When was the last time your home was inspected by a professional? If you're like most homeowners, the last time you received a complete home inspection was at the time you purchased the home. In those inspections, the inspector looked at all areas of your home – such as radon levels, the age and working condition of appliances and the plumbing – and you typically would have received an exhaustive report complete with photos about all aspects of the condition of your new home. Remember how reassuring that made you feel prior to what is likely your largest investment? To know you won't have any big, surprising issues?
But considering half of your energy bill each month comes from heating and cooling – home owners should dive deeper into their energy use if they want to really avoid unnecessary, wasted expenses. Now, this article isn’t a ding on home inspection companies. Rather it's just the opposite. To really know more about your energy consumption, it's important to conduct a home energy audit and make adjustments to help save money each month.
Where to Begin
There are two types of energy audits: 1) a professional energy audit offers a very thorough analysis of your home's energy use, and 2) a do-it-yourself home energy audit can help identify low-hanging fruit. Resideo created a resource to help you identify problem areas:
Many utility companies have energy-saving programs that allow for free or discounted home energy assessments, and offer rebates on the features the homeowner chooses to implement (i.e., increasing insulation, installing a smart thermostat, duct sealing, etc.) For example, Xcel Energy serves millions of homes and businesses across eight Western and Midwestern states and is no stranger to grueling winters or sweltering summers. Xcel Energy offers its customers rebates for professional audits because they help homeowners find opportunities to save energy and improve comfort in their home.
"Professional auditors are trained in building science and have specialized tools they use to identify where energy is being wasted. The audit reveals opportunities big and small, and the auditor can help a homeowner understand how to prioritize improvements to have the biggest impact on comfort and savings," said Rob O'Connell, Product Portfolio manager at Xcel Energy. "If multiple large opportunities are identified, such as attic insulation and a new furnace, the audit would help the homeowner understand which of those to undertake first, what utility rebates are available, and what to look for when hiring a contractor.”
Contact your local utility for details about free or discounted home energy assessments or to see if they have a list of preferred energy audit providers in your area. After collecting several bids – companies will likely charge by the square foot or by the hour – select the audit that’s right for your home and expectations.
How to Gauge Home Energy Efficiency
If you perform a DIY Energy audit, you’ll get a high-level look at how energy used in your home, and it will help prepare you for a conversation with a professional.
You’ll need a few tools to help you find out how your house stacks up, and to interpret the results:
- An outlet plug-in monitor: If you want to find out how much energy your TV use each week, or how much power your laptop draws when in sleep mode, just plug the monitor into the outlet, and plug your device into the monitor.
- Notepad: When walking through your home, you’ll want to keep a checklist of areas you have inspected and problems you found.
- Ruler: to measure the amount of insulation in your attic – depending on where you live and the amount of existing insulation, you could likely benefit from adding more if it is less than an equivalent of R-30.
How to Realize Savings From an Energy Audit
When you have your results back from the audit, it's time to act on those findings! Here are some energy saving solutions that can help you save money.
- Seal air leaks. The potential energy savings from reducing drafts in a home may range from 10% to 20% per year. You can plug holes with appropriate sealant for your climate. Look for foam sealant that is simple and smart. Like this dispenser that stops when your finger comes off the trigger, which prevents messy drips.
- Improve ventilation. The irony of focusing on energy conservation is that we seal up areas where our home naturally 'breathes' – making it tighter. But by solving that problem, you could amplify another. The house still needs to breathe – through your ducting and venting system – so it can replace stale air with fresh air. Proper ventilation keeps air moving in your home, and healthy indoor air quality. A whole-home ventilation system installed by an HVAC pro can help improve indoor air quality.
- Check air filters. To help keep your heating and cooling systems running at top notch, replace air filters or consider upgrading to an electronic air cleaner. Dirty filters make your system work harder and run longer than necessary. The Department of Energy reports that replacing dirty filters with clean air filters can reduce your energy consumption up to 15%.
- Add insulation. There are many places in your home that require proper insulation: from basement walls to unfinished attics. If your home doesn’t have the right type, quality or depth of insulation in the attic, you can rent an insulation blower from your local hardware store and add more. There are several aspects to keep in mind when adding insulation to an existing home – so if in doubt, call your local contractor who can help advise. home energy calculator can help you decide on the rate of return on your insulation additions
- Swap out for energy-efficient light bulbs or appliances. Visit focusonbulbs.com to take a quick quiz about the type of light fixture, he features desired, the wattage to be replaced, color warmth, hours of daily use, etc. By replacing your home's five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with models that have earned the ENERGY STAR, you can save up to $75 each year.
- Keep going. If you want to find new ways to save energy and be more sustainable around the home, check out joulebug.com to play games and learn new ways to be green.
What Do Energy Efficient Homes Have in Common
So, what's the gold standard in energy efficient homes? In addition to solving for issues found in an energy audit, energy efficient homes have the following energy solutions:
- A programmable or smart thermostat can save you up to 10% on heating and cooling costs a year, and a well-maintained heating and cooling system can help save you from costly repairs. Homes enrolled in utility savings programs also help take demand off the city’s electrical grid.
- Energy Star certified products, are more efficient than standard models. For example, an Energy Star-qualified air conditioner are, on average, up to 15% more efficient than standard models. And don't just stop at the AC unit! Resideo offers more Energy Star certified thermostats than any other manufacturer.
- Solar Panels can help you save money on your energy bills and lower your carbon footprint by lower your fossil fuel usage. While they can be expensive, there are tax incentives available.
- Low-flow showerheads in your shower can have a flow rate of half most conventional showerheads: 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) compared to 5-8 gpm.
- Smart energy management tools, such as smart power strip, can report how much energy your devices draw or set up schedules for each outlet individually to limit power consumption when not in use. Or a device to monitor the performance of your heating and cooling system and can alert you if it is drawing more power than usual (which means it could be failing).
By making your home more energy efficient, you'll find new ways to do the same task with less energy and save money. Becoming aware of energy consumption is a crucial first step in identifying the things you need to adjust so you can get the most out of your energy consumption and save big each month. Happy saving!