It is truly amazing how far technology has taken the world. If you consider that most homes only received electricity in the 1920s-1930s, we have come a long way very quickly. Add onto that improvements in building materials and insulation, and you can easily see how our homes have truly become environmentally-contained structures where the home owner has complete control over the inside climate.
But all of these improvements have come with a price – literally. Electric conveniences such as air conditioning and heating cost money, and sometimes those advances in building materials do not work the way they should. Or, in the case of houses that are older and retrofitted with modern technology, the relationship is tenuous. When there are problems in the overall system, such as air leaks or equipment that is strained to perform well, energy bills go up. And spending more money never leads to a happy homeowner.
The good news is that a DIY home energy audit can help you locate and correct money-draining problems in your home. This is a weekend project, as it will take some time to thoroughly inspect your home for issues. Once you know where the problems are, you can prioritize what needs to be fixed ASAP, and what can wait for a more opportune moment.
Step #1: Check For Air Leaks
Drafts are a major cause of energy inefficiency in homes, causing that precious climate-controlled air to be compromised.
For most of your home, checking for drafts is fairly easy – you can use an incense stick, or even just a damp hand. First, turn off anything in your home that moves air (air conditioning, heating, exhaust fans), and then slowly move through each room of your home, checking possible problem areas. Common offenders are windows and doors, but switch plates can also be a problem. If you feel a draft or see the smoke on the incense move, write down the location where it happened and add it to your list of fixes.
Next, you may need to do a little crawling around in your attic, as you will have to check your home’s insulation. The attic is a good spot to check, as it can also provide you with some information about the state of your roof. If you notice any discolored spots, you likely have a leak somewhere. Add it to the list.
Step #2: Check That Insulation
While you are up in the attic looking for discoloration, take a look at the state of the insulation itself. How old is it? If your home is older, it is very likely that insulation standards have changed over time. It may be time for an upgrade. Check out this website – it provides information on how much insulation you need based on where you live in the U.S., along with detailed information on the types of insulation available for installation.
Before you leave the attic, double check that there is proper insulation around the attic door, as well as around any ventilation fans or other ports leading into and out of the attic (pipes, ductwork, etc.). If you see (or feel) a problem, make a note of it for a later fix.
You should also do a check of insulation in your walls, which is definitely more difficult. Want to make life easier? Get your hands on an infrared thermometer – they are available for purchase from most hardware suppliers, or see if you can rent one. An infrared thermometer will show you temperature changes in the walls of your home. Make note of trouble spots, and call in a professional for consultation on how to fix these areas.
Step #3: Take A Good Look At Your Windows
How old are your windows? When you checked for air leaks, were they especially drafty? When you are near the windows in winter, can you physically feel a temperature difference when you are standing or sitting in front of them?
Windows are notoriously bad at insulating, but advances in materials have led to higher-efficiency windows that really help to keep climate-controlled air in your home, where it belongs. If you notice major temperature changes while around windows, it may be time to consider replacing them.
Replacing home windows is definitely a more expensive energy fix, but if your windows are especially bad the investment may be worth it. If you can’t make the investment now, consider going the old-school route of using plastic film on windows that aren’t in regular use. Winterizing kits are available from most hardware stores.
Step #4: Check Your HVAC Equipment
Once you have eliminated any outside sources of energy draining, it is time to look at the HVAC equipment itself. There are a few trouble spots that we see all of the time that lead to efficiency problems. Dirty air filters are the number one problem we see. These filters were created to catch dirt, dust, and other particulate matter that you don’t want floating through your home’s ductwork. But when those filters get clogged, air can’t move efficiently through your system, which means the equipment has to work harder. Which means you spend more money. This is an easy fix – check your filters monthly, and replace filters that are beginning to look clogged.
Next, do a check of the coils on your air conditioner or heat pump. If the coils are dirty, that can reduce your system’s efficiency. Also do a visual check of your outdoor unit – if you see any clogs or debris, clear those out of the way to ensure that air can flow freely through the system.
Finally, do a visual inspection of your ductwork. Is it passing through areas of your home that aren’t insulated? If so, you might want to consider adding insulation to those areas of the ducts to reduce the chance of temperature changes in the climate controlled air. Also double check for holes – if you notice any problem areas that require patching, don’t use duct tape! Aluminum sealing tape is the much better option, and is available at most hardware stores.
Think you may have an HVAC energy problem on your hands? We can help – our techs can offer suggestions on changes, or provide information on energy efficient equipment. Give us a call at (205) 871–8111 to learn more.