Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audits
Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audits
While a professional home energy audit is the best way to determine where your home is losing energy and where you can save, you can conduct your own simple but diligent walk-through and spot many problems in any type of house. This “do-it-yourself” home energy audit will not be as thorough as a professional home energy assessment, but it can help you pinpoint some of the easier areas to address. When walking through your home, keep a checklist of areas you have inspected and problems you found. This list will help you prioritize your energy efficiency upgrades. Do not assume that just because your home is recently constructed–or even new–that there are no opportunities to save energy. Energy-saving technology has evolved rapidly over the past few years, outpacing training commonly available to many builders, including some of the most reputable.
Locate Air Leaks
First, make a list of obvious air leaks (drafts). The potential energy savings from reducing drafts in a home may range from 10% to 20% per year, and the home is generally much more comfortable afterward.
Check for indoor air leaks, such as gaps along the baseboard or edge of the flooring and at junctures of the walls and ceiling. Also check for leaks on the outside of your home, especially in areas where two different building materials meet. Other places to check for leaks include windows, doors, lighting and plumbing fixtures, switches, and electrical outlets. Also check for open fireplace dampers. See detecting air leaks for detailed instructions on finding air leaks yourself.
Seal Air Leaks
You should plug and caulk holes or penetrations for faucets, pipes, electric outlets, and wiring. Look for cracks and holes in the mortar, foundation, and siding, and look for leaks around windows and doors. Seal them with the appropriate material. Learn more about selecting and applying caulk and weatherstripping.
When sealing any home, you must always be aware of the danger of indoor air pollution and combustion appliance “backdrafts.” Backdrafting is when the various combustion appliances and exhaust fans in the home compete for air. An exhaust fan may pull the combustion gases back into the living space. This can obviously create a very dangerous and unhealthy situation in the home.
In homes where a fuel is burned (i.e., natural gas, fuel oil, propane, or wood) for heating, be certain the appliance has an adequate air supply. Generally, one square inch of vent opening is required for each 1,000 Btu of appliance input heat. Burn marks or soot around the appliance burner or at the vent collar, or visible smoke anywhere in the utility room while the appliance is operating, indicate poor draft. When in doubt, contact your local utility company, energy professional, or ventilation contractor. Learn more about proper ventilation.
Heat loss through the ceiling and walls in your home could be very large if the insulation levels are less than the recommended minimum. When your house was built, the builder likely installed the amount of insulation recommended at that time. Given today’s energy prices (and future prices that will probably be higher), the level of insulation might be inadequate, especially if you have an older home.
If the attic hatch is located above a conditioned space, check to see if it is at least as heavily insulated as the attic, is weather stripped, and closes tightly. In the attic, determine whether openings for items such as pipes, ductwork, and chimneys are sealed. Seal any gaps with an expanding foam caulk or some other permanent sealant. When sealing gaps around chimneys or other heat producing devices, be sure to use a non-combustible sealant.
While you are inspecting the attic, check to see if there is a vapor barrier under the attic insulation. The vapor barrier might be tarpaper, Kraft paper attached to fiberglass batts, or a plastic sheet. If there does not appear to be a vapor barrier, you might consider painting the interior ceilings with vapor barrier paint. This reduces the amount of water vapor that can pass through the ceiling. Large amounts of moisture can reduce the effectiveness of insulation and promote structural damage.
Make sure that the attic vents are not blocked by insulation. You also should seal any electrical boxes in the ceiling with flexible caulk (from the living room side or attic side) and cover the entire attic floor with at least the current recommended amount of insulation.
Checking a wall’s insulation level is more difficult. Select an exterior wall and turn off the circuit breaker or unscrew the fuse for any outlets in the wall. Be sure to test the outlets to make certain that they are not “hot.” Check the outlet by plugging in a functioning lamp or portable radio. Once you are sure your outlets are not getting any electricity, remove the cover plate from one of the outlets and gently probe into the wall with a thin, long stick or screwdriver. A plastic crochet hook[…]
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