Perform Your Own Energy Audit

February 7, 2011

Infrared photo of home heat loss

The photo above shows an average house during winter.  The infrared photo indicates heat leaking from the house (white, yellow, and red show the leaks, with red being the worst).  The more proper color to show these leaks might be green – as in greenbacks, dollars, money.  Just as heat escapes this house, so does the money spent on energy to condition it.  So, how do we make sure we aren’t sending precious money “into thin air”?  Perform an energy audit.

An energy audit looks at where the energy dollars are going in a home or building.  Most utilities will do them for little to no cost, and there are contractors who will also perform them.  Tools are available to assist in calculating energy use and pinpointing areas of concern.  Below are some tips and questions to consider when evaluating your own energy use.

Where Does It Go?

How energy is used in homesThe graph shows how the average home uses its energy.  More than one third goes to heating and cooling.  Water heating, lighting, and appliances are next.  So, to get the most bang for your buck, spend your home improvement dollars increasing the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems, increasing insulation values, plugging leaks, and updating to Energy Star appliances, including the water heater. 

What To Look For

Here is a list of things to look for when performing your audit:

  • Check insulation levels in the attic, exterior and basement walls, ceilings, floors, and crawl spaces.
  • Look for holes or cracks around walls, ceilings, windows, doors, light and plumbing fixtures, switches, and electrical outlets.  A great way to do this is to light an incense stick and watch where the smoke goes as you approach these areas.
  • Check the fireplace damper to make sure it is closed, unless the fireplace is in use.
  • Properly maintain appliances and heating and cooling equipment.  Replace filters regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Study lighting needs and use patterns, paying special attention to high-use areas such as the living room, kitchen, and outside lighting.  Use occupancy sensors, dimmers, or timers to reduce energy use.
  • Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents or LEDs.

What To Do Next

Now that you know where you are losing energy, how do you determine which improvements you should make first?  Here are some questions to help you determine your priorities:

  • How much money do you spend on energy?
  • Where are your greatest energy loses?  (Consult the pie chart above for assistance.)
  • How long will it take for an investment in energy efficiency to pay for itself in energy cost savings?
  • Do the energy saving measures provide additional benefits that are important to you (such as increased comfort)?
  • How long do you plan to own your current home?
  • Can you do the job yourself or will you need to hire a contractor?
  • What is your budget and how much time do you have to spend on maintenance and repair?

Once you have assigned priorities to the potential improvements, you are ready to put your plan into action.  Remember that small improvements can make a big difference in energy use, and you don’t always have to spend a lot to save a lot.

For more resources about performing your own energy audit and making energy improvements, visit EnergySavers.gov.

Infrared photo copyright Infraspection Institute, Inc.  Photo and pie chart courtesy of EnergySavers.gov.


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Dawn Killough

has over 15 years experience in the construction industry and is the author of Green Building Design 101, an e-book available from Amazon. She is a LEED AP and Certified Green Building Advisor, and has worked on the LEED Certification of three projects in Salem, Oregon.  
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