The DIY Energy Audit That Can Save Money and Electricity

By Vernon Trollinger, July 19, 2012, Energy Efficiency, News, Save Money

Don’t know where to start saving money on your home energy use? Does your home have air leak and drafts?  Does it have enough insulation? Are your appliances and lights energy efficient?  Still don’t know?  Perform a DIY energy audit. Doing a home energy audit yourself is really easy plus it will show you where your Texas energy dollars are going. You don’t need a big fan and hi-tech infrared imaging equipment. In fact, you can get started with a sheet of paper and smoking stick of incense.

The first step for this do it yourself energy audit is to turn off all the ceiling fans and ventilation equipment in your home. Wait a few minutes for the stack effect to kick in. The stack effect is what happens when heated air rises up through the house. As it exits the house, it pulls cool air in from the outside through cracks and holes in your foundation, wall, windows, doors, and other holes. These air leaks (drafts) make your heat and AC work harder to condition your home, adding to the your energy costs. The fewer drafts you have, the more efficiently you’ll be able to heat and cool your home.

Light your stick of incense. Carefully avoiding drapes or curtains, or anything flammable, move the stick slowly near:

* Electrical outlets
* Switch plates
* Window frames
* Baseboards
* Weather stripping around doors
* Fireplace dampers
* Attic hatches
* Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners.

Watch the smoke for signs of a draft. When you find one, make a note of it. If you don’t want to use smouldering incense, then wet the back of your hand and feel for drafts. If you are having trouble finding leaks, recommends this very simple DIY building pressure test.

  1. First, close all exterior doors, windows, and fireplace flues.
  2. Turn off all combustion appliances such as gas burning furnaces and water heaters.
  3. Then turn on all exhaust fans (generally located in the kitchen and bathrooms) or use a large window fan to suck the air out of the rooms.

You should be able to detect air leaks more easily.

An affordable hi-tech tool to use is an infrared thermometer with a built-in laser pointer. This lets you pinpoint drafts and cold spots on your walls that might have drafts behind them. They cost around $47.00 and pay for themselves by saving you LOTS of time during your DIY energy audit.

Another thing to look out for on your walls is mildew. This means that there is a draft inside the wall cavity that is letting cold air in during the winter. This causes the warm, moist air inside your home to condense on the wall near that draft and encourages mildew and mold to grow. The moisture will damage walls; the mold and mildew will damage your health.

Also check for air leaks where your floor meets the foundation. Often, these air leaks can be closed cheaply with a little caulk or expanding foam sealant.  And don’t forget mail slots, they can also let in drafts. Check to see if caulking and weather stripping on windows and doors are applied properly and in good condition since they are common sites for drafts that reduce your home’s energy efficiency.

Next, consider  the amount of insulation in your home. Most buildings are built with 3 1/2 inches of insulation in the walls and attic. This sounds like a lot but in reality, the DOE recommends insulation with an R-30 (about 10 inches) in attic spaces for most of the country. Adding insulation to your walls is difficult and usually expensive. Adding insulation to your attic is easier and cheaper —but it is a dirty, hot, and tiring job. However, adding insulation DOES save you money.

Let’s look at your Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning system (HVAC). The biggest culprits that rob the energy from your HVAC are a clogged air filter and air leaks from the duct work. A clogged air filter just needs replacing or cleaning and this should be done every three months. Air leaks in the duct work come from poorly joined or broken duct work that blows heated or cooled air gets blown into places where you don’t want it to go. Consequently, you spend more money on your heating and cooling. Sealing your duct work can save you about $300. Plus, insulating ducts in the typical American home can save up to 30% on the energy for heating and cooling. Air leaks are identified easiest by a visual inspection for holes and then sealing the ductwork joints with either a ductwork mastic or aluminum ductwork tape. That vinyl cloth stuff called “duct tape” does not withstand the temperature range in HVAC systems and fails in just a few months. Make sure each and every joint is either sealed with mastic or aluminum tape (by gray). Do not forget to do the the same for the return ducts since they pull air from your rooms. When properly sealed, a home’s HVAC system will pressurize more completely and deliver more conditioned air to where you need it.

The last item you want to look at is your electrical appliance and lighting use. How efficient are your washer, dryer, dishwasher, and water heater? How old are they? Chances are if any is 10 to 15 years old, you might want to consider replacing them. Most tank water heaters, for example, are under-insulated. A simple $2 insulated water heater jacket kit and some pipe insulation can cut your hot water costs and provide you a DIY option.

Lighting accounts on average for about 10% of your Texas electric bill. If you are still using incandescent, then remember that 90% of the energy they emit is heat. So, if you are paying $1 to use a 60 watt incandescent bulb, that means you are only getting 10¢ worth of light while dumping 90¢ worth of heat into your home. In the summer, that adds to your home’s heat load. CFLs are a good alternative since they are more energy efficient and produce less heat. A 15 watt CFL produces the same amount of light (lumens) as a 60 watt incandescent but is six times more efficient. LED bulbs are still expensive but they produce almost 90% light for 3 to 5 watts and emit very little heat.

Also, don’t forget to stake out the Energy Vampires lurking in your home. Energy Vampires suck electrical power even when they seem to be asleep or switched off. One or two may only drain a drop of electricity. A house full of gadgets, though, can bleed you dry.

Remember an energy audits will not only show you where to start saving money during the hot summer months but also will identify heating problems that cost you in the winter. Do it yourself as soon as possible so you can identify your home’s problems and develop a plan of action.

This content is part of Bounce Energy and‘s Sizzlin Summer Campaign. Check out our previous posts on how you can save on your energy bill by fixing your windows, and 35 energy efficient tips  for you and your kids.

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Comments (1)


  1. Loft Insulation says:

    Proper insulation and heating systems are so important with a home these days. Its remarkable how much energy can be saved if you just ensure that these simple things are being handled properly. You are entirely correct about ensuring you have an adequate depth for loft insulation.

    I would also still recommend getting some wall insulation sorted, although in those cases you will likely need to hire a trained professional. Still, in the long run, it can certainly save you money.