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Conducting A Home Energy Audit

by on September 2, 2014

Last time we looked at a breakdown of home energy use and came up with an average annual expenditure of $2,024 broken down into:

  • $593 for space heating (29.3%)
  • $280 for water heating (13.8%)
  • $237 for air conditioning (11.7%)
  • $153 for refrigeration (7.5%)
  • $827 for everything else (40.8%)

With space heating and cooling accounting for 41% of home energy use, we concluded that installing a smart thermostat in your home was a no-brainer (especially since it can pay for itself in savings in as little as a year).

Once you’ve done that, there are plenty of other ways to save — for example, according to the US Department of Energy, you can save anywhere between 5% and 30% on your energy bill by making home improvements based on a home energy audit. Let’s take a look at what an audit entails and what kind of changes you can make to make your home even more energy efficient and enjoy long-term savings.

What is a home energy audit?

A home energy audit, sometimes called a home energy assessment or checkup, is a review of how your home is losing energy. The more energy your home loses, the higher your monthly energy costs will be. Your home can lose energy either because it’s improperly insulated and therefore is leaking air, or because your HVAC equipment and other appliances are performing sub-optimally.

It is possible to conduct a home energy audit yourself and our resources will help you get started, but enlisting a professional energy auditor is usually more thorough and can be worth the expense, especially if you’ve never conducted an audit done before. There may be issues you’re already aware of, and other issues you’re able to uncover on your own, but a professional energy auditor is able to bring sophisticated equipment to perform tests that will give you much more accurate and detailed results.

Based on the checkup your professional energy auditor will make home improvement suggestions to minimize energy loss. You can find a certified energy auditor through the Residential Energy Services Network.

What should a professional home energy audit include?

There are four steps to a successful home energy assessment:

  • A visual inspection to review any obvious areas that need to be addressed.
  • A technical inspection using sophisticated equipment to conduct in-depth tests for home energy efficiency and identify non-obvious areas of leakage and inadequate insulation.
  • A health and safety inspection to make sure that all appliances in your home are correctly installed and properly maintained, and test for indoor air quality.
  • A software-based analysis of the inspection results and suggestions for improvements.

What are the main issues to address in a home energy audit?

  1. Air leakage occurs when there are gaps between the interior and the exterior of your home. This means during summer, cold air from indoors gets replaced by the hot air from outside, and during winter, warm air from indoors gets replaced by the cold air from outside. The more air leakage occurs, the more frequently you have to re-heat or re-cool your home. Some common culprits for air leakage include: doors and windows, attic and crawl space or basement, and electrical outlets and switches.
  2. Insulation helps your home retain warmth in the winter and or cool in the summer. Poor insulation will result in faster energy transfer between the inside and outside of your home. Insulation products are rated using something called a R-Value, which determines the product’s resistance to heat flow (or transfer). The higher the R-Value, the better the insulation is preventing heat transfer, and therefore the lower your energy bills will be.
  3. Heating and cooling accounts for 41% of home energy use. If your HVAC equipment is not working efficiently, up to half of that energy can be wasted. It is important to replace your filters regularly, and to schedule regular inspections and maintenance to ensure proper working condition.
  4. Lighting, appliances, and home electronics account for another 41% of your home energy use. Replacing old appliances with newer, more energy efficient ones and learning how to use them more efficiently can save hundreds of dollars every year.

How much does a home energy audit cost?

Most homeowners pay between $300 to $500 for a home energy audit, but there is no “rule of thumb”. The scope of the audit, the time it takes, and how much it costs, will all vary by the size of the home, type of home, and the equipment, appliances, and electronics you have. Make sure you do some comparison shopping between certified energy auditors before scheduling an appointment.

There are also rebate programs and tax credits you can apply for, to help alleviate the costs of a home energy audit as well as energy efficiency related home improvements.

Resources for conducting a home energy audit

  1. The City of Seattle’s step-by-step guide to a do-it-yourself home energy audit.
  2. Columbia River PUD’s do-it-yourself home energy audit.