Home energy audits: should you get one?
Last updated 7/12/2021
According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the average American household spends roughly $2,060 per year on energy costs. This money is used to heat your home, power your appliances and lighting, and more.
The amount you spend on energy depends on the type of fuels used (from electricity, to oil, to propane, to wood in a fireplace) and the rate price at which it sells for in your area. The price of these fuels may be outside of your control as a property owner, but one thing is sure; the less energy your home consumes, the more you’re going to save on your electricity bill.
One way to make sure you’re being as efficient (and, therefore, as conservative) as possible in your energy spending is to go through a home energy audit.
What happens during a home energy audit?
An energy audit is an assessment of your home that takes a look at current energy consumption and then identifies energy efficiency measures that you can conduct to make your home more efficient. An energy auditor can assess where your home is losing the most energy, and then proposes improvements to make to help save energy – and reduce your utility bills.
Professional energy audits can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours to complete, depending on the size of your home. These professional auditors use a variety of tools to establish problem areas within your property, and come up with a list of suggested measures and actions that you can take in order to make your home more efficient.
Here’s what a typical energy audit might look like in your home:
- An energy auditor will take a look at your building from the outside. They’ll examine a variety of components, including windows, walls, and eaves, to see if they can spot any major issues causing leaks into or out of your home.
- The auditor will check out the attic (if you have one) to take a look at a few things. Most importantly, they will inspect your insulation to make sure it’s correctly installed and applied evenly between your walls. They’ll also evaluate the holes where electrical lines run to see if they’re properly sealed, or could be a source of leakage.
- The auditor will examine your furnace and water heater. If either is on the older end, it is likely a candidate for an upgrade. They’ll also likely take a look at the filter in the furnace to ensure that it doesn’t require replacement. They’ll also check connections in the ducts in your basement to try and locate any possible leaks where you may be losing heat and energy.
While replacing appliances, furnaces, and water heaters cost significant money upfront, making the upgrade typically results in savings over the lifetime of the equipment. In many cases, upgrades will result in net savings in just a few years. Many utilities and local governments offer low-cost energy efficiency financing to make it easier to make the investment in energy efficient appliances.
- Most professional audits will include a blower door test. This is a device that allows them to locate air leaks in the home. During a blower door test, all the windows and doors are closed, and they’ll use a blower door machine to depressurize the home. At that point, the auditor uses an infrared camera to see where cold air may be leaking into your home.
- Finally, audits usually include an inspection of the lighting in your home. If you’re using standard incandescent light bulbs, you can easily reduce your electricity costs by switching over to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) or compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).
These are some of the more common steps taken in an energy audit. However, depending on the scope and the tools in your energy auditor’s arsenal, there may be some additional steps taken (such as thermographic inspections).
The recommendations that your energy auditor makes for your home depends on the scope of the audit. Some lightweight suggestions may be switching to more efficient lighting, sealing air leaks from doors or adding weather stripping. Some larger suggestions might include more insulation, or replacing windows that are causing drafts in your home.
How much does an energy audit cost, and how much can you save?
What you pay for a professional energy audit can depend on the company and the size of your property (some companies offer fixed rates, while others will charge more for a larger home). That being said, do your research – some utility companies, nonprofits or governmental organizations specific to your local area may offer free energy audits.
Even as a paid service, the upfront cost for an energy audit audit and for the following energy efficiency measures taken will be worth it when you’re saving on your electricity bills later on. By making energy efficiency upgrades in your home, you can save five to 30 percent on your energy bills.
How to conduct your own mini home energy audit
While having a professional do your energy audit is the best way to identify the problem areas in your home, there are a few energy savings tips that can help you make energy efficiency improvements on your own.
- If you notice an especially drafty area of your home, inspect the area for leaks. Leaks are especially common at junctures between walls and ceilings, at doors, by windows, and at electrical outlets. If you locate a leak, you can seal it using weatherstripping or caulk.
- Take a look at the insulation in your attic, as well as possible sources of leaks around your heating and cooling equipment.
- Simply switch out your lighting for more efficient options (LEDs, CFLs, or energy-saving incandescents) is a quick way to cut your electric bill.
- If you’re considering replacing any of your appliances, keep an eye out for energy efficient options that consume less electricity than their standard counterparts.
The best time to get a home energy audit depends on where you live
If you’re spending a lot on your energy bills, any time is the right time to get an energy audit. The sooner you make updates to your home to make it more energy efficient, the sooner you’ll start saving money.
That being said, you might want to keep in mind seasonality. Many houses feel drafty or cold in some areas and warm in others during the winter. If you live in the Northeast and spend a lot of money on energy during the winter, it might be a good idea to get energy efficiency measures complete before the cold weather kicks in.
This logic works the other way as well – if your electricity costs are high in the summer because of central air conditioning, having an audit and time to perform energy efficiency measures before the highest temperatures come may be the best route.