Home energy audits
Last updated 3/16/2023
According to data from the EnergySage Marketplace, the average household in the United States spends $2,190 annually on electricity. This money is used to heat your home, power your appliances and lighting, and more – and you likely have other bills, such as natural gas or oil, depending on what fuels you use to power your home.
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 homeowners can maximize their energy efficiency and minimize energy costs is to get a home energy audit, also known as a home energy assessment.
What happens during a home energy audit?
An energy audit includes a walk-through of your home to assess current energy consumption and identifies energy efficiency measures that you can take to make your home more efficient. An energy auditor can determine where your home is losing the most energy and then propose improvements to help you save energy and reduce your utility bills or even prevent future power outages and tapping into renewable energy options.
Professional energy audits are a home improvement option that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours to complete, depending on the size of your home and how easy various areas are to access. These professional auditors use a variety of tools to discover problem areas within your property, and come up with a list of suggested measures and actions that you can take to make your home more efficient.
Here’s what a typical energy audit might look like in your home:
- An energy auditor will look at your building from the outside. They’ll examine various 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 look at a few things. Most importantly, they’ll inspect your insulation to ensure 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 side, it’s likely a candidate for an upgrade. They’ll also likely look at the filter in the furnace to ensure that it doesn’t require replacement. They’ll 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 costs significant money upfront, 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 also offer low-cost energy efficiency financing to make it easier to invest in energy-efficient appliances as well as rebates and incentives for upgrading to more efficient appliances.
While replacing appliances, furnaces, and water heaters costs significant money upfront, 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 also offer low-cost energy efficiency financing to make it easier to invest in energy-efficient appliances.
- Most professional audits will include a blower door test. This device allows them to locate air leakage and test air quality in your 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 often uses an infrared camera to see where cold air may leak into your home and identify opportunities for air sealing.
- 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 to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) or compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).
These are some of the most common steps taken in an energy audit – and ultimately, the recommendations your energy auditor makes for your home depend on the scope of the audit. Some lightweight suggestions may be switching to more efficient light bulbs, sealing air leaks from doors, or adding weather stripping.
Some larger suggestions might include upgrading to smart thermostats, going with ENERGY STAR appliances, adding more insulation, replacing windows causing drafts in your home, or upgrading to a more energy-efficient HVAC system like heat pumps (which are both heating and cooling systems).
What does an energy audit cost and what can you save?
What you pay for a professional energy audit often depends on the company and size of your property (some companies offer fixed rates, while others will charge more for a larger home). That said, do your research – some utility companies, nonprofits, or governmental organizations specific to your local area may offer free energy audits to their residential customers. For example, many Massachusetts homeowners can get a no-cost energy assessment through MassSave. Once you get an energy assessment, you may also qualify for other incentives or rebates for energy-saving upgrades like insulation or heat pumps.
Even as a paid service, the upfront cost for an energy audit and the following energy efficiency updates will usually be worth it when you save on your electricity bills down the line. In fact, by making energy efficiency upgrades in your home, you can save between five and 30 percent on your energy bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
How to DIY your mini home energy audit
While having a professional conduct 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, which 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.
- Switching out your lighting for more efficient options (LEDs, CFLs, or energy-saving incandescents) is a quick way to cut your electric bill.
- You can also check the temperature of your water heater to adjust the maximum water temperature (not only can this save you money, but it can help make it safer to run hot water by reducing the chance of burns with children in the home).
- 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.
When’s the best time to get a home energy audit?
If you’re spending a lot on your energy bills, any time is the right time – the sooner you update your home to make it more energy efficient, the sooner you’ll reduce your energy usage and 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 complete energy efficiency updates before the cold weather kicks in.
This logic works the other way as well. Suppose your energy use and electricity costs are high in the summer because of central air conditioning. In that case, having an audit and time to perform energy efficiency measures before the highest temperatures may be the best route. It all depends on where you live and when you use the highest amount of energy.