HOME ENERGY AUDIT

How to Do Your Own Home Energy Audit and Save Money Each Month
// Lifehacker

Wasting energy in your home is like throwing away money. You can spend thousands on heaters, air-conditioning and new windows, but poor insulation and outdated appliances can sap any savings and make for an uncomfortable home. Here's how to perform your own energy audit and save a bit of money.

If you don't already know the systems of your home including heating and cooling, water and electrical, now's a great time to learn.

Make Sure Everything Is Insulated

Shoddy insulation is the worst offender for home energy loss. It's not uncommon for homebuilders to take shortcuts when installing insulation, and they often install the minimum amount required.

Start in your attic and check for gaps around pipes and ductwork and fill them using expanding foam. If you have gaps around your fireplace, make sure you use non-combustible foam sealant. Make sure your attic floor is insulated but don't block your attic vents. You need to maintain attic air circulation to prevent ice dams in the winter and to allow hot air to escape in the summer.

Next, check your basement for insulation. Wall insulation is better than ceiling insulation. This makes a more comfortable living space and adds value to your home. Here are more tips for insulating your basement walls.

If you're really interested in finding cool spots in your floors and walls, invest in a thermal leak detector. It uses infrared sensors to measure surface temperatures. This one from Black & Decker is $32 on Amazon. A step up is a thermal imaging camera which is much more accurate and provides a visual hot and cool view.

Check for Air Leaks

Drafts are obvious drains on your home energy system, but you can seal them with caulk and weather stripping.

Check for air leaks around doors and windows. If a leak isn't obvious from the inside, then inspect the window from outside. Replace worn door sweeps or install automatic bottom sweeps that will last longer.

Air leaks are also common along baseboards and at the edge of flooring. This could signal an exterior wall that isn't fully insulated. A thermographic or infrared inspection will tell you if insulation has been properly installed and if it isn't then you may need to insulate the wall using blown-in insulation.

Replace Heating and Cooling Filters

Regularly replace filters in air conditioning systems and forced air furnaces. Dirty filters cause unnecessary stress on these appliances and they will consume more energy.

If your AC unit and furnace are more than 15-20 years old, consider replacing them with Energy Star rated units. Save your receipt for a tax credit!

Buy Energy-Efficient Appliances

Outdated washers, dryers, refrigerators, and dishwashers all drain more energy and work less efficiently than new models. As with your heating and cooling system, upgrade to Energy Star rated appliances, which will save you a significant amount of money over the long term.

Keep an eye out for "vampire" electronics. These are electronics that use electricity even when they seem turned off or are in standby mode. This Forbes article lists the top home energy hogs, and the digital cable box is number one. Other offenders are computers and home office equipment. Put these devices on a power strip and power them all down at once at the end of the day. This tool helps calculate how much you pay for "energy vampires".

Switch to CFL or LED Lights

The government has new lighting standards that require light bulbs to use 25% less energy. CFLs and LEDs meet this requirement and they are now much more affordable, making an instant impact on your electric bill. They are also more convenient to use, since they last much longer than incandescent bulbs.

The only drawback to these alternative light bulbs is the color. New bulbs from Cree and Phillips offer a soft white that's very similar to traditional incandescent lighting.

You can get pretty far by yourself, but if you want a more thorough home energy audit performed by a professional, do a search on the Residential Energy Services Network to find a home energy pro in your area. The long-term savings will likely be well worth the cost.