“Do-It- Yourself” Home Energy Audits

A home energy assessment, commonly referred to as a “do-it-yourself” home energy audit, requires a comprehensive walk-through that, when coupled with the development of a detailed punch list of discrepancies, provides a means to upgrade the energy efficiency of one’s home. Typically, these audits inspect four major areas:

  • Air Leaks
  • Insulation
  • Heating / Cooling Equipment
  • Lighting

Energy Efficient Attic Insulation

In locating and addressing obvious air leaks (i.e. drafts), homeowners can realize energy savings of between 5 and 30 percent per year and simultaneously increase general comfort levels. This is why we train any Townsville electrician we hire to check this first when doing a home inspection. Areas to check for inside leaks include:

  • Baseboards / edges of flooring
  • Junctures of walls and ceilings
  • Pipes and wires
  • Electrical outlets
  • Mail slots
  • Window and door frames for movement and / or daylight
  • Fireplace dampers
  • Attic hatches

Homeowners should pay close attention to the proper application and condition of caulking and weather stripping where appropriate.

Oftentimes, these inspections will result in the need to replace old windows and doors with newer and improved ones. If such an option is too expensive, at least as a temporary measure, homeowners can install plastic sheets over the windows. Electrical safety should always be the first consideration.

In the event that one encounters difficulty locating leaks, it may be wise to conduct a building pressurization test. This requires closing all exterior doors and windows, turning off of all combustion appliances (e.g. furnaces and water heaters), and the turning on of all exhaust fans. In so doing infiltration through cracks and leaks will increase, and can be easily detected by a draft on a damp hand.

Outside leaks typically occur where two different building materials meet, including exterior corners, interfaces between siding and a chimney, and where the foundation meets exterior brick or siding. Significant improvement can be realized by:

  • Applying exterior caulking around doors and windows,
  • Ensuring storm doors are sealed tightly, and
  • Sealing any cracks or holes in the mortar, foundation and siding.

In applying these remedies aimed at improving energy efficiency, one should take caution needs to avoid “back drafting,” where the sealing is so tight that the combustion appliances and exhaust fans, in essence, compete for air; and the exhaust fan pulls the combustion gases back into the home.

The resulting air pollution can create an unhealthy situation in the home. There are rules of thumbs to apply to ensure certain appliances have an adequate air supply, and one need only contact their local utility company (or an energy professional or ventilation contractor) to determine the acceptable criteria.

Insulation – The Second Pillar to Energy Efficient Homes

Most builders install the minimum amount of insulation required at the time of construction. It is highly likely that most homeowners would benefit from a higher level of insulation. Three areas should be inspected:

Attic: For starters, homeowners should ensure that the attic hatch is as heavily insulated as the attic, weather stripped, and closes tightly. In inspecting the attic, openings for pipe and duct work should be sealed (use expanding foam caulk to seal any gaps) and there should be a vapor barrier under the attic insulation to reduce the amount of water vapor that can pass through the ceiling, thus reducing the effectiveness of insulation and possible leading to structural damage.

The entire attic floor should be covered with insulation taking care not to block any vents.

Walls: After ensuring that the outlets on an exterior wall are not receiving any electricity, remove the cover plate and use a screwdriver to probe into the wall. Any resistance is an indicator that insulation exists. Alternatively, make a small hole in an unobtrusive place (e.g. closet or behind a sofa) and verify that the wall cavity is completely filled with insulation.

This will not provide 100 percent assurance that the walls are properly insulated (that would require thermo graphic inspection), it does provide an indicator of proper or partial insulation.

Basement: For unheated basements, the insulation under the living area flooring should be at an R-value of 25, where as that at the top of the foundation and first floor perimeter should be at 19 or higher. If heated, then the foundation walls should be at an R-value of at least 19.

In either case, any water heaters, hot water pipes and furnace ducts should also be insulated.

Heating and Cooling Equipment – On Going Maintenance and Inspection

Heating and cooling equipment should be inspected annually, preferably by a professional even if it is solar powered. In the case of forced air furnaces, the filters should be inspected and replaced every one to two months. Given the advances made over the past few years, any system older than 15 years is a candidate for replacement with the newer energy efficient units, which will have a noticeable impact on energy consumption. This includes your thermostat as well, it should be changed out for a programmable one.

The associated ductwork should also be inspected for dirt streaks, a clear indicator of air leaks, and sealed as necessary with duct mastic. Any of these ducts that pass through unheated spaces should be insulated at an R-value of at least 6.

Lighting – Often Overlooked

Lighting is often overlooked in these home energy audits. But given that lighting typically comprises 10 percent of a homeowner’s electric bill, it warrants some attention.

First, one should check out the wattage size of the light bulbs in the house. By merely changing out 100-watt bulbs for 60 watt bulbs, savings can be realized; and the more aggressive approach would include using compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) for areas where lights are on for extended periods of time.

As you can see, to do a detailed check takes time. And even though you can do it yourself, it is a lot more beneficial to have an experienced electrician here in Townsville do the check for you. Just give us a call and we can schedule your home energy audit today.