What is a home energy audit?
A home energy audit is a review of how efficiently your home uses energy. You can do a low-tech preliminary one and then call in a professional energy auditor to perform a more thorough high-tech one. The goal is to make your home more efficient, saving you money and conserving natural resources.
The audit points out ways to upgrade or modify your home. Think of the audit as a checklist of to-do’s that you then have to do. The recommended improvements may cost you money upfront, but the bottom line is lowering your utility bills while increasing comfort.
What You Can Do To Start
If you suspect a problem or just want to upgrade the efficiency of your living space, there are simple steps you can do on your own. In the winter, go room-by-room inside your home and use your hands to feel for cold spots, signs that indicate air leaks, missing insulation and areas that could use an air vent to bring heat from your system into that space. Feel the walls, windowsills and windowpanes and around the frame of each door. In the summer, repeat this exercise on the outside of your home to feel for areas where cooled air is escaping.
The next step you can take to gauge your home’s energy efficiency takes just 5 minutes. It’s a web tool created by Energy Star, the initiative to save you money and protect the environment through both energy efficient products and practices created by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Energy—yes, the group behind the Energy Star name you see on new appliances’ efficiency stickers and tags.
Gather a year’s worth of utility bills (if you’ve gone paperless—good for you!—download pdfs of your bills on your computer from your utility company’s website) and use the ENERGY STAR Home Energy Yardstick to compare your home’s energy usage to similar homes across the country. You’ll also need to enter the age and square footage of your home. Plug in the numbers and you’ll see where your home stacks up and get general ideas for energy-saving home improvements.
Calling In A Pro
To drill down further, you’ll want to work with a professional home energy auditor or rater. A rater should do a very thorough evaluation that includes sophisticated equipment and techniques, specifically a calibrated blower door to expose air leaks in your building envelope and an infrared camera to make it easier for the auditor to see them.
An indoor survey is more accurate than one done outdoors, so schedule it when this is possible. In fact, time of year is a crucial factor in deciding when to have the audit done—the infrared system works best when there is the greatest difference in temperature between the air inside your home and the outside air. In northern regions, choose a dead-of-winter date when you’d have the heat cranked up; in southern regions, go for one of the dog days of summer when you’re blasting the A/C. Also pick a day when you can be home for the audit—the auditor should ask you many questions about your home and habits.
Finding A Home Energy Rater
First contact your utility company to see if it offers free or discounted energy audits to customers. If not, hire a trained home energy professional, such as a certified Home Energy Rater. You can find professionals near you through the Energy Star Homes Partner Locator and through the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), the organization that certifies home energy auditors.
Once you’ve hired the auditor, ask about how to prep your home for audit day, including heat or air conditioning settings and what to put away before the blower is turned on.
After the audit, your rater will provide you with a detailed account of what was found and a list of recommended steps for improving your home’s energy efficiency. These can range from repairs like sealing cracks to replacing equipment and appliances with higher energy ratings. For a list of specifics, see the FAQ “What are the top home improvements for energy efficiency?”