Cut Your Energy Bill By 30% With A DIY Home Energy Assessment!


Have you ever opened up your energy bill to disbelief? Seriously, how could you have used that much energy over the past month? 


I mean, you’ve done your job right? You’ve changed out your incandescent bulbs for those sleek LED or CFLs, you’re good about turning down (or up) your thermostat to use it less, and you’re even washing your clothes with cold water. 


So… why are the utility bills so dang high!?


Well today we’re going to discuss how your can do a do-it-yourself (you know, DIY) home energy assessment and pinpoint where you can stop those big energy wasters!


Just remember, if you need professional help, give Porch Light Home Energy Assessors a call and we’ll come in (with some nifty tools) to give you a thorough assessment on where your home can improve and what your home energy score actually is. 


Step 1: Find Those Air Leaks!


A house with a draft, is a house that wastes energy. Plain and simple. 


In fact, drafts are the single most important reason for low energy score in your home, and getting rid of these drafts can help with saving anywhere from 5-20% or more on your annual energy bills. 


The Problem With Air Leaks?


It takes a significant amount of energy to heat and cool air, and if your house is constantly cycling outside air because of drafts, well, you get the picture. 


And it doesn’t need to be outside leading in. There are also leaks indoor between conditioned and unconditioned areas, like baseboard edges and wall ceiling joints. With that said, here are the most affected areas to pay attention to:


  • Junctions (or joints) between different construction material
  • Windows (including frames)
  • Doors
  • Electrical & plumbing
  • Fireplaces (especially if dampers are damaged or open)


How To Spot Air Leaks In Your DIY Home Energy Assessment


During a professional assessment, a blower is used in what’s called a “blower door test” which quickly informs us of air leaks. However, if you’re DIYing then you can use a visual inspection. 


In fact the Department of Energy has guidelines on how to do a pressurized test:


  1. Wait for a day that’s windy (and ideally cold outside).
  2. Turn off any heating appliances (not good for you without ventilation).
  3. Close your windows and doors – along with your chimney flute!
  4. Turn on your exhaust fans within your home – yes that means your bathroom fans and stove vent fans.
  5. Light a stick of incense and start moving it around the perimeter of your doors and windows – you’ll find drafts and leaks by how the smoke is affected. 
  6. You could also wet your hand and put it near the windows to detect leaks as it will cause a cool, tingly sensation if leaking. 


The best way to fix air leaks is sealing the edges with caulking. This will need to include the pipes, plumbing fixtures, any electrical outlets, frames around your windows, and any cracks within the siding. 


For those moving fixtures like doors and windows themselves, you’ll want to look into weather stripping as an effective way of eliminating drafts. 


Step 2 Checking Your Insulation


Insulation is the second leading cause for poor energy use. Heat loss through your walls and ceiling is a key reason for excess energy output to keep the house at a reasonable temperature. 


Have you ever seen a house without snow on the roof after a snow storm?


Yea… That house has bad insulation. 


This is a common problem with older homes which weren’t built with the same demanding insulation codes. 


Inspect Your Attic 

A great starting point is to check if your attic is insulated well. Word of warning, be careful going through your attic. 


What you’re looking for are two things:


  1. Gaps within your insulation – having space between your insulation can lead to excess heat escaping, make sure to fill with caulk or expanding foam. 
  2. Moisture – insulation becomes much less effective if it comes in contact with water, not to mention the mold or other damages. 


We’re not including wall insulation because it’s much more difficult to get a good inspection (as a DIYer) but if you happen to have a thermal camera.


Step 3: Next Up… A/C & Heaters


Heating and cooling will almost always account for the most energy consumption within your home. This is especially true in Oregon! 


Your goal here is to check the units you have to determine their rating. There’s quite a few efficiency ratings you’ll find, which include:


  • Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER)
  • Season Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER)
  • Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE)
  • Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF)


The exact calculations for the energy efficiency will vary with each rating, but they’re often used like a miles-per-gallon for your car. The cost of running the heating and cooling systems will decrease as your energy efficiency rating increases. 


Normally your insurance will require your heating and cooling systems to be inspected at least once a year, so this is often quickly fixed, but it never hurts to stay up to date with the newest and most efficient appliances. 


Step 4: Check Those Windows!

If you’re not already aware, glass is a downright terrible insulator. And if your home has a lot of glass windows (great for natural lighting, not so great for energy efficiency) than you’re loosing a significant amount of heat. 


What to do about this?


Look for stickers labeled NFRC (National Fenestration Ratings Council) which is an organization rating the efficiency of glass windows. 


The most important numbery uor looking for is the U-Factor. This determines how well the window will prevent heat from escaping. The lower the rating, the better the heat efficiency – ideally you’re looking for a window to rate at a .15 U-Factor. 


Step 5: All About Those Light… Fixtures


According to the DOE, lighting will account for roughly 10% (or more) of your electricity bill. If you’re still on incandescent, well, it’s time to upgrade to LED. 


If you’re looking for even more savings, combine your lighting upgrades with sensors to control the dimming of the lights when people aren’t home. Not only will these save your bulbs, but they’ll save you some money on your electricity bills. 


Step 6: Locate Your Energy Vampires


Not as critical as the previous steps, but still important enough to be included. If you’ve got a lot of gadgets in your home, you could be wasting a ton of power. 


These gadgets are sucking up energy even while they’re “switched off” or in “standby mode”. Pay special attention to any gadgets with a heating element because that’s where the real energy usage comes from – looking at you coffee makers. 


Individually these appliances might not draw a lot of power, but when you stack them up they start to collectively consume a lot of wattage. 


Your goal with these appliances is to find ones labeled ENERGY STAR which means they’ve been tested to perform efficiently by third party testers not connected with the manufacturers. 


Some appliances to pay attention to include:


  • Air Conditioners (especially wall units)
  • Space Heaters
  • Clothes Irons
  • Coffemakers
  • Desktop computers
  • Phone chargers
  • Printers
  • Speakers
  • TVs
  • Game consoles


Step 7: Check Your Chimney


Most people are unaware of how much a chimney can pull air from the home. In fact, 10-20% of your home air can be drawn from a faulty chimney flue which means less energy efficiency for the overall home. 


This can be a quick fix by hiring a good chimney sweep who will generally provide a cleaning and a lubrication of the damper. 


You can spot this by pulling the damper closed and holding a lit candle within the firepit. If the flame starts moving a lot, or even blown out, it means you have air movement within the chimney. 


Final Thoughts

Hopefully you found this article useful. If it even saves you $100 off your energy bill then we will consider this article a success! If you’re interested in getting a thorough assessment of your home energy score, be sure to give us a call here at Porch Light Home Energy Assessors!