Start Saving with a DIY Home Energy Audit
You may be throwing money out the window with unseen energy costs. But an easy, do-it-yourself home energy audit is an effective way to start saving hundreds of dollars every year.
No matter the age of your home, you are likely to discover energy wasters and can identify practical ways to save. Knowledge is power, so grab your clipboard and spend an afternoon going through this energy audit, with guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Energy.
DIY Energy Audit Checklist
Your home’s heating and air conditioning account for 50% of your energy costs. Follow these simple steps to check your HVAC efficiency.
- First, check your air filters. Dirty filters limit air flow and make the unit work harder. They should be replaced with clean filters every 1 to 2 months.
- Check that ductwork, as dirt streaks may indicate leaks. Seal those leaks with the proper materials, like mastic sealant or metal tape.
- Minimize air loss with good insulation on ducts or pipes running through unheated spaces.
- Make sure air vents aren’t covered by furniture, and adjust your thermostat 7 to 10 degrees to save 10% annually on heating or cooling costs.
- Look at the label on your unit to compare to other models on the market. HVAC efficiency has greatly improved over the years, with a typical life-span of 15-20 years. Consider upgrading if you have an older unit that is costing you more monthly and has expensive maintenance costs.
- It’s recommended that a professional check and clean your unit annually.
✔ Leak Check
No matter the season, a drafty house means maintaining a comfortable temperature indoors just got more expensive. Letting cool air out in the summer or cold air in during the winter means your HVAC is working harder. You don’t need fancy equipment to find those pesky air leaks.
- What to check:
- Door frames and windows are the most obvious place to start.
- Inspect outdoors where two different building materials meet, like corners, water faucets, chimneys and siding, and the foundation with brick or siding.
- Electrical outlets, lightswitches, plumbing fixtures, and recessed lights may let air escape.
- Fireplaces, chimneys, attic hatches, and window- or wall-mounted air units may be the culprits of major air loss.
- How to check (provided by the DOE):
- Visual test: Look for obvious leaks through window frames, doors, etc.
- Flashlight test: Shine a flashlight from the outside and have a partner observe if large cracks let rays in.
- Dollar bill test: Shut a door or window on a dollar bill. If you’re able to easily pull out the dollar bill without it catching, you’re losing energy.
- Building pressurization test: This test is more extensive, but can still be done yourself. These steps are suggested by the DOE:
- Turn off all combustion appliances such as gas burning furnaces and water heaters on a cool, very windy day.
- Shut all windows, exterior doors, and fireplace flues.
- Turn on all exhaust fans that blow air outside, such as your clothes dryer, bathroom fans, or stove vents, or use a large window fan to suck the air out of the rooms.
- Light an incense stick and carefully pass it around the edges of common leak sites. Wherever the smoke wavers or is sucked out of or blown into the room, there’s a draft. You can also use a damp hand to locate leaks; any drafts will feel cool to your hand.
- If you want an extensive leak assessment, hire a qualified professional technician to conduct a blower door test.
- Sealing air leaks while maintaining good ventilation can save you 10%-20% if you follow these weatherization recommendations. Caulking and weatherstripping are inexpensive ways to seal your home. If you have old windows, consider replacing them with more energy-efficient models.
Air loss through walls, floors, and ceilings could also cost you money, especially in older homes that adhered to less stringent insulation recommendations. Grab your tape measure, notebook, and pen to check the insulation of your home, measured by its R-Value (or thermal resistance) for effectiveness. Determine the type of insulation your home has and look up the recommended R-Value for your area of the country. Measure the insulation with your ruler or tape measure.
- Check your attic and attic access hatch. Attic joists should not be exposed and insulation should fill the spaces between the joists and attic. The attic door should also be insulated and well-sealed. Ensure exterior attic vents are not covered by insulation and there’s a vapor barrier between the insulation and attic floor.
- Check the wall insulation. Turn off power and remove an electrical socket located on an outside wall. Look inside and pull out insulation to inspect with a plastic tool or crochet hook.
- Don’t forget the insulation of your basement or garage ceilings.
- Replace or add insulation to areas that don’t meet R-value standards for your climate. Use the chart below to calculate R-values.
✔ Appliances and Electronics
Washers, dryers, internet modems, dishwashers, refrigerators, oh my! The long list of modern necessities may be costing you unseen dollars. During your energy audit, discover ways to save on these everyday conveniences.
- Inspect labels of large appliances and consider replacing them with ENERGY STAR models, especially if it’s time to upgrade anyway.
- Calculate the cost of appliances and electronics with this handy guide from Energy.gov.
- Use smart power strips and/or unplug devices when not in use to reduce phantom power. See what vampire devices suck energy and maximize your ways to save.
Since lighting accounts for up to 10% of your bill, saving money on electricity can be as easy as changing out your lightbulbs. Go through this lighting audit as part of your DIY energy checklist.
- Change out old bulbs for energy-efficient LEDs. The slight investment up front will save you in energy costs, plus replacement costs and waste reduction as they last years longer.
- Consider light timers, smart sensors, and dimmers to reduce lighting use and costs.
Is a professional energy audit needed?
If you want to do a major energy assessment, consider getting a professional audit. However, it’s typically only necessary for those buying or selling a home. Nationwide, the cost runs from $300 to $700. Benefits of a professional audit include getting a HERS (Home Energy Rating Score) Index for your home and referrals to professionals to address home energy concerns.
Saving on Electricity Costs
When you finish auditing these five main areas of your home’s energy (HVAC, air leaks, insulation, appliances/electronics, and lighting), ask yourself these questions:
- Where are the greatest energy losses?
- How much can I spend on upgrades?
- Are minor fixes or complete replacements required?
- Can you do the job yourself or do you need to hire professionals?
- When will you regain your investment on upgrades with energy costs saved?
Comparing your electricity bill to the same season from past years can help inform your usage and costs, though the price per kilowatt-hour may have changed. Your energy use is the primary factor influencing your electricity costs, and a DIY energy audit is always beneficial.
If you want to save even more, you can shop around for the best price per kilowatt-hour, especially in deregulated markets like Texas. Payless Power offers no-deposit, prepaid electricity plans that offer affordable rates and customer flexibility that can save you up to 20% monthly on power usage and bills. Find the best energy plan for your Texas zip code today!