The first step to taking a whole house energy efficiency approach is to find out which parts of your house use the most energy. A home energy audit will pinpoint those areas and suggest the most effective measures for cutting your energy costs. You can conduct a simple home energy audit yourself, you can contact your local utility, or you can call an independent energy auditor for a more comprehensive examination. For more information about home energy audits, including free tools and calculators, visit www.energysavers.gov or www.natresnet.org/resources/
Energy Auditing Tips
• Check the insulation levels in your attic, exterior and basement walls, ceilings, floors, and crawl spaces. Visit www.energysavers.gov for instructions on checking your insulation levels.
• Check for holes or cracks around your walls, ceilings, windows, doors, light and plumbing fixtures, switches, and electrical outlets that can leak air into or out of your home.
• Check for open fireplace dampers.
• Make sure your appliances and heating and cooling systems are properly maintained. Check your owner’s manuals for the recommended maintenance.
• Study your family’s lighting needs and use patterns, paying special attention to high-use areas such as the living room, kitchen, and outside lighting. Look for ways to use lighting controls—like occupancy sensors, dimmers, or timers—to reduce lighting energy use, and replace standard (also called incandescent) light bulbs and fixtures with compact or standard fluorescent lamps.
Formulating Your Plan
After you have identified where your home is losing energy, assign priorities by asking yourself a few important questions:
• How much money do you spend on energy?
• Where are your greatest energy losses?
• How long will it take for an investment in energy efficiency to pay for itself in energy cost savings?
• Do the energy saving measures provide additional benefits that are important to you (for example, increased comfort from installing double-paned, efficient windows)?
• How long do you plan to own your current home?
• Can you do the job yourself or will you need to hire a contractor?
• What is your budget and how much time do you have to spend on maintenance and repair?
How We Use Energy in Our Homes
Heating accounts for the biggest chunk of a typical utility bill.
Once you assign priorities to your energy needs, you can form a whole house efficiency plan. Your plan will provide you with a strategy for making smart purchases and home improvements that maximize energy efficiency and save the most money.
Another option is to get the advice of a professional. Many utilities conduct energy audits for free or for a small charge. For a fee, a professional contractor will analyze how well your home’s energy systems work together and compare the analysis to your utility bills. He or she will use a variety of equipment such as blower doors, infrared cameras, and surface thermometers to find leaks and drafts.
After gathering information about your home, the contractor or auditor will give you a list of recommendations for cost-effective energy improvements and enhanced comfort and safety. A good contractor will also calculate the return on your investment in high-efficiency equipment compared with standard equipment.
Tips for Finding a Contractor
• Ask neighbors and friends for recommendations
• Look in the Yellow Pages
• Focus on local companies
• Look for licensed, insured contractors
• Get three bids with details in writing
• Ask about previous experience
• Check references
• Check with the Better Business Bureau
Checking your home’s insulation is one of the fastest and most cost-efficient ways to use a whole house approach to reducing energy waste and make the most of your energy dollars. A good insulating system includes a combination of products and construction techniques that protect a home from outside temperatures—hot and cold, protect it against air leaks, and control moisture. You can increase the comfort of your home while reducing your heating and cooling needs by up to 30% by investing just a few hundred dollars in proper insulation and sealing air leaks.
First, check the insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawl spaces to see if it meets the levels recommended for your area. Insulation is measured in R-values—the higher the R-value, the better your walls, and roof will resist the transfer of heat. DOE recommends ranges of R-values based on local heating and cooling costs and climate conditions in different areas of the nation. State and local codes in some parts of the country may require lower R-values than the DOE recommendations,
Where to Insulate
Adding insulation in the areas shown below may be the best way to improve your home’s energy efficiency.
Crawl space Basement Attic Walls Floors
For customized insulation recommendations, visit energysavers.gov and check out the Zip Code Insulation Calculator, which lists the most economic insulation levels for your new or existing home based on your zip code and other basic information about your home.
Although insulation can be made from a variety of materials, it usually comes in four types; each type has different characteristics.
Rolls and batts—or blankets—are flexible products made from mineral fibers, such as fiberglass and rock wool. They are available in widths suited to standard spacings of wall studs and attic or floor joists.
2x4 walls can hold R-13 or R-15 batts; 2x6 walls can have R-19or R21 products.
Loose-fill insulation—usually made of fiberglass, rock wool, or cellulose comes in shreds, granules, or nodules. These small particles should be blown into spaces using the special pneumatic equipment. The blown-in material conforms readily to building cavities and attics. Therefore, loose-fill insulation is well suited for places where it is difficult to install other types of insulation.
Rigid foam insulation—foam insulation typically is more expensive than fiber insulation. But it’s very effective in buildings with space limitations and where higher R-values are needed. Foam insulation R-values range from R-4 to R-6.5 per inch of thickness (2.54 cm), which is up to 2 times greater than most other insulating materials of the same thickness.
Foam-in-place insulation—can be blown into walls and reduces air leakage.
• Consider factors such as your climate, building design, and budget when selecting insulation R-values for your home.
• Use higher density insulation, such as rigid foam boards, in cathedral ceilings and on exterior walls.
• Ventilation plays a large role in providing moisture control and reducing summer cooling bills. Attic vents can be installed along the entire ceiling cavity to help ensure proper airflow from the soffit
to the attic to make a home more comfortable and energy efficient.
• Recessed light fixtures can be a major source of heat loss, but you need to be careful how close you place insulation next to a fixture unless it is marked IC—designed for direct insulation contact. Check your local building codes for recommendations.