efficiency.
- Seal holes around wires or pipes with high-temperature, flexible caulk or spray foam
- Insulate your attic hatch by attaching foam insulation to the back of the hatch. If the hatch door doesn’t have weather stripping, add that.
- Repair leaky ductwork with duct sealant (mastic) or metal-backed (foil) tape.
- Insulate ducts as needed with duct insulation material rated at least R-6.
Furnace and water heater
- Replace furnace filters at least every three months.
- Wrap your water heater in an insulating blanket (R-8 or higher).
- Insulate the pipes attached to your water heater with foam pipe insulation or insulating tape.
Windows and doors
- Replace failed caulking and weather stripping around windows and doors.
- Add a door sweep to exterior doors to eliminate the gap between the floor and the bottom of the door.
- Call a pro! Chimneys and fireplaces are tough to inspect and work on without specialized tools. This isn’t an area to DIY.
Switches and outlets
- To insulate switches and outlets, remove the switch plate and fit a foam gasket into the box. Put the switch plate back on.
- If your outlets are really drafty, consider plugging them with child safety plugs. Then, call an electrician to take a look.
Enjoying Your Efficient Home
These home energy audit fixes are just the beginning of making your house more efficient. To really maximize your home’s efficiency, hire a professional home energy auditor.
A DIY energy audit is a great starting point! You’ve just done the hard part of getting the process started. The pros are even more thorough. They have special equipment to do a full inspection, both inside and outside.