DIY Home Energy Audit Is Easier Than You Think

If you've made the decision to make your home more energy efficient and cut back on energy costs, the best place to start is figuring out where you need to make changes. A home energy audit can show you where your home's losing energy and point to areas that need improvement. A professional audit runs about $300 and will provide the most accurate and thorough information. However, if you're on a tight budget you might consider a do-it-yourself home energy audit. It won't be as comprehensive as a professional audit, but it can certainly pinpoint areas where energy-efficient improvements could boost energy savings.

Hunt for air leaks

Reducing air leaks could produce 5 to 30 percent energy savings each year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Since putting an end to air leaks could have a significant impact on your energy bill, the first step of your home energy audit is to find any leaks in your home. Pay close attention to doors, windows, baseboards and the junctures between the walls and ceilings. A tube of caulk, which just runs a couple of dollars at your local hardware store, can be used to fill any gaps.

However, not every air leak will be obvious to the naked eye. You can perform a pressurization test to ensure that almost every leak is found. This test can make drafts easier to detect so you can find all the small cracks and crevices that are making your home inefficient.

  1. Shut all doors and windows in your home. If you have a fireplace, make sure the flue is shut as well.
  2. Turn on all the exhaust fans in your home that blow air outside, including your bathroom fans, stove vent and dryer.
  3. Light an incense stick and move along the walls inside your house. Pass the stick over common leak sites, such as electrical plates or attic hatches. If you notice that the smoke is being sucked out of the house, there's a draft and an air leak in your home. Take note of all leak areas and caulk or seal them once your pressurization test is complete.

Examine your insulation

Insulation helps separate the air outside from the air inside. Without enough insulation, heating and cooling can escape through your ceilings and walls, driving up the cost of your energy bill. Almost every home can benefit from a little added insulation. Even if you own a brand new home, you shouldn’t assume that the insulation levels are adequate. Check for yourself to ensure that you're not just blowing your costly heating and cooling right out of your attic.

Determining how much insulation is in your attic is an easy task. You should be able to climb in your attic and visually see the home's insulation. You can measure what's there and compare it to the recommended level of insulation for your area. (It's best to contact a local professional to see what level is best for your home.)

Figuring out how much of a buffer you have between your walls is a little more complicated. Since you can't just rip down a wall to see what's behind it, you'll have to settle for a smaller perspective. An electrical outlet on the wall provides a good opportunity to get a glimpse of what's behind your walls. First you'll need to turn off the breaker so you don't get electrocuted. Plug something in the outlet to make sure it's not working. When you're sure it's safe, remove the outlet plate and stick a screwdriver or a long skinny stick through the open space in the wall. If you feel some resistance, than you have some insulation.

This method isn't the best indicator of the amount of insulation in your walls. You won't be able to tell how thick the material is or if it extends throughout every wall. The only way to get a precise reading is to hire a professional energy auditor to perform a thermographic inspection of your home.