Know Your Home: Perform a DIY Home Energy Audit

Performing a do-it-yourself (DIY) home energy audit is a simple way to determine if you are losing any energy (and any potential savings) in vulnerable spots around the home. It’s not a complete substitute for a professional home energy audit by your local utility company, but it can be a starting point to address problem areas. Some energy issues found in a DIY home energy audit are simple fixes, such as turning down the thermostat or adding insulated curtains to a room. Others will need a second set of professional eyes to tackle the problem. Here are steps you can take to perform a DIY home energy audit.

Step 1: Check Heating and Cooling Equipment 

Maintaining a comfortable temperature in the home is important for both winter and summer months. It’s vital for your health to stay warm in the winter, and certainly less miserable in the summer to stay cool on the hottest days. Central heating and cooling equipment should be inspected before use. A quick DIY home energy audit requires visually inspecting your unit. This means filters should be inspected and replaced as required by the manufacturer instructions (some filters need replacing monthly, others yearly). Check all the ductwork connected to your unit for dirt streaks or tears near the seams (this could be an indication of a larger problem). If your central heating and cooling unit is more than 15 years old, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recommends considering replacing the unit for a newer, more energy-efficient model. If your unit is working correctly but takes more energy to heat and cool the home than you would like, there are smart alternatives when running the unit. Supplementing your heat source in the winter with an energy-efficient space heater like the Digital Ceramic Heater with Warm Air Motion Technology or the All Season Comfort Control Tower Fan & Heater in One can help save on energy costs. By setting the thermostat back by 7°F to 10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting to a lower temperature, you can save as much as 10% each year. For more information on how you can save energy with space heaters, visit How Much Energy Does a Space Heater Use? 

Step 2: Ventilation and Air Circulation

After inspecting the heating and cooling unit, the next step in your DIY home energy audit is to check the air vents. Perform a quick visual inspection to ensure air is actually moving through all the vents in the home. If you are using an indoor fireplace, make sure that the room is properly ventilated; the DOE recommends one square inch of vent opening per 1,000 BTU of input heat. That means allowing fresh air to move in, and an adequate air supply flowing through the room. (Visit How Fans Can Help Spread Fireplace Heat for tips on how to help air circulation in your space.) Make sure vents are clear and not blocked by furniture, curtains, rugs, or other obstacles. In the warmer months, inspect the outdoor air conditioning unit and remove any debris, leaves, or yard equipment that may hinder the unit from working properly. Lastly, check the battery in your thermostat. An expired (or about to expire) battery is easier and cheaper to replace than a whole home central heating and cooling unit. If you are concerned about cooling your home without overrunning the AC, consider using fans to help air circulate. Since heat rises, and cool air sinks, placing a fan like the 20″ Oscillating Remote Control Pedestal Fan or the Space-Saving Performance Tower Fan & Remote by the air vents can help push cool air upwards and more evenly distribute cool breezes in your home. To learn more about using fans in tandem with the air conditioning unit to save energy and money, visit Circulate Air for Optimum Cooling in Summer or Use Fans with Air Conditioning to Boost the Cooling Effect.

Step 3: Check Your Home’s Insulation

No DIY home energy audit is complete without inspecting the home’s insulation. This is another visual inspection that requires you to check areas for leaks or cracks. In the attic or crawl space, make sure that the walls and entry way are sufficiently insulated. The door to the attic should be able to close tightly, and should have weather stripping or another insulated material to prevent leaks. Check inside the attic space to ensure pipes, ductwork, and chimneys are sealed and gap-free. There should be foam caulk or permanent sealing around this equipment. Vents in the attic should be free of insulation material and electrical boxes should be sealed with flexible caulk. The DOE notes that the floor, walls, and ceiling should have the recommended amount of insulation for the home’s age; visit their home insulation guide for more information. Windows should not be overlooked during this stage of your DIY home energy audit. Ensure all the windows in your home are energy-efficient. Air leaks from drafty windows can burn energy. The DOE states that the potential energy savings from reducing drafts may range from 10% to 20% per year. Sealing air drafts by insulating plastic or replacing windows can reduce leaks. During summer months, it’s important to keep blinds and curtains drawn when in direct sunlight; this heats up your home quickly and pushes the AC unit into overdrive. In the winter months, using a space heater to balance out temporary window leaks can help warm up a cold room without breaking the bank.

Step 4: Unplug Electrical Devices Not in Use

We tend to forget about electric devices when they are not in use. The easiest step of a DIY home energy audit is taking stock of these devices. Plugged-in devices can still draw energy. These electrical products are colloquially called energy vampires or phantom loads, and they are stealing energy that could be used in other places. When too many devices are plugged in, the electrical circuits can overload, and a tripped circuit breaker can occur. The DOE estimates that these phantom loads cost U.S. households an average of $100 per year in energy costs. For your DIY home energy audit, take steps to stop energy vampires by replacing light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs and unplugging electrical devices that are not in use. Keep an eye out for phone and battery chargers, electronic toys, small kitchen appliances, and gaming devices that can be safely unplugged. When using a space heater or fan in the home, always unplug for both savings and safety purposes. Get into the habit of unplugging, and start saving that average $100 for something fun.

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