Summer will be here before you know it and with it comes high energy costs, especially for electricity. In addition to being good to the planet, lowering energy waste can result in big savings and, to help you get started, Thompson Creek has put together a quick and dirty guide to performing your own home energy audit without special tools or training.
While a professional energy audit is often best to really understand how your home uses energy, these simple steps can put some extra money back in your pocket this summer!
Here are some super easy wins that should all take you less than two hours.
Step 1: Easy HVAC Wins
Make sure you change your air filter in your furnace. Clogged air filters make furnaces work harder, drawing more current and thus costing you more and more money. It’s easy, cheap, and you should do it anyway to promote indoor air quality. By the way, if you have to buy a new filter, just buy a spare as well. That way it’ll be easy to change next time.
Next, check whatever external HVAC unit you may have. Make sure that the vents are clean and open to facilitate airflow through the system. Clogged vents create the same costs as a clogged furnace filter and risk damaging the system. This is a great time to have your A/C serviced as well to make sure that it is operating at peak efficiency.
Step 2: Easy Lighting Wins
LED light bulbs draw very little energy compared to their incandescent counterparts and can actually help to make the colors in your home pop. Do a quick walk around the house and make a note of everywhere you are using older light bulbs including the style and power. Hop onto Amazon and look for CFL or LED equivalents making sure to order dimmable versions if you need them to dim. While you are at it, you will need to pick a color temperature.
“Regular” light bulbs have a lower color temperature around 3,000 degrees Kelvin, and those annoyingly bright, super blue headlights you see on the road have a color temperature around 8,000 degrees Kelvin. Pick something in the 5,000 degrees range because those best reflect the color of natural daylight.
If you like a nice amber light, there is nothing wrong with picking a lower color temperature, but all else equal, higher color temperatures appear brighter to the human eye so you get more bang for your buck from a brightness standpoint.
Every bulb you replace will save you a small number of watts, but the dramatically longer life of LED bulbs will mean far fewer replacements over time, and the energy savings really pile up.
Step 3: Easy Air Leakage Wins
Air leaking into or out of your home is usually an easy thing to fix, once identified. Until the leaks are fixed, you’re just wasting money.
Start here: Go room by room and take a good look at anywhere materials meet. Look at all of the seams in your baseboards, where drywall meets masonry, where your basement ceiling joists meet your foundation wall, where plumbing or electrical fixtures enter or exit the house, and anywhere else that two materials meet. There’s a good chance that at least some of them are going to have leaks. The easiest way to tell is that if you can see daylight from any angle, you have a big leak. Another way to tell is to wait until evening and have a partner shine a flashlight on the suspected trouble spot. Can you see light inside? If so, you have a leak.
Light leaks tend to be the largest leaks but smaller leaks can often be detected by holding a piece of string or something else very lightweight near the area of the suspected leak. Moving air will make the string move and you’ll know you are wasting money.
Once you have found the leak, seal it up with the appropriate material. Use caution with expanding foam as it can expand with enough force to push window frames and other similar materials out of square. Sometimes a little piece of weather stripping is all you need. For a great article on how to use weather stripping, check out this post at Energy.gov. https://energy.gov/energysaver/weatherstripping
Step 4: Identify Problems That Need Skilled Resolution
There are some energy problems around the home that really benefit from skilled resolution. Here are two of the big ones:
Insulation: Does your attic get HOT in the summer? It’s probably a good idea to get your insulation evaluated by an insulation contractor. Most homes were built with much less insulation than modern building codes currently require and upgrading your insulation can have a major impact in home energy efficiency.
Another thing to be careful of and get inspected by a pro is your roof. Hot attics can literally cook roof shingles from the inside out. Ever stepped down on asphalt in the hot summer and felt that it was a little sticky or soft? Your roof shingles are made of the same thing and will literally melt if your attic is too hot. Poor ventilation and water penetration can destroy efficiencies and should be checked if you also need more insulation.
Windows and Doors: Anything that is a hole in your home’s exterior envelope should be evaluated for energy efficiency. If your windows are foggy or have condensation on the inside, your seals have likely broken and either the glass package or whole needs to be replaced. Many windows and doors were installed with shims and foam when they were first installed. Foam degrades over time and that can cause loads of leakage around frames. Windows older than 7 years should be evaluated for IR transmission, leakage between the sashes and under the bottom sash.
You’ve set yourself up for some good long term savings by making sure your HVAC systems are running well (which is probably the largest part of your energy bill), swapping out power hungry lighting fixtures for newer, brighter, longer-life bulbs that draw much less power, and sealed up some of the bigger air leaks you can find. What’s next?
At this point, if you want to take the next step it’s time to hire a pro. A lot of the best practices in building science are not necessarily intuitive, nor are they widely known even in the skilled trades.
Beyond even that, specialized tools like infrared guns are required to more accurately assess the parts of your home that you can’t easily see like what’s going on inside your walls. You may well find out that someone completely forgot to insulate all of your light fixtures and they are just letting all of your conditioned air escape.
A professional energy audit can help answer some of these questions, and if done right is extremely educational. Look for a professional with a Building Performance Institute accreditation to make sure they have the right experience and are trained in the science of energy efficiency.
Please share your results with us on Thompson Creek’s Facebook page. We would love to see what you find!