How to Conduct a DIY Energy Audit

Amanda Bell
Written by Amanda Bell
Updated October 25, 2016
Energy audit sheet
An energy audit can save money on utility costs in the long term, and there are several DIY tests you can implement to see where your home can improve. (Photo by Tyler Mallory)

Do these six small projects, which you can complete in a day, and it might add up to big energy savings around your home.

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Nothing beats a professional energy audit for a comprehensive checkup of your home’s efficiency. But conducting your own investigation can help you identify some of the small ways your home loses energy — and how you can address them. Try these simple and inexpensive tests to see where you can strengthen your home’s efficiency weak spots.

Blow smoke around windows and doors

Test it: Can’t see cracks but still feel a draft? Conduct a “smoke test” by holding a lit incense stick or smoke pen and moving it around doors and windows to look for a change in direction in rising smoke. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you likely have a leak.

Fix it: Seal any spots that fail the smoke test with a nontoxic indoor latex caulk or weatherstripping. The same applies to areas where daylight peeks through crevices around windows or doors.

Insulate switches and outlets

Test it: To check if you have any air leaks around switches and outlets, try a tissue test, which involves removing the outlet covers and switch plates then taping tissue paper over the openings. If the tissue wavers, you have a leak.

Fix it: Insulate openings with precut foam gaskets, which cost $10 at most home improvement stores. To install them, unscrew the cover plate, place the gasket against the wall and reinstall the plate.

While you’re at it, test the holes through which television or Internet cables pass and fill them with expanding foam or caulk.

Batten down the attic hatch

Test it: Uninsulated attic hatches can suck as much treated air out of a home as a chimney! A smoke test around the hatch can help you see if you have leaks between the attic access panel and wood trim frame.

Fix it: If you notice large gaps, cut a new hatch out of plywood for a tighter fit. Then glue several inches of rigid foam board insulation cut to size and install weatherstripping around the perimeter on the attic side.

Insulate the water heater

Test it: If your heater feels warm to the touch, it doesn’t have enough insulation. Also check the heater’s manufacture date, which should be printed on a sticker or metal plate on the side of the tank.

Fix it: While heaters 10 years or older may already have fiberglass insulation wrapped around them, experts recommend re-covering them with a more energy-efficient foam sleeve. Wrapping your water heater in a pre-cut foil-covered foam blanket can cost $10 to $20.

Replace the refrigerator gasket

Test it: Have a dollar? Then you have everything you need to test if your refrigerator gasket needs replacing. If you can easily pull out the bill from the closed door, it’s time to order a new gasket from the manufacturer. Most cost between $30 and $60.

Fix it: Follow manufacturers’ instructions for replacement. While you’re in the area, clean out your refrigerator coils using a vacuum and wire brush. If your model is more than 20 years old, it’s probably more energy-efficient to just buy a new fridge.

Go on a phantom hunt

Test it: Many plugged-in electronics and appliances can still drain your energy even when you’re not using them. This includes anything with an indicator light, charger, AC adaptor or digital clock.

Fix it: Electricity monitoring devices starting at $20 can help you calculate your electrical expenses so you can determine if you should unplug or decrease usage. Wi-Fi smart plugs can also show you energy usage stats and help monitor your consumption. Some utility companies offer these for free, so it’s worth asking before you spend $50 per plug.


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