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DIY Home Energy Audit - Page 2

The first step to saving energy and money around the house is to find out how much you are already using.

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By Brian Clark Howard

5. Analyze Your Appliances

Appliances are major energy users, so your task should be to identify models that may be costing you a lot, and to find ways to trim waste. Buy or borrow a Kill A Watt Electric Usage Monitor. All you do is plug it into a wall socket, and then insert the plug for the electronic device that you wish to monitor. It will give you detailed info on energy use, and even has a "money button" to show you how much the unit costs you to operate.

Begin by checking your major appliances with the Kill A Watt. If older units are found to cost you a lot, you have motivation to upgrade to a new high-efficiency model (and make sure it is Energy Star certified).

If your fridge and freezer are using too much juice, you may simply need to turn down the temperature dials, or clean or repair seals. In general the EPA recommends keeping refrigerators at 37 degrees F and freezers at 3 degrees. You may also not have realized how much certain appliances require, from hair dryers to heated water beds, so you may decide to use less important items more sparingly.

If you don't have a Kill A Watt, you can still estimate how much energy an appliance uses with the following formula: (Wattage x Hours Used Per Day ÷ 1000 = Daily Kilowatt-hour (kWh) consumption (1 kilowatt (kW) = 1,000 Watts). The wattage of an appliance will be stamped on the item. To get the annual consumption, multiply this by the number of days you use the appliance during the year (divide the time by 3 to account for the idling time of your refrigerator). Calculate the annual cost to run an appliance by multiplying the kWh per year by your local utility's rate per kWh consumed.

6. Look for Energy Vampires

Ever heard of an "energy vampire" or "phantom load"? When electronics like TVs, DVD players and cell phone chargers are plugged in but not on, they still draw power, resulting in about 8% of our annual electric bills.

It's simple to stop the drain: look around your house, and unplug any unused devices you find! To make it even easier, plug your electronics into a power strip, and switch that off when you are finished channel surfing, jamming or charging up. It will keep the energy vampires at bay.

7. See the Light

Lighting eats up about 10% of a typical electric bill. Swap out high-wattage bulbs with lower users, ideally CFLs. Start with one or two bulbs in the places where you have lights on the longest; you don't need to rush out and try to replace every bulb all at once. Also be aware that rapid on and off switching decreases the life of CFLs, so it may not be worth it to install the pricier bulbs in places like closets, where you rarely have the lights on. In such areas, try a lower-wattage regular bulb, like a 40 W instead of a 60 W.

Consider how you use lighting in each room. Instead of always hitting the main overheads, would your lifestyle be better served by installing some low-wattage task lighting? Think desk and reading lamps or even night-lights instead. Get rid of halogen torch-style floor lamps, which use a tremendous amount of energy. Also consider installing motion detectors, which are especially good for halls and exterior lights, since you don't have to worry about people accidentally leaving them on.

8. Gauge the Results

After you have made some improvements, revisit your audit steps in a month or two. Get our your energy bills, and compare. Did your usage drop? Consider going back through the steps above, looking for any appliances or areas you missed before. Want more savings? Go deeper with a Web-based audit tool, such as this one.

It also may be time to bring in the pros for a full-service, high-tech energy audit. Call your utility to see if it subsidizes the service (some offer it free during part of the year), and ask if it can recommend local providers. Learn more about the industry here.


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