Home Energy Audit Checklist: DIY Vs. Professional
How much money could an energy assessment save you?
If you’re reading this, you’ve just survived one of the hottest summers on record.1 Chances are your air conditioner was set to “high” and your energy bills looked like they were, too. We can send our thanks to climate change and rising utility rates for that.
But you yourself may also be to blame for throwing $200 to $400 in energy expenses out the window. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, that’s how much the average homeowner loses every year due to air leaks in their home.2 And home energy expert Greg Fasullo of Elevation — a energy solution company — told EcoWatch it can be much more than that amount.
“Most consumers don’t recognize that engaging with their energy and managing it can save you thousands of dollars a year,” Fasullo said.
With winter now upon us, many people are vigorously researching how to save money on energy bills. But Fasullo says the problem is most likely that you need a home energy audit.
“The analogy I like to use is that it’s like a car. If your gas tank has a leak, you don’t want to keep putting more gas in or [look for] lower-cost gas. First thing is, let’s fix the leak. And that’s what energy efficiency work is with the house,” Fasullo said.
What Is a Home Energy Audit?
You’re hearing that a home energy audit can save you hundreds, potentially thousands of dollars. But, what even is a home energy audit?
Also referred to as a home energy assessment, a home energy audit helps you understand the energy usage of your home, identify problem areas and come up with a solution to improve your home’s overall energy efficiency.
DIY Home Energy Audit 101: What to Inspect
You’re likely going to see way bigger savings by having a professional energy audit, which is why Fausullo told EcoWatch he doesn’t recommend homeowners try to do it on their own.
“You just can’t do it as well as a professional, and many times you’ll just waste your time,” Fasullo said.
That being said, Fasullo agrees that there are certainly things you can do to get a better handle on your home energy consumption. Here are the five main things you should inspect:
- Windows and doors
- Air leaks
- HVAC systems
You can download our free Home Energy Audit Checklist here or read on to learn more about how to tackle a DIY home energy audit.
1. Evaluate Your Lighting
The first recommendation is to switch out any standard light bulbs with LED light bulbs.
Yes, we know they cost more upfront, but compared to incandescent light bulbs:
- LED bulbs use roughly 75% less energy3
- LED bulbs last 25 times longer4
- LED bulbs can save you about $225 a year5
For your outdoor lights, LEDs or CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) are better built to withstand harsh weather conditions while also consuming less energy.
Want your outdoor lights to run for free? Check out solar-powered lights.
2. Seal Windows and Doors
Windows and outside doors are the most common culprits of air leaks. Here’s how to reduce that:
- Inspect the frames of your windows and doors for drafts
- Use window sealant or weatherstrips to close any gaps.
- Learn how to better insulate your windows.
- If you haven’t already, switch to energy efficient windows to save roughly $600 a year.6
3. Check for Air Leaks
Contrary to popular belief, air leaks are found in way more places than your doors and windows.
“There are all kinds of places in the house — where you have ductwork, even things like around the lights in the ceiling — there are areas where you just naturally leak energy,” Fasullo said.
Here are a few steps to find and remedy air leaks:
- Check your electrical outlets, pipes, lighting, baseboards and other features.
- Check for cracks or holes, and feel for drafts.
- Seal problem areas with appropriate caulk or weatherstripping material.
4. Inspect Your Insulation
When the builder built your home, they probably met the minimum insulation requirements at the time. If your home is at least 10 years old, that minimum is probably outdated.
According to the Department of Energy, a properly insulated attic can reduce your energy bill by 10% to 50%.7 Here are a few steps to follow when assessing your home’s insulation:
- Inspect your attic insulation for signs of deterioration or age.
- Check to see if there is a vapor barrier under the insulation (it might be a plastic sheet, tar paper or kraft paper attached to fiberglass batts).
- If you don’t see a vapor barrier, you may want to call in the experts.
5. Check Your Appliances
Aside from having a professional energy assessment, Fasullo said the best thing a homeowner can do to get a better grasp on their energy usage is to invest in a smart thermostat that helps you track your consumption.
In addition to keeping up with your energy usage with a smart thermostat, we recommend that you:
- Check the age of your household appliances, and upgrade to energy efficient models when necessary.
- Unplug appliances that are not in use often.
- Check your laundry dryer exhaust for blockage, and clean its ventilation hose annually.
6. Check Your HVAC Systems
Your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems should be inspected annually. You can read our HVAC Tips Guide for more information on how to keep your systems running properly, but here are a few highlights:
- Check that your HVAC systems are in good shape.
- If you haven’t already, upgrade your HVAC system to use Energy Star-certified models.
- Look for the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating to determine the efficiency of the system. (Most AC units have a minimum SEER rating of 13.)
Why Should You Hire a Professional Energy Auditor?
Performing a DIY home energy audit is a good place to start, but Fasullo said it’s just not enough for what most homes need.
“While you may save some money, you’re just not going to see the same results,” he said. “And the payback is so short with these companies that do energy efficiency.”
Even if you’re the handiest homeowner on the planet, unless you’re a professional contractor, you likely don’t have the equipment and skills necessary to make your home as energy efficient as it can be.
Here are some of the things that a professional energy auditor will do at your home:
- Blower door test: Your auditor will seal the front door of your home and place a large fan inside. This will pull all indoor air outside, forcing outside air to come through any cracks or holes to find all possible air leaks.
- Thermographic scan: The auditor can measure hidden energy consumption using infrared technology, surface thermometers and furnace efficiency meters.
- Energy efficiency retrofit: Your auditor may be able to make improvements on the spot, such as fixing insulation or air sealing in your attic. Or, they can schedule a time for a contractor to come in and do any recommended work.
How Much Does An Energy Audit Cost?
It depends on the company and what services you have completed, but on average, you can expect to pay between $200 and $600 for a professional energy audit.
Additional energy efficiency upgrades could have you spending thousands of dollars, but Fasullo said the investment is well worth it for the ongoing energy savings you’ll see over your home’s lifetime.
“For a few thousand dollars, you could save $1,000 or more a year. So literally in just a few years, you can make that money back,” Fasullo said. “So, hire a professional. But get a few quotes that you can evaluate and make sure you’re getting a good deal.”
How Can I Get a Free Home Energy Assessment?
You read that right! Oftentimes, homeowners are eligible for free home energy assessments through their local utility companies.
Check with your local utility to see if you qualify for a free energy assessment. If not completely free, Fasullo said many utilities offer energy efficiency rebates and subsidies that can significantly reduce the cost of your home energy audit.
“Essentially, by paying your electric bill, the [public utility commission] has a pot of money. They’re giving it back to consumers to save, so take advantage of it.” Fasullo said. “That money’s gotta go to somebody — it might as well be you!”
Many solar panel installation companies also offer free home energy audits for customers who express interest in going solar, even if you don’t end up buying the panels.
“Most consumers don’t recognize that engaging with their energy and managing it can save you thousands of dollars a year,” Fasullo said. “Then if you’re a homeowner and actually put solar on a house, you’re now generating electricity. And you could generate, I mean, tens of thousands of dollars a year in value with that solar system.”
Why Energy-Saving Practices Matter
The average American spends more than $1,500 on electricity.8 And with temperatures and energy rates on the rise, energy-saving practices are becoming more crucial than ever.
Everyone loves to save money where they can, but if you’re feeling stressed about high electricity bills, you’re not alone. In fact, a recent EcoWatch survey of 1,000 homeowners revealed that 79% of homeowners are concerned with their average monthly energy spend.
Making your home more sustainable isn’t just good for your wallet and easing financial stress. It’s also good for the health of yourself, your family and the planet. Performing an energy assessment is a great way to improve the air quality in your home and in your neighborhood. Check out some of these statistics:
- Residential energy use currently accounts for roughly 20% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S.9
- Energy efficient upgrades could cut CO2 emissions by more than 1 billion tons per year and save more than $1 trillion in the United States.10
- Energy efficient-rated homes sell for 2.7% more than unrated homes, and better-rated homes sell for 3% to 5% more than lesser-rated homes.11
If you’re not sure where to start with a home energy assessment, try reaching out to your local utility provider or a solar energy company near you. Fasullo leaves us with this piece of advice for homeowners:
“Choose a provider that’s actually going to do an energy audit — not just show up and put [in] insulation. They’re actually going to pressure test the house and they’re going to certify the results.”