Excerpted from Living Green: The Missing Manual by Nancy Conner
Nancy Conner’s book provides some excellent information on how we can audit our energy consumption and take some easy steps around the home to stop our precious energy from escaping into the dark, cold nights.
Perform an Energy Audit
To find out how efficient (or inefficient) your home is right now, perform an energy audit yourself or hire a professional to do one. The audit will reveal some stuff you can fix yourself, and other issues you’ll need help with. But checking your home for common problems is a good start in making your home more efficient—and cozier too.
You already know which rooms feel drafty or are always hotter or colder than others. Those rooms are good places to start your audit, but you should give your whole house a once-over to figure out how to make it more efficient and reduce your energy costs.
Here are the steps in a do-it-yourself home energy audit.
Look at your bills. Pull out your old utility bills going back a few years. Spread the bills out and look for patterns. Is there a particular season or month when they spike? If you live in the snowbelt, you know heating costs are a lot higher in January than in April. So you’ll want to focus on improvements that can bring down those winter heating costs, such as beefing up your insulation or getting a high-efficiency furnace.
(The Energy Star program can help you interpret your energy bills. Go to www.energystar.gov. On the home page, click Home Improvement, then select Home Energy Yardstick. This opens a calculator where you fill in facts. The yardstick compares how your home measures up to others and recommends ways to improve efficiency.)
Find and fix air leaks. As much as 30% of the money you spend to heat and cool your home could be going right out the window—or through the mail slot or cracks in the wall.
Here are some places you’re likely to find leaks:
- Window and door frames
- Mail slots
- Dryer vents
- Around the chimney
- Recessed ceiling lights
- Electrical outlets and switches on external walls
- Fireplace dampers
Here’s how to check for leaks.
- Feel for drafts. Cold air coming in against your hand means air is leaking there.
- Use a stick of incense. Hold it where you suspect a leak. If the incense smoke goes straight up, the spot is airtight. If the smoke streams into or out of the room, bingo—you’ve found a leak.
- Shine a light. When it’s dark out, grab a flashlight and send a friend outside. Turn out the lights in the room you are checking, then shine the flashlight at potential leak spots.
Check the attic. Make sure it’s insulated enough to keep your house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. If the insulation between the joists is higher than the joists, you’re probably okay.
Get your heating system checked. Even the most energy-efficient, top-of-the-line furnace won’t save money and energy if it’s connected to leaky ductwork. A thorough assessment of your home’s climate-control system is best left to the pros.
Here are some things to keep an eye out for:
- Dirty filters. Dust on filters restricts air flow and makes the system less efficient. If your furnace or air conditioner’s filter looks dirty, swap it for a clean one. You may need to do this as often as once a month during the heating season.
- Dusty AC coils. If you air-conditioning unit’s coils are dirty, vacuum them clean.
- Leaky ducts. Leaking ducts cause some of the warmed or cooled air to not get where it’s going. Leaks can reduce your system’s efficiency by 25-40%. To find leaks, look for disjointed sections, obvious holes, and dirty streaks on ducts.
To find an energy auditor, try calling your utility company. Many offer free or inexpensive audits.
Nancy Conner’s book Living Green: The Missing Manual helps make earth-friendly decisions more manageable by narrowing them down to a few simple choices.