By Hannah Anderson
An energy audit is an assessment of the energy needs and energy efficiency of a building. Some power companies will offer a free energy audit to members if they own their single-family home, and there are companies that will perform energy audits for a fee. While there are many good reasons to consider hiring a professional energy auditor, you can still save money with a DIY home energy audit. In this first section of a two-part article, you’ll learn how to find and seal air leaks, and how to check your insulation. (Find part two here.)
Reducing air leaks in your home can save you anywhere from 5% to 30% in energy savings per year. Your home will also feel more comfortable and less drafty if you seal up any leaks you find. While checking your home for air leaks may seem daunting, it’s worth doing to ensure you’re not losing conditioned air and money. If you do nothing else, at least check your home for air leaks.
Common sites for air leaks include electrical outlets, baseboards, weather stripping around doors, exterior walls, and window frames. Check for holes in and around your walls and ceilings, windows, doors, any fixtures, foundation seals, and even mail slots.
On the outside of your home, check corners, areas where siding and chimneys meet, and areas where the foundation and bottom of brick or siding, as cracks and gaps in these places can cause air leaks without leaving a draft inside the house.
Checking for Air Leaks
Knowing where to check is all well and good, but how can you tell if there is an air leak? There are several methods, so pick the one that works best for you or consider using a combination of methods if necessary.
- Hold a feather or lightweight string in front of areas: if it moves, there are air leaks.
- Look for cobwebs: spiders build their webs in areas of air movement.
- With a partner available inside to record areas, go outside your house at night with a flashlight and shine the light on the areas mentioned above that are likely to have air leaks. If your partner can see the light through gaps, there’s air flowing there.
- In areas like the attic or basement where insulation may be exposed, look for signs of dirty or soiled insulation. This indicates the insulation is filtering air that is leaking into or out of the house.
How to Seal Air Leaks
Anywhere you feel or see air leaks in cracks or gaps, use caulking or weather stripping to fill and seal them. If airflow was felt or seen behind electrical outlets or light switch plates, purchase electrical or switch plate insulation pads to place behind the plate. Caulking, weather stripping, and plate insulation pads can all be found at any home improvement store.
Attics, basements, and areas in your home where pipes or water heaters are stored should have their insulation checked regularly. Twice a year (before and after winter) is the minimum, but checking your insulation once every season isn’t a bad idea. You will want to calculate the R-value of the insulation in your house and compare it to your area’s standards.
What is R-value?
The R-value measures how well insulation reduces the flow of air into or out of your home. The higher the R-value, the better your insulation is working. You can’t have too much insulation, but your home may not have enough insulation. This could be due to changes in construction guidelines since your home or apartment was built, particularly harsh winters or summer for a few years in a row, or simply the insulation settling or thinning with age.
To determine R-value, you need to know the R-value of the type of insulation used in your home, and the recommended insulation for your climate. A handy list of R-values for different climates and types of insulation can be found here.
It’s impossible to check if insulation has settled in a wall short of ripping the wall open or using specialized equipment. If you suspect a wall has no insulation or that the insulation is too old to function properly, you may want to consider hiring a professional to check. Knowing the R-values for your insulation types and your climate area, however, is still helpful to you as a homeowner. You’ll know which types of insulation are best for the different areas of your homes, and you’ll understand a professional’s recommendations easier than if you didn’t know the R-values of the insulation in your home. Comparing the R-values you calculate to the type of insulation and amount that a professional suggests will also save you from price gouging: if another insulation type is cheaper and still works for your climate, why go with the more expensive insulation the energy auditor is suggesting?
For additional steps in a DIY home energy audit, check out the second article here.
Images used with permission, courtesy of www.bigstock.com and www.dreamstime.com