How to conduct an energy audit

A home energy assessment can help you reduce utility rates, make your house more comfortable and help the environment. Don't be intimidated by the idea of an energy audit. All you have to do is review the nooks and crannies of your house for areas that can be improved. You can pay a professional to do the energy audit for you, but locating and plugging crevasses yourself may save you money in the long run.

You should start by reviewing the information on your energy bills from the past few months, or as far back as possible. Identify spikes and dips, and see if you can remember what triggered them. Perhaps you can connect your through-the-roof energy bill from last December to the blizzard that snowed you in for three days. Knowing how much you are spending to heat your house may motivate you to get started on your assessment.

You should wear appropriate clothing, as you may be crawling around on the ground. Make sure ladders and step stools are secure before you use them, and don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. You may need to use a dust mask, goggles and gloves. Turn off your electricity before you go poking around by the wires.

Look for leaks
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, check electrical outlets, window frames, attic hatches, wall- or window-mounted air conditioners, weather strips around doors, fireplace dampers and switch plates for air flow. Gaps are common along the edge of flooring and at junctures of the walls and ceilings.

If you are having trouble detecting leaks, you can conduct a basic building pressurization test. Make sure all exterior doors, windows and fireplace flues are closed. Turn off combustion appliances like gas burning furnaces and water heaters. Turn on the exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms. You can also use a large window fan to blow the air out of the rooms. Check for cracks and leaks by feeling for cool air on your hand or by carefully using an incense stick and taking note of where the smoke wavers. Circle the outside of your house. Inspect all exterior corners.

Inspect the insulation
Heat can escape through the walls if your home is not properly insulated. Your house loses heat in the summer and gains it in the winter. You want your walls to resist this migration of heat from the warm side of a barrier to the cool side. If you have an older home, you might not have enough insulation to meet today's energy consumption. Start in your attic and check for vapor barriers under the existing insulation. If it is not there, you may want to consider using vapor barrier paint on the ceiling. Seal gaps in openings and make sure not to block vents with insulation.

Examine equipment and electricity
Heating and cooling equipment need a great deal of energy to function. Annually inspect your units or machines to make sure they are working properly. Consider replacing your system after 15 years. If you have a forced-air furnace, check the filters and replace as needed. Assess the lighting in the house and examine light bulb wattage. Look at energy-efficient lighting. Consider switching to compact fluorescent lamps for places where lights are on for long stretches of time.