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Blog Aug 1, 2016

DIY home energy audit


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In the process of keeping your home comfortable, there is a very good chance you are paying too much. For many, this fact can go unnoticed as it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether or not the process is costing you unnecessarily. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it is possible to cut your energy bill up to a whopping 25 percent by simply reducing the amount of energy that is wasted within the home. And for those experiencing the rising prices of gas, food, and other consumer goods, keeping your utility bill low may be particularly beneficial. To aid you in this endeavor, your Texas Retail Electric Provider has an easy way for you to find what is costing you, so that you can take charge and stop shelling out unnecessary dollars month after month. The answer is a home energy audit.

A home energy audit is an assessment that determines how much energy is consumed within your home and the source of the usage so that changes can be made to save you money moving forward. When it comes to the audit itself, the assessment can be left up to a professional or performed by homeowners themselves. The do-it-yourself Home Energy Audit requires a simple walk-through of your home to spot and list energy-robbing problems. The list will help you prioritize needed changes that will boost your home’s energy efficiency. Some of these key changes include:

  • Installation of programmable thermostat
  • Preventing air leaks
  • Making sure you have the proper insulation
  • Improving operation of heating and cooling units
  • Using the right type of lighting

No matter if you choose the do-it-yourself approach to the Home Energy Audit or if you want a professional to perform the service for you, your Retail Energy Provider can help you cut and control your utility costs.

Energy Audit Checklist

Not every home energy audit is the same, but in performing one, there are some things to be mindful of. They include:

  • The quality of the insulation(if any) in your attic
  • The number of air returns throughout your home
  • Whether the AC/furnace you have is the right size for your home
  • How well your attic/home’s air envelope is sealed

Because of the interconnectedness of homes and appliances, it can be easy to mistaken the effects of one or more factors as stemming from a single device. As a result, checking among all possible factors could affect your home’s energy efficiency and make a huge difference in your energy consumption. This is particularly important to understand as you go about doing your own home audit.

DIY Home Energy Audit Tips

With a better understanding of what goes into a home energy audit, you may be ready to perform one yourself. There are a few things to be mindful of beforehand however, as knowing some of the nuances and tricks of the process can help improve the strength of your assessment to help increase the impact of the savings you can do.  The following are several easy tips that can help you to make your home energy audit as effective as possible:

1. Start with the Biggest Savings Opportunities

Your biggest opportunities for savings will be in your heating and water heating. Among the costs that stem from appliances in your home, those two are the greatest. This expense extends beyond the region in which you live, as it persists across state lines. The first place to start with this is in the attic. There, you’ll want to check out the R-value of your insulation. The R-value is the measure of the insulation’s ability to minimize the flow of cold and heat both within and outside of the home.

Checking the R-value is not a simple procedure, so you may need to consult a guide to help you do it in your home. In the event your R-value indicates that you need more insulation, the process for adding in more is a fairly quick way to improve your energy efficiency. Even better, the payoff period for the investment is fast as well.

2. With Your Water Heater…

Improving the efficiency of the water heater is one of the simplest changes to make following a home energy audit, yet far too often people are unaware of how to save. In the case of the water heater, a temperature adjustment to 120 degrees Fahrenheit is all that needs to be done. Often water heaters are preset to temperatures that are greater than that level, which uses energy unnecessarily. Given the frequency of the water heater’s use, the simple change is one way to achieve an easy win.

Another thing to keep an eye out for during your home energy assessment is whether or not there exists an opportunity to install a tankless or solar-powered water heater. You might even consider converting to a gas water heater from electric if possible. Just as with adding insulation, water heating has a fast payoff period of just a few years in comparison to other energy savings tactics, which can take 5 years or longer to show returns.

3. Is Your Home’s Air Envelope Sealed?

“Air envelope” is the term used to describe the home’s sealed in nature as the internal temperature may be subject to change based on leaks either within the house that minimize efficiency, or those that allow airflow in from outside. Not only does sealing your home’s “air envelope” increase your energy efficiency, but it improves your indoor air quality (IAQ) too. IAQ is gaining steam because the better the IAQ, the less likely those in the home are to get sick.

As you go about your home energy audit, you should do the small checks. Look around your windows, doors, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, and so on. Take note of any drafty places within your home and use an incense stick to locate leaks. This can be done by simply lighting the stick and passing it around the inside of your walls on a breezy day. When you see the smoke noticeably disturbed, mark off the area and go back later to seal it.

4. How Do You Keep the Sun Out?

While the sun’s a good source of vitamin D and necessary for our survival, it can also make homes quite uncomfortable. This is one check many home energy audits forget to account for. Blocking the sun from hitting your home’s exterior or from entering your windows can make a huge difference on your energy bills. You can use window awnings, blinds, or even plant trees that block the sun. It can be a huge and inexpensive opportunity to save that pays off for you fast. Inversely, allowing the sun to shine in during the winter months can save you on heating and make your house toasty.

This does not encompass a complete home energy audit but it hits some of the biggest opportunities you’re going to have for savings. Following through on it will put you in a good place and put your home on track to optimal efficiency.

5. Check Your Furnace’s AFUE Rating

The furnace is rated by the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency ratio, which is also referred to as AFUE rating. This refers to the amount of heat produced with each dollar of fuel used and the the higher the score, the lower the cost of fuel. Finding your AFUE rating can be done easily and quickly, as there will likely be a large yellow sticker with a number on it. The number listed is the efficiency level so in the event the rating is 88, that means your furnace is 88% efficient.

It is possible to get high efficiencies, such as 97 and 98 but that requires individuals to pay a high upfront cost. When it comes to your own furnace, your efficiency rating should be in the 92-95 range.

6. Check Your AC’s SEER Rating

Understanding your Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio or SEER rating is not as simple as some of the other components of a home energy audit. A SEER rating refers to the cooling output of the air conditioner over the course of a season divided by its energy consumption in watt-hours. As far as the size of the number is concerned, the higher it is, the better the efficiency. The minimum number a central AC Unit can have today is 13-14, although the true number is stipulated by state requirements.

The maximum a unit can be is usually 21 or 25, though the unit will not always be running at this efficiency and instead that rating represents the highest it can achieve. Every point difference constitutes an amount of greater efficiency and in many ways, the SEER rating is similar to miles per gallon for cars. In the event one air conditioner has a SEER of 13, it is more efficient than one with a SEER of 10 . And for those who have an AC that is getting old(15-20 years) consider purchasing a more efficient unit.

7. Check Your Home For Drafts

From time to time you may become aware of drafts within your home. When conducting a home energy audit, this is one of your biggest and most cost-effective wins when it comes to improving your efficiency. Though you might already be aware of some, it is a simple matter to find the sources of major leaks.

To do so, wait for a windy day and close all your windows, turning off your gas furnace and water heater too. Shut all your windows and your fireplace flue as well. From there you can either wet your hand or light an incense stick. You will pass your hand or the stick around baseboards and windows and if the smoke wavers or your hand feels cold, you’ve found a draft. Mark of that area and seal it off.

8. Water Use

During your home energy assessment, be sure to stop into your bathroom to see how efficient your home is with water. The best devices for ensuring effective use are a low-flow shower head, low-flow toilet, and low-flow sink faucet aerators. What these devices do is reduce the amount of water that is consumed as they are being used, saving you money and coming with the added benefit of aiding the environment.

Along with that, because these devices are able to restrict the amount of water being used with each shower and hand wash, the amount of heat that is supplied by the water heater is also able to be minimized, saving that appliance energy and helping you to put money back into your pocket.

9. Insulation

Checking the insulation is a bit harder to do on your own because you don’t look at insulation every day and subsequently may be unable to distinguish between what’s good and what’s not. When you go up in your attic, you should notice insulation piled as high as the tops of your floor joists. If it has fallen lower than that, then it’s settled and it’s time to have some new stuff blown in.

If you notice your house feeling unusually hot during summer or strangely cold during the winter, that’s another sign you need insulation. For those homeowners who have a basement, it should be heated. If it’s not, you should have insulation.

So those are some of the areas for the biggest wins. Give them a check, and see which fit your budget.

Is a professional energy audit worth it?

You can also have a Home Energy Audit conducted by a specially trained technician using professional equipment, such as a blower door test to determine how airtight your home is, a thermographic scan to detect air leaks and moisture problems in your home, a combustion safety test for your heating system, plus an insulation, lighting and appliance survey. The results of this professional audit will lead to the best options to improve energy efficiency in heating and cooling your house.

So, are you and your family ready to save money?  You can stop paying too much for home energy today. Your REP can show you exactly how a Home Energy Audit can help you keep more cash in your pocket!

Sometimes 20%, 30%, or even much more than that!

And you should have this done even if you own a brand new home. In many cases, contractors cut corners on how they build new homes to increase their profit margins. Even homes that are supposed to be the “model of efficiency” can in reality be highly inefficient.

For whatever reason, home energy audits don’t get marketed heavily and aren’t as well known in the general public but as you can see, they can make quite a difference for many homes. They also often pay back for themselves within the year, but that is not always the case. There may even be an opportunity to get one performed for free, in which case you’ve got nothing to lose.

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