All homeowners want to be comfortable in their own homes: warm in the winter, cool in the summer and happy when we open the gas and electric bills. About half of the energy we consume goes to heating and cooling our homes, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The most common residential energy sources are natural gas and electricity, both of which leave a significant carbon footprint. If you increase the energy efficiency of your home, you’ll reduce the impact on the environment and your wallet.
Symptoms of a Problem
How do you know you’re wasting energy around your home? Some common symptoms include:
- High electric, oil or gas bills
- Ice dams on your roof in winter
- Cold drafts and cold floors
- Mold and mildew in your basement or attic
- Hot rooms in summer
Home Energy Audit
The best way to determine energy-loss problems in your home is to conduct a home energy audit. A professional auditor will calculate the energy efficiency of your home and identify areas that need improvement. You canperform your own audit, but a professional will likely provide the most useful information, especially if he or she does an infrared heat scan to identify heat loss.
If you decide to do it yourself, the three biggest areas to pay attention to are:
- Air leaks. Inside, check for drafts and cracks around your windows, baseboards, wall junctures, corners, outlets, fireplaces, vents and fans. Outside, check all exterior corners, chimneys and foundation joints.
- Ventilation. Most homes rely on spot ventilation such as exhaust fans. You can test these by lighting a stick of incense and turning on the fan. If the smoke is sucked out through the fan, it is operating correctly. If not, there may be an issue.
- Insulation. Make sure attic areas around pipes, ductwork and chimneys are sealed. Look for a vapor barrier under the insulation. Attic vents should not be blocked by insulation. Check wall insulation by cutting power to an outlet, removing the cover, then using a crochet hook to feel behind the wall. If you meet resistance, there is probably insulation. Using the hook, you can pull a little bit out to identify it. Under your home should be insulated as well.
Fixing the Problems
Make these simple fixes to some common energy-wasters:
- Caulk and seal your windows to help prevent air leaks. If your windows are old or particularly inefficient, replace them with new energy-efficient windows.
- Shut down your electronics instead of letting them run in stand-by mode, and unplug your device chargers when not in use.
- Replace old light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs—they cost a little more, but you will more than make up for it in savings.
- Replace your air filters every one to three months (depending on the type of filter) and hire a professional to clean your air ducts once a year.
- Depending on the area, replacing or adding insulation can be a do-it-yourself project. However, larger jobs may require professional help.
- Your HVAC system should be evaluated by a professional for efficiency. It may need upgrading or replacing.