3 Ways to Pinpoint Where Your Home Is Leaking Money

Photo (cc) by aloshbennett

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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  • Ducts.
  • Common walls between attached dwellings.
  • Recessed lighting.
  • Fireplace walls.
  • Staircase framing along an exterior wall.

Learn more:

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:

Learn more:

  • 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.

Most expensive: A professional home energy audit

Call in a pro if:

  • You have unexplained high energy bills.
  • You want to pinpoint insulation gaps.
  • You are thinking of installing new energy-efficient windows to reduce heat costs.
  • You have complicated home issues (condensation, mold or mildew, or your home is drafty or quite old).
  • Your heating or cooling equipment has efficiency problems.
  • You suspect exposed insulation has asbestos, a serious health hazard.
  • You aren’t comfortable poking around in your attic or basement.

Cost: If you’re lucky, your local utility company offers discounts for customers. Some even subsidize free audits. Otherwise, prices vary by region and provider; expect to pay as much as $400 or $500.

This video at Energy.gov shows what to expect from a home energy audit (also called a home energy assessment or checkup). A blower door test (described by Energy.gov) often is used to measure the volume of air leaking from your home. Do this during cold weather for best results. Professionals use infrared cameras to spot air leaks and spots needing more insulation.

Find a provider: Use only a professional whose training and qualifications you have confirmed. Find technicians with the Residential Energy Services Network’s provider directory, look for energy raters in your state using EnergyStar.gov’s provider directory, or ask your heating utility for a referral.

Interview several professionals by phone to compare prices and to learn what their services involve. Choose a service that gives a written report pinpointing where leaks are and recommending a plan of action with fixes listed by priority.

Caulk vs. weatherstripping

Now that you’ve found leaks, the next job is to plug them. But many of us are confused about which to use, caulk or weatherstripping.

“Caulking and weatherstripping are two simple and effective air sealing techniques that offer quick returns on investment, often one year or less,” says Energy.gov.

  • Caulk is used to seal cracks between the home and components that are fixed in place, like door frames and window casements.
  • Weatherstripping is for sealing moving parts, like the doors and windows themselves.

Share your ideas and experience finding heat leaks in your home. Post a comment below or at Money Talks News’ Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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