A Complete Guide on DIY Home Utility Bill Audit
If you have issues with air leaks, high energy consumption, and in general, losing energy in the form of heat or cool air, you may need a home energy audit. A home energy audit is a detailed evaluation and review of your home’s energy efficiency. This type of review is a professional home energy assessment that can pinpoint the exact issues and places that you should work on to improve the energy efficiency of your home.
What Is Home Energy Audit?
A home energy audit is a professional home energy assessment. Although it may seem complicated and costly, it is actually a simple procedure. A professional energy audit inspects your home for any places that may be losing energy and increasing your heating, cooling, and monthly energy bill. Your home energy audit can save energy and save money.
Types of Energy Audits
There are two kinds of energy audits: professional home energy audit and DIY home energy audit. Depending on what you plan to do with your property, you may choose one or the other. A DIY home energy audit is great if you plan on improving your home’s energy efficiency and saving money on your power bill. On the other hand, if you plan on selling your house, would like to bring its efficiency to a very high level, and plan on increasing its market value, a professional home energy audit is the best solution for you.
Professional Home Energy Audit
A professional energy audit is done by professionals and will cost you between $200 and $1,000. The Home Energy Rating Score (HERS) you get is a great thing to have, especially if you are trying to sell the house. A better HERS value means your property could be sold for more money. On the other hand, if you are buying a new property, having a better HERS score does mean a higher price, but it also means you can save money in the long run.
DIY Home Energy Audit
A DIY home energy audit is less professional than the first kind. However, a DIY energy audit can also pinpoint places to save energy and can save money for you in the long run. With a series of easy, manageable steps and tests, you can assess your house and improve its efficiency: lower bills, increased home value, and a better HERS score in the future means a lot.
HERS Index Score
A HERS Index Score is the best reason to opt for a professional home energy audit. This audit will help you sell your home for a higher value, decrease your energy bills and save money over time. A HERS Index Score compares your home, the insulation, and appliances, to an ideal energy-efficient home. This ideal home may not even exist but is the basis used for professional audit estimation.
A HERS Index Score is a very detailed estimation and is always done by professional home auditors. This means that the estimation and the report are reliable and can be used in home assessment as valid proof of your home energy standing. A HERS Index Score covers the following areas of your home:
- Floors and the insulation over spaces that are not air-conditioned,
- The roof insulation, attic insulation, and the state of your roof exhaust fans,
- The basement insulation (if the floors on the ground level are not insulated),
- Any humidity or water leakage in the basement,
- Ceilings and insulation,
- Windows, doors, fireplace flue in search of any air leaks,
- Air leaks around your AC/HVAC exhaust,
- Leakage in the heating and cooling systems and the piping taking the air-conditioned air to the house itself.
How to Conduct a DIY Home Energy Audit?
Since a professional audit can cost a lot (it saves a lot as well), you too can do your at-home energy audit. A DIY energy audit is not an official audit, but it is still a great way to realize potential savings and improve air quality, temperature, and humidity in your home. With your own home energy audit, you can also decrease your energy bills and help mitigate climate change by using less power and less natural gas.
You do not need to be an expert to do your own home audit. All you need to check how energy efficient your home is is a candle, some soap, and a sheet of paper. A bit of time and a lot of patience are the other two necessary ingredients, and a screwdriver is a welcome addition. Depending on how your home audit goes, you may need to spend some extra money to fix the issues, if any. There are several things to check during a home audit:
- Checking your HVAC,
- Locating Air Leaks,
- Checking Room Ventilations,
- Inspecting/Reviewing your Insulation,
- Attic Access Door,
- Reviewing your Energy Bill,
- Evaluating your Appliances and Electronics, and
- Home Lightings Review.
1. Checking your HVAC
An HVAC system is an integral part of your home. As this is a big appliance, it can draw a lot of power to keep your house cool, especially in warmer climates, such as Texas, New Mexico, and California. To ensure your HVAC functions the way it should check all the accessible piping in search of any holes or damage. If you use soft piping to pump cool air into your home, you should ensure none are bent.
Furthermore, you should use a bit of soap and water to check the joints, connections, and any valves your HVAC system may have. Simply mix some soap and water, apply the solution to the joints and check if any bubbling occurs. If yes, you should purchase some HVAC system repair self-adhesive cloth and cover the leaky parts. If not, it is time to move to the air filtration system.
Your HVAC air filter filters your home air and removes any dust particles, pollen (depending on the model), as well as mold spores. This way, it keeps the inside air quality at a healthy level. The air filter should be changed regularly, as failing to do so obstructs the airflow and makes your HVAC draw more power to do the same work. You should also clean out your condensation unit and vacuum any exposed coils or evaporators.
2. Locating Air Leaks
Your home envelope is not a single piece of material. Wherever there are windows, doors, ventilation, and dryer openings in the walls, there may be leaks. Air leaks can also appear on the floors and the ceilings, especially those leading towards unconditioned rooms or spaces. To ensure there are no air leaks, take a piece of thin paper (paper towel, a single ply of a sheet of toilet paper) or a lit candle and hold them close to the suspected air leak.
If the paper or the candle flame moves in an apparent airflow even when all the doors and windows are closed, you have an air leak. This is the place where warm air escapes during the winter and hot air gets inside during the summer. Make sure to seal air leaks first, as this is a cheap measure that can save a lot of money for you.
Another place to check for air leakage is the doorframes, especially those around bathrooms in your house. These pose a double risk: not only does escaping air mean higher air conditioning bills, but it also means a higher chance that moisture will escape and damage your home structure. Sealing any cracks, however small, is sure to save you a lot of money.
3. Checking Room Ventilations
Checking room vents are also important. Use a screwdriver to unscrew the vents’ lids and check if there is any space between air ducts and the flooring or the walls of your home. If there is some space, this is where the warmed air (during the cold outside temperatures) or the cool air (during the summer months) escapes and can cause issues elsewhere. Make sure to seal these air leaks to make your HVAC runs smoothly and with little money spent.
4. Inspecting/Reviewing your Insulation
Unless your home is brand new, you should check your home insulation every year. Every insulation material degrades over time, losing its volume and insulation capabilities. Being able to spot this deterioration early enough will keep the outside air out and the inside air in, preventing any heat loss and saving energy for you. There are several places where you should check and renew your insulation.
The attic is one of the most important spaces to check your insulation in. An uninsulated attic loses between 30-40% of your heat energy during the winter and lets a lot of heat into the house during the summer. Check the underside of the roof, the walls, and the attic floor for any cracks, air leakage, or moisture. Insulate those areas further and ensure no air vents are blocked.
Having cracks in the structure of the roof, cracked or dried caulk around windows and doors can create a chimney effect, where cold air is drawn into the attic from your house and dissipated into the environment. During the cold months, cold temperatures can create the same effect. Another area to check is the attic door.
Attic Access Door
Your attic access door is usually uninsulated. This means that a lot of heat or cool air can escape into the attic, with your HVAC drawing power to compensate for the energy losses. To ensure no energy is lost, check the insulation effectiveness and add more insulation if necessary. Another smart trick you can do is place a tent over the attic access door, as this can slow down air and heat exchange with the lower floors.
The walls of the basement, the attic, and the house are often overlooked during DIY audits. You should not skip this part of the insulation check, especially because a significant amount of heat can get lost here. Check the condition of your insulation material and whether it is as thick as the beams. If the insulation is not as thick, it means it is not energy efficient, and you may want to add another layer of attic insulation material or other insulation used here.
The basement loses an additional 30-40% of your entire home’s heat. This means that the basement should be well insulated. Many homeowners choose to keep the basement unconditioned, especially because underground basements tend to keep the same temperature year-round. However, you should insulate the ceiling of the basement to prevent any heat from getting lost from the ground floor. The insulation material should be as thick as the bearings.
5. Reviewing your Energy Bill
Once you’ve finished with all the checkpoints, it is time to review your energy bill. This means you should check both your electricity and your heating (natural gas) bill to come to certain conclusions. Does your home consume less natural gas as compared to before the audit? If yes, you did a good job. Give the house a year or two and run another check.
However, when it comes to the electricity part, you should take a different set of steps. Comparing your energy use to that of neighboring properties with similar energy needs and appliances can give you an idea of your standing. The average US energy consumption is 893 kWh per month or 4.73 kWh of electricity per square foot per year. This could be a good starting point. Once you have an idea of how much energy you spend, you should go on to review your appliances and home lighting.
6. Evaluating your Appliances and Electronics
The first step in residential electricity use evaluation is to check your appliances and electronics. This means both checking how much power they consume and how well-insulated they are. This step alone can save you hundreds of dollars every year.
Firstly, you should check any combustion appliances, such as your water heater. Make sure all the pipes are well insulated and that your water heater temperature is set to the ideal 120F. This will save precious energy, as a lower temperature means lower losses. You can also check whether your water heater loses heat by placing your hand on top of it. If the upper casing is hot, it may be time to buy a thermal blanket and save heat for when you actually need it.
Furthermore, your water heater should be programmable both in the sense of the temperature it reaches and when it heats the water. Turning your water heater on a short time before you use the hot water reduces the time that the hot water would sit and get gradually cooler. Some smart water heaters can even learn about your hot water use habit and heat the water only when needed and only as much as needed.
Other appliances you should check are your freezer, the fridge, the stove, as well as any vampire appliances, which draw power even when not in use. These add up to your energy bill and decrease how energy efficient your house is. You can even call your local utility company and ask for free advice on how to resolve these issues. Almost every local utility will be happy to advise you on how to reduce energy use.
When it comes to the freezer and the fridge, take a piece of paper and place it between the open door and the wall of that same appliance. Then, close the door and try to pull the paper out. If it comes out easily, it is time to switch the rubber holding the door airtight. If the paper cannot be pulled out as easily, the rubber is doing fine. The same goes for your oven door, while the gas connection to the stove should be checked regularly to make sure no gas leaks.
The last important thing to check is the vampire appliances and the energy star taring of your appliances. Energy star-rated appliances use up to 50% less power than traditional ones. Switching your old appliances for energy star appliances can save a lot of money every month.
Furthermore, taking care of the vampire appliances (those that draw power even when off), you should invest in a good power strip and turn them off completely when not in use. In the UK alone, smartphone chargers alone, in standby mode, consume enough electricity to power 66,000 homes.
7. Home Lightings Review
When it comes to the lights, they can draw as much as 10-30% of your total electricity use. Opting for CFL or LED light bulbs will save 80 and 90% of energy, respectively. This means that switching your old light bulbs can knock off around 8-27% of your electricity bill alone, especially during the dark winter months.
Repair Prioritization after a DIY Home Energy Audit
Once you’ve run all the checks, it is time to prioritize the necessary repairs. Unless your home is new and in top-notch condition, you should have a lengthy list. All these items cost money and take precious time to finish, so being smart about the order in which you do them is crucial. Some of the less expensive items should be prioritized at first:
- Caulking windows and exterior doors,
- Caulking electrical outlets,
- Purchasing power strips,
- Purchasing an AC power adapter with built-in indicator light and main off switch,
- Investing in a small digital, programmable thermostat or (for a few more bucks) a smart thermostat, such as Nest,
- Installing an inflatable chimney balloon, etc.
Once these minor repairs are finished, you should be able to feel the difference. No more draft, no humidity condensation, and no super-cold home in the mornings are the first things you should notice. Better control of the home environment is also a result of these minor upgrades. However, there are also large-scale repairs to undertake when improving the efficiency of your home:
- Purchasing an Energy Star air conditioner,
- Replacing exterior doors,
- Replacing interior doors,
- Replacing windows for those with more insulating effectiveness (PVC with Argon gas in between the layers of glass) with better thermal resistance for less energy dissipation,
- Redoing the insulation or putting more of it,
Things to Do After an Audit
After you’ve checked off all the items on our home audit checklist, you should prioritize the tasks by urgency, cost, and whether you can finish them yourself. Some tasks, such as leaning the chimney flue completely, caulking recessed lights, cleaning exposed coils underneath or behind some bigger appliances, and clearing build-up dirt and minerals from your water heater, are best left to professionals.
What is Purpose of Energy audit?
An energy audit is a detailed inspection of your home in search of areas where energy consumption can be decreased. A good energy audit will pinpoint the areas of your house where you can improve your energy efficiency and reduce your electric bill. When done rights, energy audits can help you save a significant amount of money month after month.
Are energy audits required?
In high-rise buildings, energy audits are required. Depending on where you live, low-rise residential areas may also be required to run an energy audit every ten years or so. The energy audit or the Energy Efficiency Report is also a great thing to have when purchasing a property or trying to sell one. High energy efficiency means low utility bills and an increase in your property value.
How do I prepare for a home energy audit?
During an energy audit, your home will be inspected for any air leakage, cracks in the insulation material, broken windows, etc. Making sure these problems are fixed beforehand can significantly increase your energy audit grade. To make sure the audit is done quickly and with no hassle, you should also clear your technical room, and ensure easy access to all appliances, as well as easy access to the basement, the attic, and any vents you may have.
What uses the most energy in your home?
Any form of heating uses the most power in your home. This means that the heating bodies using electricity consume the most power and bring your electric bill up a lot. Electric water heaters, electric space heaters, your oven, and your stove use the most electricity in this sense. Switching to natural gas as a heat source reduces energy consumption and increases the energy efficiency of your home.
A home energy audit is a great, fast and easy way to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Before you go for the more expensive, professional audit, you should do the initial check yourself. Changing the lightbulbs for LEDs, installing a smart thermometer, and changing your shower and faucet heads for low flow, aerated ones are as simple as it sounds and can start saving you money today. Invest a bit of time and save big bucks by the end of the year.