Utility Bill Assistance

 

 

Energy Audit Can Assist You With Lower Utility Bills

A home energy audit is one of the best, and also the first step to take to assess how much energy your home uses. It will greatly help assist you with evaluating what measures you can take to make your house more energy efficient. Many utility companies will conduct one for free, or if they do not offer the service, or if you prefer, you can perform the audit yourself.

Do It Yourself Home Energy Audit

You can very easily perform a home energy audit yourself. With a quick, simple, but thorough walkthrough, you definitely can spot many problems in any type of house. When auditing your home, you need to be sure to keep a checklist of areas you have inspected and any problems you found. This list will help you both save on utility bills and also prioritize your energy efficiency upgrades.

Locating Air Leaks

First, make a list of any obvious air leaks you find (drafts). The energy savings from stopping or reducing drafts in a house can range from 5% to 30% per year, and the house is generally more comfortable afterward. Be sure to check for indoor air leaks, which can include gaps along the baseboard or even the edge of the flooring and gaps at junctures of the ceiling and walls. You need to check to see if air can flow through these places:

  • Switch plates
  • Electrical outlets
  • Window frames
  • Fireplace dampers
  • Baseboards
  • Weather stripping around doors
  • Attic hatches
  • Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners.

Also look for any gaps or areas around wires, pipes, electrical outlets, foundation seals, and also mail slots. Check to see if the weather stripping and caulking are applied properly, and not leaving any gaps or cracks, and they need to be in good condition.

 

 

 

 

 

Inspect doors and windows for air leaks. Check to see if you can rattle them, since movement means possible air leaks and therefore higher utility bills. If you can notice any daylight around a door or window frame, then the door or window leaks. You can typically seal these leaks by caulking and/or weather stripping them. Check the storm windows to ensure that they are fit and are not broken. You may also wish to consider fixing or replacing your old windows and doors with newer, high-performance windows that are more energy efficient.  If new factory-made windows or doors are too costly, you can install low-cost plastic sheets over those windows.

If you are having difficulty locating leaks in your home or apartment, you may want to conduct a basic building pressurization test:

  • First, close all windows, exterior doors, and fireplace flues.
  • Be sure to turn off all combustion appliances such as gas burning furnaces and water heaters.
  • Then turn on all exhaust fans, which are generally located in your kitchen and bathrooms, or use a large window fan to suck the air out of the rooms being tested.

This test help increase infiltration through any leaks and cracks, thereby making them easier to detect. You can use incense sticks or even your damp hand to help locate these leaks. If you use incense sticks, moving air in the home will cause the smoke to waver, and if you use your damp hand, any drafts in the home will feel cool to your hand.

On the exterior of your home, be sure to inspect all areas where two different types of building materials meet, including:

  • Where siding and chimneys meet
  • All exterior corners
  • Areas where the foundation and the bottom of exterior brick or siding meet.

You should caulk and plug gaps and holes or penetrations for pipes, faucets, electric outlets, and wiring. Look for any holes and cracks in the mortar, siding, and foundation, and be sure to seal them with the appropriate material. Check the exterior caulking around windows and doors, and see whether exterior storm doors and primary doors seal tightly.

When sealing any home, you need to always be aware of the danger of indoor air pollution as well as combustion appliance "back drafts." Back drafting occurs when the various exhaust fans and combustion appliances in the home compete for air. An exhaust fan may also pull the combustion gases back into the living space, which can obviously cause and create a very dangerous and unhealthy situation in the house.

 

 

 

In homes where any type of fuel is burned (i.e., natural gas, wood, fuel oil, or propane) for heating, be certain the appliance that uses the fuel has an adequate air supply. Generally, one square inch of vent opening is required for each 1,000 Btu of appliance input heat. When in doubt, you need to contact your local utility company, energy professional, or ventilation contractor to ask for assistance.

Insulation

Heat loss through the walls and ceiling in your house could in fact be very large if the insulation levels are less than the recommended minimum. When your home was constructed, the home builder likely installed the amount of insulation recommended at that time. Given today's high energy prices and utility bills (and future prices that will probably be higher), the level of insulation you have installed might be inadequate, especially if you have an older house.

If the attic hatch is located above some type of conditioned space, be sure to check to see if it is at least as heavily insulated as the attic, closes tightly, and is weather stripped. In the attic space, you need to determine whether openings for items such as ductwork, pipes, and chimneys are sealed. Seal any cracks or gaps with an expanding foam caulk or some other type of permanent sealant.

While you are inspecting the attic area, check to see if there is a some type of vapor barrier under the attic insulation. The vapor barrier might be tarpaper, plastic sheet, or Kraft paper attached to fiberglass batts. If there does not appear to be a vapor barrier there, you might consider painting the interior ceilings with vapor barrier paint. This will lower the amount of water vapor that will pass through the ceiling as large amounts of moisture or water can reduce the effectiveness of insulation and also cause serious structural damage.

You need to ensure that the attic vents are not blocked by insulation. You also need to seal any electrical boxes in the ceiling with flexible caulk (from the living room side or attic side) and also cover the entire attic floor with at least the current recommended amount of insulation, if not more. More insulation will assist you with lower utility bills.

Unfortunately but checking a wall's insulation level is more difficult. If you select an exterior wall and turn off the circuit breaker or unscrew the fuse for any outlets in the wall. After doing this be sure to test the outlets to make certain that they are not "hot." You can check the outlet by plugging in a functioning lamp or portable radio. Once you are certain that your outlets are not getting any electricity, you can then remove the cover plate from one of the outlets and gently probe into the wall with a thin, long stick or even a screwdriver. If you encounter a slight resistance doing this, that means that you have some insulation there, which is good. You could also make a small hole behind a couch, in a closet, or in some other unobtrusive place to see what, if anything, the wall cavity is filled with. In a perfect world, the wall cavity should be totally filled with some form of insulation material. Unfortunately, this method will not be able to tell that the entire wall is insulated, or if the insulation has settled. Only a thermographic inspection can tell you this for sure.

If your basement is unheated, you should also determine whether there is insulation under the living area flooring, as insulation there can help save. In most areas of the nation, an R-value of 25 is the recommended minimum level of insulation. The insulation that is located at the top of the foundation wall and the first floor perimeter should have an R-value of 19 or greater. If the basement is in fact heated, the foundation walls should be insulated to at least R-19. Your hot water pipes, water heater, and also furnace ducts should all be insulated.

Heating/Cooling Equipment

You should inspect heating and cooling equipment annually, or at least as often as recommended by the manufacturer. If you own a forced-air furnace, be sure to heck your filters and replace them as needed. Generally, you should change these filters about once every month or two, especially during periods of high usage. Have a professional clean and check your equipment once a year to keep it efficient, which will help save energy.

If the unit you own is more than 15 years old, you should consider replacing your entire system with one of the newer, energy-efficient units, which will help you save significantly on utility bills. A new unit would greatly reduce your energy consumption, especially if the old, existing equipment is in poor condition. Be sure to check your ductwork for dirt streaks, especially near the seams. These issues will indicate air leaks, and they should be sealed with a duct mastic. Insulate any pipes or ducts that travel through unheated spaces. An insulation R-Value of 6 is the recommended minimum.

Lighting

Energy used for lighting accounts for about 10% of your utility bill. Examine the wattage size of the light bulbs located throughout your house. for example, you may have 100-watt (or larger) bulbs where 60 or 75 watts would do. You should strongly consider compact fluorescent lamps for those areas where lights are on for hours at a time. Your electric utility may also offer rebates or other savings and incentives for purchasing energy-efficient lamps.

(From the US Department of  Energy)