Energy costs continue to rise, placing ever-greater pressure on households. And the energy you use to heat and cool your home is a large part of your carbon footprint.
By knowing what to look for you can conduct your own home energy audit. Here's how to get started.
1. Get to Know Your Energy Bills
Bills are never fun, but don't forget that they contain valuable information along with the pain. Compare your heating and cooling costs by month for as many years past as you can, and look for trends in usage or obvious changes. Do you see any spikes? Can you remember why? Your utility can make older bills available to you by calling customer service.
Note both the kilowatt hours you are typically using as well as the amount your utility is charging per KWH. Get to know what it is that you are paying for every month.
2. Check out The Daily Green's Checklist
Download our checklist here so you'll be able to keep track of what you find, and prioritize improvements based on importance and your budget.
3. Locate Air Leaks
Simple leaks can sap home energy efficiency by 5 to 30% a year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. So take a close look at places where two different building materials meet, such as corners, around chimneys, where pipes or wires exit and along the foundation. Make sure good seals form around doors and windows, and that no mortar is cracked. Any gaps or holes should be plugged and/or caulked.
Use the incense test: carefully (avoiding drapes and other flammables) move a lit stick along walls; where the smoke wavers, you have air sneaking in. And heating or cooling sneaking out.
Make sure the floor of your attic, including the hatch, is insulated, and that the material isn't crumbling or compacted, which means it has lost its effectiveness. Similarly, check your basement ceiling, as well as basement walls. Hot water pipes and furnace ducts should be insulated. So should exterior walls (determine this by carefully removing the cover from a power plug, or drill a small hole in the back of a closet).
If you live in snow country, a simple test of insulation levels is to see if snow melts from your roof faster than from neighbors' roofs. If so, you are probably losing too much heat.
If you find any problems, call in a professional, or go DIY and buy some fresh insulation yourself. Learn more about insulation here.
4. Examine Heating and Cooling Equipment
Not surprisingly, heating and cooling usually account for the biggest home energy loads. To reduce waste, check to see if your furnace filters look dirty. If so, swap them out (usually needed every month or two during the heating season). Or invest in an electrostatic permanent filter, which cuts down on waste and does a much better job of cleaning the air. If you have central air conditioning, check the coils both inside (usually in the basement) and outside. If they have dirt on them, carefully vacuum it off (you may need to first remove the protective grilles).
Make sure all your vents are open in rooms you want conditioned, but close the ones in rooms you hardly use. Ensure vents are clean and unobstructed. Vacuum away any dust.
Examine ductwork for dirt streaks, which mark leaks. You can often fix problems with duct tape or insulation. If your ducts look very dirty or worn, call a professional to get an estimate on a thorough cleaning or replacement. Also put on your calendar: annual pro inspection of your entire heating and cooling system.
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