Mother Earth Living

Do Your Own Home Energy Audit

Find out where your house is losing energy.
By Laurel Kallenbach
January/February 2008
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Photo By Djonk/Fotolia

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Want to save energy and money? Pinpoint where your house loses energy by performing a simple energy audit yourself—or have a professional energy auditor conduct a more thorough inspection. For more details, visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy site. Search for “Home Energy Audit.”

For more on finding and sealing air leaks that might be affecting your home's efficiency, check out the article Sealing Air Leaks for Increased Home Efficiency.

1. Locate air leaks

• Reducing drafts can save 5 to 30 percent of energy annually.

• Inspect for gaps and air flow around electrical outlets, windows, baseboards, doors, fireplaces, attic hatches, pipes, foundations and mail slots.  

• Test for air movement by closing all exterior doors, windows and fireplace flues and by turning off all combustion appliances (gas furnaces, water heaters). Then turn on all exhaust fans to suck air out of the rooms. Use smoldering incense sticks to locate leaks; moving air causes the smoke to waver.


• Caulk, plug or place weather-stripping around leaks and holes.

• Replace old windows with high-performance ones or install plastic sheets over the windows.

2. Evaluate the insulation

• You’ll need to determine the current insulation’s R-value, thickness or depth. If you live in a newer house, ask the builder. For older houses, you’ll have to check what type of insulation you have and how many inches are there.

• Determine whether attic and basement insulation meet the recommended R-value for your locale. Once you know your insulation type and amount, search for “Insulation Fact Sheet” on the Oak Ridge National Lab site: Click on “Determining the R-Value You Need for an Existing House,” then on “R-Value Recommendations.” Here you can enter your zip code to see what R-values are most appropriate for your climate.

• Inspect your attic for an existing vapor barrier—tarpaper, a plastic sheet or kraft paper attached to fiberglass batts—under the insulation. This reduces the amount of water vapor that can pass through the ceiling. Moisture can reduce insulation effectiveness. If a vapor barrier isn’t there, install one.

• Check wall insulation by removing an electrical outlet cover plate (be sure to switch off the circuit breaker first). Probe into the wall with a stick or screwdriver. If you feel resistance, you have some insulation. Unfortunately, this can’t tell you if the entire wall is insulated or whether the insulation has settled. Only infrared scanning (also called thermography) done by a professional using special equipment can achieve this.


• Increase insulation throughout your house as needed. For more information on finding the right insulation for your home, check out the article New Dimensions in Insulation.

• Coat attic ceilings with vapor-barrier paint.

• Insulate the water heater, hot water pipes and furnace ducts.

3. Check Your heating and cooling equipment

• Get professional maintenance once a year.

• Clean or replace filters monthly if you have a forced-air furnace. 

• Check ductwork for dirt streaks, which indicate air leaks.


• If your HVAC system is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it with a new energy-efficient unit.

• Insulate ducts or pipes in unheated spaces. An R-value of 6 is the minimum.

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