The winter of 2014-2015 is predicted to be milder than last year’s, giving households a bit of a break on heat bills. Because of warmer temperatures and lower prices, Bloomberg says, household spending on heating oil is expected to drop an average of 15 percent and fall 5 percent for natural gas.
Here’s a suggestion: Spend this year’s savings plugging air leaks, and you will reduce heating and cooling costs by 5 to 30 percent a year, says Energy.gov. A home energy audit shows you exactly where cold air is sneaking into your home.
Here are three ways to do an energy audit, from cheap to expensive:
Cheapest: DIY approach
Use this approach if: You have not yet tried finding your home’s leaks.
Cost: Your time plus supplies.
- Assemble your equipment:
- Caulking gun and caulk.
- A stick of incense or a candle.
- Sticky-backed foam weatherstripping.
- A ladder.
- A flashlight.
- Clipboard, pencil and paper.
- Turn off heat sources. These include gas hot water heaters and freestanding heating stoves or fireplaces. Close vents and dampers. Turn on all exhaust fans, including in bathrooms, the kitchen and laundry room, to create negative pressure, which helps in spotting leaks.
- Investigate. Walk along the inside of your home’s outer walls, moving the lit candle or incense near the surfaces of windows, walls and doors, paying special attention where you suspect cold air may be leaking in. Carefully examine light fixtures, electrical outlets, plumbing pipes and any place the building’s exterior has been penetrated. A candle flame will flicker and incense smoke will waver in front of a draft. Write down the location of each leak so you can return to fix them.
- Or try this. Wet your hand and feel for drafts. More places for special attention: where different types of materials meet: seams between the foundation and walls, for example, or where exterior siding meets windows or a chimney. An Energy.gov article on air sealing illustrates 19 common spots for air leaks, including:
- A whole-house fan.
- Common walls between attached dwellings.
- Recessed lighting.
- Fireplace walls.
- Staircase framing along an exterior wall.
- HouseLogic and Energy.gov explain in detail how to do your own energy audit.
- Find your last 12 months’ utility bills and use EnergyStar.gov’s Home Energy Yardstick to see how your energy consumption compares with that of other households.
- Energy.gov tells how to choose and apply weatherstripping, how to select and apply caulk, and how to seal air leaks.
More expensive: Use a thermal leak detector
Use this approach if:
- Your home has leaks, but you can’t find them and you’re not ready to call in a professional.
- You want to check insulation behind walls.
Cost: You’ll find detectors for home use for $50 or less. These two receive generally favorable reviews from Amazon.com users:
- Black & Decker’s thermal leak detector (under $40).
- Kintrex IRT0421 non-contact infrared thermometer ($50).
- Before purchasing, read product reviews and review manufacturers’ sites for specifications and instructions and learn what to expect from the tool and how to use it.
- Good Housekeeping reviewed several thermal leak detectors.