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DIY Home Energy Audit: Is Your Money Flying Out the Window?

Looking to save money and conserve energy? Consider doing your own home energy audit. Here's how.
Front of family home

Do you like being a wonderful person who protects the planet by using only the energy you need? Would you like to save some money on your energy bills? Are you a fan of checklists?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above, you’re going to absolutely love conducting a DIY home energy audit.

Home energy audits consist of a series of steps that let you see if your home is energy efficient—or wasting energy on a regular basis.

It’s good for the planet. It’s good for your utility bills. And it’s also a really good conversation starter the next time you can’t think of anything to chat about during your next dinner out.

Yes, you can hire a pro to do the assessment. And some states, like New York and Florida, even offer programs for free energy audits. But doing it yourself can give you a sense of deep satisfaction. Not to mention saving you even more money so you can go out to dinner more often.

How do you conduct your own home energy audit?

You can think of conducting your own home energy audit as a kind of reverse treasure hunt. Instead of looking for treasure you want to bring into the home, you’re looking for things you want to eliminate from the home.

In short, you’re looking for things that waste energy. This can include:

  • Inefficient heating, cooling or water heating processes
  • Inadequate insulation
  • Outdated lighting options
  • Energy-gobbling appliances and electronic devices
  • Air leaks in ductwork and throughout the home

DIY energy audit checklist

To get started, grab a clipboard, pen and paper to record what you find as you go through the steps in our DIY energy audit checklist.

1. Analyze your energy consumption through your utility bills

Don’t worry. Analyzing your utility bills doesn’t have to involve actual math. But it may be worth the math to know how much energy you typically use and if use has skyrocketed for unknown reasons.

Math-involved review

This bill analysis lets you get the base load, or the minimum amount of energy you use when the air conditioning or other appliances are not cranked up for seasonal adjustments.

To get the base load:

  1. Review bills from the last 12 months.
  2. Find the three months with the lowest energy usage.
  3. Add those three energy usage numbers together and divide by three.
  4. The result of the math is the average base load needed for that utility.

Anything above and beyond the base load is energy usage you may be able to reduce with energy-saving tactics.

Spreadsheet review

Spreadsheet fans will adore this analysis. It involves a readymade spreadsheet where you just pop in the numbers and it pops out your results.

  1. Download the Utility Bill Analysis Tool from Penn State Extension.
  2. Read instructions on the Welcome tab for additional info.
  3. Click on the Electric Bill tab to update the dates and enter info from your electric bill over the last two years.
  4. Review the automatically generated graph and other info on additional tabs to get a good look at your electricity consumption.

2. Inspect your furnace, AC, and water heater

Unless you can fit into tiny spaces and were born with a HVAC manual in your brain, having a pro come once or twice a year to maintain your furnace and AC is a wise choice. They know what to look for and how to reach it.

In fact, the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy only offers one DIY home energy audit tip for furnace and AC units. The tip is to check the air filter to make sure it’s clean.

For water heaters, make sure:

  • Water heater thermostats are set between 120° Fahrenheit and 130°F
  • Pipes are properly insulated—all hot water pipes need insulation

The first 3 to 5 feet of cold water pipes need insulation. Hot and cold water pipes can be found coming out of the top of the water heater in gas units. Electrical water heaters typically have hot water pipes coming out the top and cold water pipes coming out the side of the unit.

3. Check your home insulation

It can be itchy but insulation can go a long way toward saving energy—or not. It depends on what type of insulation you have, and where you have it. Just FYI, insulation is rated by R-Value.

  • R-Value measures resistance to heat flow
  • The higher the R-Value, the better the insulation

Older homes may have insulation levels that were recommended at the time, but those levels may not be adequate for the here and now. Houses built before 1970 are most likely to have inadequate insulation—or maybe even none at all.

Inspect insulation in the attic and crawl spaces:

  • Make sure openings around ductwork, pipes and chimneys are sealed.
  • Look for a vapor barrier under the attic insulation; this could be tarpaper, plastic or Kraft paper to reduce the amount of water vapor that can pass through the ceiling below.
  • Ensure any exterior attic vents are not blocked.
  • Check the attic hatch if it’s above an interior conditioned space. It should be insulated, weather-stripped and close tightly.

Inspect insulation in the walls:

  • Pick an exterior wall.
  • Shut off the power for any outlets on that wall, either by turning off the circuit breaker or unscrewing the fuses for those outlets.
  • Take off cover plate from one of the outlets.
  • Use a long stick or screwdriver to probe into the wall on the side of the outlet.

If you get a bit of resistance, you’re likely to have insulation in the wall.

The wall inspection will only give you a spot check. It doesn’t tell you if there’s insulation throughout the entire wall. For that, you’d need a thermographic inspection, or inspections that use infrared scanning to measure surface temperatures.

4. Check your light fixtures

Your home lighting accounts for about 15% of your electric bill. Or at least it should. You’ll definitely want to check your light fixtures if they’re sending your electric bill into the stratosphere. If your house is still sporting incandescent bulbs, switch them out for LEDs—this can deliver the most immediate savings.

A modern white washing machine in a home.

5. Audit your home appliances

OK, auditing your home appliance energy use may not sound super exciting. But it can be worth your time, especially if you have older appliances that may be eating up tons of energy.

You have a few different ways to figure out how much your appliances and electronics use:

  • Easiest: Look at the big yellow “Energy Guide” label that’s plastered prominently on newer appliances (as long as you haven’t tried to rip it off since big yellow looks tacky in an all-white laundry room. Oops.)
  • Second easiest: Use Perch's appliance energy cost calculators to gauge how much energy various appliances use. You’ll find a different calculator for different appliances and devices, all using EPA data to ensure they’re accurate and consistent.
  • Third easiest: Purchase and install electricity use monitors on the appliances you want to track.
  • Biggest: Install an energy use monitoring system throughout your entire house.

6. Identify any phantom electronics and appliances

You know those people that drain all your energy, leaving you depleted and tired? Well, electronics and appliances can do the same to your electric bill.

Phantom electronics and appliances drain energy just from being plugged in, even if they’re not turned on. Devices to check include:

  • Computers and TVs
  • DVRs, VCRs, stereos with LED clocks
  • Coffee markers with clocks and programming options
  • Chargers for your phone, tablet, earbuds and other electronic devices
Phantom electronics plugged in

7. Check for air leaks

Some air leaks may be obvious, like the cold air cascading down your neck when you’re standing next to a window in winter. But others can take a little more sleuthing to find. Sleuthing options include:

  • Visual inspection
  • Home pressurization test

Visual inspection

Do a visual inspection both inside and outside your home.

On the inside, check all areas that may have cracks and gaps, like around window and door frames, baseboards, attic hatches, switch plates, fans, and where your electricity, gas, cable and phone lines come into your home.

On the outside, inspect areas at all corners, areas where the foundation meets the bottom of the siding or brick, around chimneys, and around outdoor water faucets.

Home pressurization test

Got incense? The gist of this test is to check for leaks by watching where the smoke from the incense goes. Ready?

  1. Pick a cool, windy day
  2. Shut off any water heaters, gas-burning furnaces or other combustion appliances
  3. Close all exterior doors, windows and your fireplace flue (if you have one)
  4. Locate and turn on all the exhaust fans that blow air to the exterior. These include bathroom fans, clothes dryer, stove vents.
  5. Light your incense and walk around, slowly moving it over the edges of common or suspected leak sites.
  6. If the smoke is blown into or sucked out of a room, you have yourself an air leak.

Extra credit

Get extra credit with one more test. This one is easy and actually fun. Close a door or window on a dollar bill. If you can pull out the dollar bill without dragging it, you’re losing energy through that door or window.

8. Check your ducts

If you thought doing a home pressurization test was fun, just wait until you start checking your ducts. This network of tubes carries air for heating and cooling your home.

While you’re certainly welcome to crawl up into the attic space to check every inch of ductwork, you can also go for an easier method. Simply inspect areas where major leaks commonly occur. Look for looseness, tears and holes around:

  • Joints where ducts connect
  • The air handler unit
  • Vents, including floor and ceiling vents around your home

What to prioritize after a DIY home energy audit

Now that you have your clipboard full of notes and a solid rundown on your home energy usage, what’s next?

Go through the information you’ve gathered and ask yourself a few questions.

  • How much do you spend on energy every month, every year?
  • Where are you losing the most energy and money?
  • What energy-saving methods will also make you more comfortable? (Leaky windows go here.)
  • How long will it take the energy-saving methods to pay for themselves with a decrease in energy bills?
  • Are you planning on staying in this home for a long time or short period?
  • Which energy-saving methods can you do yourself, and which require a contractor?

The first question gives you an overview of your energy spending to serve as a benchmark when you start to track your savings.

The other questions help you determine which moves to make, and in what order. For instance, you may want to prioritize energy saving methods that:

  • Are wasting the most energy
  • Will make you more comfortable
  • Will pay for themselves quickly
  • You can do yourself

How to make your home more energy efficient

If you agree that the DIY energy-efficiency methods are a great place to start, here come four you can complete on your own.

Shut down phantom electronics and appliances

Use a power strip on devices that stay in stand-by mode so you can quickly shut them down when not in use. Unplug chargers once devices are done charging.

Regularly replace heating and cooling air filters

Keep your AC and furnace running efficiently by replacing your air filter once a month (or more if you have big fuzzy dogs).

Make lighting changes

Swap out any incandescent bulbs for LED bulbs, a move that saves the average household about $225 per year.

You may also be able to reduce energy use by using dimmers or timers. This way you can dim or switch off lights when you don’t need a full blast of brightness.

Light fixtures with LED bulbs

Seal air leaks

Use weatherstripping or caulking to seal air leaks around doors and windows, and for cracks or gaps on the interior or exterior of your home.

For ductwork, seal leaks with mastic sealant or metal tape. Despite its name, duct tape does not provide a long-lasting duct fix.

Once you’ve completed the DIY fixes you can apply, and perhaps even called in the pros for the bigger ones, your home should be happier and more energy-efficient. You’ll also be feeling good that you’re doing your best to help out the planet while saving money on your energy bills to boot.

Solar farm on big, open land
A community solar farm.

Bonus DIY clean energy solution: Subscribe to community solar

To do even more good and save even more on your bills, check to see if there is a community solar program in your state.

Community solar is a solar sharing concept (no rooftop panels required!) that saves you money on your electricity bills. Residents and local businesses can "subscribe" to a large solar farm nearby. As the farm pumps clean energy onto the grid, your subscription—or your "share" of the farm—generates solar credits. Because the farm is connected to the utility company, your share of solar credits is applied directly to your own electricity bill, offsetting some of your monthly charges. It's an easy cost-saving, environmentally-friendly way to go solar for those who can't install rooftop panels.

Community solar's benefits go beyond your bill and the planet—it can even support local economies by enabling job creation right in your state. It’s one more easy DIY option, one that takes only minutes to complete!

Check Perch to see if there's a solar farm in your area >

Get matched to a local solar farm and save on your electricity costs.