6 tips to check the energy efficiency of your home

When it comes to reducing heating costs, there are a number of small things that homeowners can do that add up over time. However, it can be overwhelming to determine where energy is being wasted among the multitude of possible culprits in an average home. While some utility companies may offer energy audits for free, commercial audits can cost upwards of $400 or more in certain areas. If you suspect that energy is being wasted in your home but you don’t know where or how to start fixing the issue, read on for six tips for performing a home energy audit.

  1. Check and Seal Drafty WindowsDrafty windows can account for a surprising amount of energy loss, up to 25 percent of your heating or cooling bills. To test the energy efficiency of your windows, wait for a windy day and close all windows. Then, using a stick of incense, walk from window to window.  If the thin plume of smoke from the incense blows in a certain direction, it is a clear indication that your windows are letting in outside air, reducing energy efficiency.
  2. Check the Fireplace Damper
    If your home has a fireplace, a damper is used to allow these smoke and fumes to escape out, while also preventing outside air from entering the home. If this damper isn’t fully closing, your home is losing energy efficiency. To test, hold a lit candle or incense stick inside the fireplace.  If the candle is flickering around or blows out, it is a clear sign that inside air is escaping through the chimney.
  3. Check “Phantom” Devices
    Phantom devices are things such as AC chargers, flat screen TVs, and anything that has an LED indicator light to show it is in “stand-by” mode. These devices sap electricity without homeowners even realizing it. Detectors are available for as little as $20 that measure exactly how much energy these devices use even when they are supposedly turned off. Unplugging these phantom devices can save you as much as 10% on your electricity bills.
  4. Check the Water Heater Insulation
    Water heaters constantly heat a supply of water so that it is available when you need it. Older water heaters used a style of fiberglass insulation, which is less efficient than the foam blankets that are used today. The audit here is simple: Touch the water tank.  If it is warm, the unit is lacking insulation. Non-fiberglass foam blankets are available at your local home store to fit a variety of water heater sizes. Properly insulating your water heater can save you as much as 9% on your water heating costs.
  5. Check for Gaps Under the Front Door
    Weatherstipping is common around an exterior door jamb, but most homeowners neglect the underside of the door.  To perform a quick energy audit, place a piece of paper on the threshold of the exterior door and close the door.  If the paper pulls out easily, there is a sufficient gap for air to escape. To fix the situation, install a sweep seal under the door. These items, which can be made of foam, vinyl, or felt, can seal those bottom gaps when the door is closed. Metal or vinyl seals are preferred, as they are more moisture resistant than softer materials.
  6. Insulate Light Switch and Outlet Covers
    The plastic cover used on light switches and outlets does not have the power to keep cold air out of your home.  A package of foam insulation covers can be purchased from your local home store and easily installed with nothing but a screwdriver. While the energy savings from this intervention may seem small at around 2-3% annually, over the course of a lifetime these savings can certainly add up.

At Towne & Country Building Inspectors, we help homeowners and property owners in Milwaukee and surrounding communities with expert home inspection services. If you’re looking to buy or sell a new home or commercial property, give us a call. We specialize in historic home inspections, commercial building inspections, insurance inspections, and more.