Should you get a home energy audit before winter arrives?
Your home could be losing you money this winter, which is the last thing you'll want with heating and air costs on the rise. But a home energy audit could save you a lot of trouble. Here's why.
What is it?
Home energy audits are checkups for a house, apartment or condo. They help homeowners determine whether their homes are losing energy and money through drafts, improper insulation, poorly operating fixtures, furnaces and ductwork or other sources. The end result is a prescription that homeowners can use to help cure their house of energy-sapping problems. It's any home's first step toward greater energy efficiency.
All the fuel it takes to heat a home, and electricity required to light it, can put a damper on the utilities. When you're wasting a huge portion of that heat or electricity through poor practices or problematic home issues, that's money down the drain.
There's no doubt that a home energy audit is the way to go, but should you take the DIY approach or bring in the professionals?
The federal Energy Star project is a great resource for homeowners hoping to do some basic audits on their own. For instance, using the Energy Star Home Energy Yardstick, a few minutes and the last year's utility bills will help you compare your home's energy efficiency to comparable residences in the country.
The Department of Energy also has a how-to guide for do-it-yourself home energy audits. This covers the basics, like locating and sealing air leaks, checking insulation, inspecting heating and cooling equipment and running estimates on your home appliances and how much of an energy efficiency toll they might take on your bills.
From HVAC repair to other maintenance issues, you're probably going to want to call in a professional to improve your home's energy efficiency. Do-it-yourself efforts can be helpful as a preliminary measure, but professional auditors will have the advanced tools and experience to give you a more definitive analysis.
You can locate a reliable energy auditor through state or local government energy or weatherization offices, your local utility company, the telephone directory, online or the Residential Energy Services Network.
Once you've picked an auditor, it's worth doing your homework. Check in with references, talk with the Better Business Bureau and once the audit has begun, make sure the professional conducts a thermographic inspection.
In many cases, utility companies offer free or discounted energy audits to customers.
It's often more cost-effective to replace older, energy-guzzling electrical fixtures with newer, more efficient Energy Star-rated models. Major offenders in most homes include dishwashers, refrigerators, dryers, air conditioning units and even certain electronics. If you want a good estimate of whether an appliance is efficient or not, check to see whether it's Energy Star certified. Some appliances also boast their own manufacturer-graded efficiency level, too. For instance, air conditioners and heat pumps carry seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER, ratings.
Some appliances can even earn you tax credits.
Be energy conscious
Once you've taken care of your energy audit, eliminated the drafts in your home, improved insulation and replaced the old, energy-chugging appliances, keep in mind that the best practice is to continue to conserve as much as possible. Use heat sparingly, stay warm with cozy sweaters and blankets and always turn out lights when you leave a room. And if you're in need of furnace repair or a fix up, call in a professional who can advise you on more efficiency tips.