Going Green: 4-Step DIY Home Energy Audit

Zero Energy House by Sare-Bear on FlickrOne of the easiest ways to go green, cut back on the energy you use, and save money all at the same time is by performing a DIY home energy audit.

And spring just happens to be a great time to do a home energy audit, especially if you’ll be using air conditioning throughout the summer and don’t want to lose your cool air through leaks.

As someone who lives in a centuries-old house, I can assure you that following the DIY steps below can make both your energy bills more pleasing and your house temperature more comfortable year-round without spending any extra money on heating or cooling.

Indeed, the US Department of Energy recommends doing a periodic home energy audit to make sure you’re not paying for and then losing valuable energy—and shares how to do it in four easy steps:

4-Step DIY Home Energy Audit

1. Check for leaks.
Plugging up energy-sucking drafts can save you up to 30% annually, so have a look around your house to see where air might be escaping.

Any gaps along the baseboard, in the foundation, at junctures of walls and ceilings or around pipes, wires, electrical outlets, mail slots, door and windows need to be sealed.

Caulking or weather stripping will usually do the trick.

2. Check insulation.
Be sure that the insulation levels in your home are at least at the recommended minimums; this is especially important to monitor if you have an older home as recommended levels may have changed since the insulation was first installed.

NEW Energy Efficient BULB by ViaMoi on Flickr3. Check lighting sources.
As 10% of your electric bill comes from lighting, you should be sure that you aren’t using higher wattage than necessary; you should consider compact fluorescent light bulbs especially for areas that are lit for hours at a time.

4. Check heating/cooling equipment.
Make sure filters are clean and in working order and that ductwork is clear of dirt streaks, which mean that air is leaking out.

Moreover, if you’ve had your unit for more than 15 years, it may be time to consider replacing it with a new, more energy efficient model.

For more detailed instructions on how to perform a do-it-yourself home energy audit and for more energy (and money!) saving tips, visit the Department of Energy’s Consumer’s Guide to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Have you done an energy audit of your home? Will you?

Buon weekend!

13 Beans of Wisdom to “Going Green: 4-Step DIY Home Energy Audit”
  1. Alpana

    People are going for LEDs rather than CFLs because they are eco-friendly and safe for eyes..
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    Thanks for the info!

  2. Gil

    We haven’t had one done recently. I know from talking to friends in the construction business that the payback period for the major energy savers will be many years out into the future. I do have a guy (Calabrese) (sp?) coming out to give me a quote on energy saving windows and sealing up the little gap between the foundation and the house above it. We increased the ceiling insulation to above the maximum recommended when we first moved in. Also, have a few power strips that we close off when we aren’t using things.

    You’re virtually green to the gills! Hahaha…ahem 😉

  3. loron

    U can hook up an solar powered AC system – as long as you’re going green

    loron’s last blog post..Air Conditioning for Everyone

    Solar power is definitely worth a green post all its own 🙂

  4. 05.15.2009

    Great tips – and please come check out the giveaway on my blog 🙂

    City Girl’s last blog post..Subscription Giveaway for ALL YOU Magazine

    Thanks, and *great* giveaway!!!!

  5. 05.16.2009

    How To Stop Drafts and Save On Energy Bills

    Imagine leaving a window open all winter long — the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding pull-down attic stair, a whole house fan, a fireplace or clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day.

    Drafts from these often overlooked holes waste energy and cost you big in the form of higher energy bills. Drafts are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home.

    Drafts occur through the small cracks around doors, windows, pipes, etc. Most homeowners are well aware of the benefits that caulk and weatherstripping provide to minimize energy loss and drafts.

    But what can you do about drafts from the four largest “holes” in your home — the folding attic stair, the whole house fan, the fireplace and the clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

    Attic Stairs

    When attic stairs are installed, a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be
    removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood.

    Your attic space is ventilated directly to the outdoors. In the winter, the attic space can be very cold, and in the summer it can be very hot. And what is separating your conditioned house from your unconditioned attic? That thin sheet of plywood.

    Often a gap can be observed around the perimeter of the attic door. Try this yourself: at night, turn on the attic light and shut the attic stairway door — do you see any light coming through?

    If you do, heated and air-conditioned air is leaking out of these large gaps in your home 24-hours a day. This is like leaving a window or skylight open all year ‘round.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an insulated attic stair cover. An attic stair cover seals the stairs, stopping drafts and energy loss. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling.

    Whole House Fans and Air Conditioning Vents

    Much like attic stairs above, when whole house fans are installed, a large hole (up to 16 square feet or larger) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only the drafty ceiling shutter between you and the outdoors.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan shutter seal. Made from white textured flexible insulation, the shutter seal is installed over the ceiling shutter, secured with Velcro, and trimmed to fit. The shutter seal can also be used to seal and insulate air conditioning vents, and is easily removed when desired.


    Over 100 million homes, in North America are constructed with wood or gas burning fireplaces. Unfortunately there are negative side effects that the fireplace brings to a home, especially during the winter heating season. Fireplaces are energy losers.

    Researchers have studied this to determine the amount of heat loss through a fireplace, and the results are amazing. One research study showed that an open damper on an unused fireplace in a well-insulated house can raise overall heating-energy consumption by 30 percent.

    A recent study showed that for many consumers, their heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the drafts and wasted energy caused by fireplaces.

    Why does a home with a fireplace have higher energy bills? Your chimney is an opening that leads directly outdoors — just like an open window. Even if the damper is shut, it is not airtight.

    Glass doors don’t stop the drafts either. The fireplace is like a giant straw sucking your expensive heated or air-conditioned air right out of your house!

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a Fireplace Plug to your fireplace. Available from Battic Door, a company known for their energy conservation products, the Fireplace Plug is an inflatable pillow that seals the fireplace damper, eliminating drafts, odors, and noise. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after.

    Clothes Dryer Exhaust Ducts

    In many homes, the room with the clothes dryer is the coldest room in the house. Your clothes dryer is connected to an exhaust duct that is open to the outdoors. In the winter, cold drafts in through the duct, through your dryer and into your house.

    Dryer vents use a sheet-metal flapper to try to reduce these drafts. This is very primitive technology that does not provide a positive seal to stop the drafts. Compounding the problem is that over time, lint clogs the flapper valve causing it to stay open.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a dryer vent seal. This will reduce unwanted drafts, and also keeps out pests, bees and rodents. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.

    For more information on Battic Door’s energy conservation solutions and products for your home, visit http://www.batticdoor.com or, to request a free catalog, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to P.O. Box 15, Mansfield, MA 02048.


    Mark D. Tyrol is a Professional Engineer specializing in cause and origin of construction defects. He developed several residential energy conservation products including an attic stair cover and an attic access door. Battic Door is the US distributor of the fireplace plug. To learn more visit http://www.batticdoor.com

    *Excellent* info, thanks! You deserve the free plug on the blog just for writing all that up 🙂

  6. 05.16.2009

    Great PSA, Michelle. I’ve been on a long hiatus, but it’s lovely to be back reading. We do the last two, and I guess have to be more careful especially on the first. Not sure we can afford more insulation right now.

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..The Return of the Return

    Yes unfortunately sometimes it’s just too costly at a given time to get truly green…believe me I’d love to have solar panels installed, but….

  7. 05.16.2009

    the easiest thing we can do is unplug the ‘vampires’ – electrical devices that draw current even when they aren’t in use. for example, i unplug the microwave, my internet connections, & lamps. keeps my electric bill to a pittance!

    Great tip, Jeanne! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. 05.16.2009

    Great advice Michelle and don’t forget to use simple “fixes” for saving energy, too. My heating and air conditioning units are 29 years old and still in good working order. As little as they are used, I think it would be more wasteful to replace them. I only turn on the AC when others in the familly or friends ask me. It has to be over 100 F for me to fold. Normally, I open the windows in the evening and close in them in morning before it warms up in summer. I have a two-story house with a high ceiling in the living room. So I take advantage of the fact that warm air rises. I installed a ceiling fan in the living room to assist nature in cooling the house down and use fans placed near the windows to draw in cool air. I reverse the ceiling fan direction in the winter to “recycle” the warm air on the upper story and blow in down to the rooms on the lower story. I also check my doors and windows in winter to see if cold air is being sucked into the house. Foam weatherstripping tape is easy to apply to door jams and I use a rolled up blanket as a draft blocker at the bottom of the door. I did buy an electric parabolic or dish heater this winter which also saved a lot of money. The wattage to run the heater was incredibly low about 4 watts. Then, I do bundle up a bit to save money in winter. When the heater or ac unit runs at night, I don’t sleep well because I see little green dollar signs floating up and out of the house in my dreams!

    So true…I’ve gotten much more used to just living with the heat or cold rather than turning to much artificial heat/cold creators. Good for the environment *and* for the pocketbook 🙂

  9. 05.17.2009

    when we built the addition on our 20+ year old home, we did this. best investment for us was replacing all the old windows.

    there are lots of excellent ideas left in the comments…thanks one & all!

    qualcosa di bello’s last blog post..my “to do” list…

    We’re replacing windows now…yikes, but great in the long run, I know 🙂

  10. 05.17.2009

    Good recommendations–there are a lot of simple things people can do. And there are deeper improvements that make homes more energy-efficient (and safer and more comfortable at the same time) . Regarding the home energy audit, it’s important to get the right audit–accurate and actionable and looking at the right things like duct leakage, air infiltration, and equipment efficiency and combustion safety and an analysis of utility bills. This might be beyond most DIYers. For a bit more background on audits and additional links, follow my post at http://greenhomesamerica.wordpress.com/2009/05/07/home-energy-audits-2/

    Thanks and good luck!

    Thanks so much for the info, Mike!

  11. 05.17.2009

    Oh, and I forgot to mention to close, lock or block (a short piece of broomstick works well on sliding windows) the downstairs windows before you go to bed for security reasons, if you have that problem. I once had a home security audit, courtesy of my police department, as well an an energy audit from the utility company.

    Great idea! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  12. 06.17.2009

    Good post and recommendations. A home energy audit, done right, can help you focus on the real things likely to save you energy. (Hint: most of the time it is NOT new windows!) Regarding the audit it’s important to get the right audit–accurate and actionable and including key areas like combustion safety, infiltration, and duct leakage. For a bit more background and additional links, follow my post at http://greenhomesamerica.wordpress.com/2009/05/07/home-energy-audits-2/


    Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing the link, Mike!

  13. william

    Very good article. The energy audit is the first step to reducing consumption and bills. It will give the consumers a pinpoint list as to what to do 1st and where to go from there. Visit http://www.austinauditors.com and click the Get Informed tab to learn more about energy efficiency and home energy audits.

    Will leave your link as it’s for a good cause 🙂

Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

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