How to Complete a DIY Home Energy Audit
If you’ve just opened this month’s utility bill and found yourself shaking your head in disbelief because the amount due is more than you were expecting, it’s time to take matters into your own hands.
How? Homeowners - whether new or seasoned - can benefit from a professional or DIY home energy audit.
Even if you’re proactive about your thermostat and have shopped around to find a competitive supplier, phantom power suckers and leaks from windows and doors still may be wreaking havoc on your natural gas and electricity bills.
Conducting a basic energy efficiency audit of your home’s enclosure and HVAC system can give you a better sense of your home’s strengths and weaknesses, which can help save you money.
What is an energy efficiency audit? Here’s what the process looks like
A DIY energy efficiency audit is where you thoroughly assess your entire home and take a detailed look at current energy consumption. You identify energy efficiency measures that you can take to make your home more efficient and comfortable.
A DIY home energy audit is step one to a more energy efficient home. It does not necessarily replace the need for a professional audit or professionally-installed efficiency upgrades. By completing a comprehensive energy walkthrough of your home, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions about your day-to-day energy consumption and any additional needs.
Generally speaking, the process for professional energy audits is more precise and yields more detailed findings and recommendations. Let's review what you'll get from a professional audit before we discuss ways to conduct similar tests yourself.
When energy auditors conduct a comprehensive professional home energy audit, they usually:
- Interview the homeowner to learn how the home operates and uncover past problems or concerns
- Assess every room in the house
- Complete a health and safety inspection, which includes the electrical system
- Include a combustion appliance inspection
- Include a blower door test
- Include a thermographic scan
- Review past utility bills
- Conclude with an analysis of findings and a comprehensive home energy report
Costs associated with different types of energy audits
A standard professional home energy audit can cost between $100 and $1650, averaging $416. Two factors that may impact cost are:
1. Using a business, nonprofit organization or local utility company for the audit. Some local utility companies offer a rebate for homeowners. Some may even offer a free energy audit to help you save on your utility bills.
2. Pricing based on tiers for different home-sizes, or a dollar amount per square foot (the national average ranges from $0.08 to $0.50 per sq. ft.).
Professional home energy audit vs DIY energy efficiency audit
The primary differences between the two are the tools you'll use. Professional energy auditor tools include test equipment for air leakage and infrared camera scans. They enable the auditor to see energy losses in ways that may be invisible to a homeowner doing their own home energy assessment.
For example, heating and cooling are the most expensive forms of energy consumption in most residential homes, and air leakage through cracks or poor insulation can make your energy bills skyrocket.
Additional tools an auditor may use during a professional audit include:
- Infrared camera
- Soap bubbles (to confirm fuel leaks in combustion appliances)
- Combustion analyzer
- Digital probe thermometer
- Door blower
- Moisture meter
- Draft gauge
Even without these tools, a DIY home energy audit could help you identify potential problems without having to pay hundreds of dollars in the process. Many home energy audit tasks can be replicated using items you can find around the house.
After your at-home energy audit, you’ll have a much better idea of steps you should take in your home if you really want to save energy and money.
Starting points for conducting your own home energy audit
It’s important to remember that the exact steps in your DIY home energy audit will depend on your home’s features, but there are some common problem areas that you can focus on and address properly on your own to lower energy costs.
Check windows for potential drafts
To check for drafts around your home, close all windows, exterior doors, and the chimney-flue damper the next windy day. Light a stick of incense and walk along the border of each window and along the baseboards of exterior-facing walls. Watch for air that blows against the rising smoke. If you find problem spots, scrape out any cracked or dried caulk on the outside, and apply a fresh bead of paintable acrylic latex. On the inside, add new weatherstripping.
Check your furnace, AC, and water heater thoroughly
Most heating and air conditioning manufacturers recommend checking your systems at least once a year to ensure they’re running properly. Insulate water heaters that are warm to the touch to waste less energy. Complete easy updates, like changing the air filter, and check the air ducts for leaks or broken seals.
Check the insulation in your attic
Insulation on your attic floor blocks out superheated air in the summer and seals in the warmth in the winter. In cold temperatures, poor attic insulation is a major contributor to the “chimney effect,” when hot air escapes quickly through the attic, creating a vacuum that draws in cold air through air leaks in the basement and ground floor. Make sure attic vents are not covered by insulation and add more insulation to your attic floor, ceiling, and walls to keep the heat from escaping.
Don’t forget to check the lights
List which fixtures are not using LED or energy-efficient bulbs and make a plan to replace them. While lighting usually makes up a smaller percentage of your energy bill, the savings from ensuring your lightbulbs are energy efficient can really add up over time.
Make sure your fireplace damper is not damaged
10-20% of warmed air from your home might be escaping through the chimney flue past a rusted or loose-fitting damper. Try this: close the damper, hold a lit candle inside the fireplace and watch the flame. If it flickers or blows out, air is flowing up the chimney. During cold months, call a chimney sweep to fix. In the off season, seal the flue completely with an inflatable chimney balloon. When winter starts again, simply deflate the plug, remove, and store for next season.
Identify phantom appliances and electronics
Most devices that don’t seem like they’re on may be in standby mode sapping power. This can account for approximately 10% of your electricity costs. If a device has an indicator light, digital clock, a charger, or AC power adapter on the cord, it’s likely drawing power. The solution? Put these devices, like phone chargers, TV, computer, and others on power strips and switch off when not in use to cut the power.
Give some attention to your fridge
Have you checked the wear and tear on the rubber gasket on the door? Have you inspected the built-up dirt and dust on the coils that could erode its efficiency? Try closing the door on a piece of paper. If you don't feel resistance when pulling it out, the gasket seal isn’t fully functioning, and cold air is escaping. Mold or moisture on the gasket are other indicators that cold air is getting out. Consider replacing the gasket and dusting the exposed coils located underneath or on the back of the fridge.
After your audit: develop a plan
After you complete your audit, the next step is to develop a plan for improvements.
- Start with no cost and low-cost improvements you can do yourself.
- Then, assess the remaining opportunities to determine whether or not you should hire a professional for work outside of your comfort zone. Attic work, chimney repair, or addressing broken seals may be best left to the experts.
- Research resources and pricing for a professional energy audit if your DIY findings point to larger energy saving opportunities worth the additional investment. Read our article on Lowering Your Energy Bill for a better understanding of the highest-value improvements and more ideas for reducing your energy consumption.
Let Energy Harbor help lower your supply costs
We offer safe, clean, and reliable power through fixed-rate plans, long-term price protection, and in some cases lower supply rates when compared to your local utility. Best yet, with Energy Harbor, you have options and can choose the plan that's right for you.