Nov 10, 2010 Written by Magnetite NZ
Employees at large companies work at different levels of efficiency; some employees are perfectionists, while others do the bare minimum to earn a paycheck. Homes are a lot like employees - some are more efficient than others. Some homes are hard workers; they protect their inhabitants from cold winters, harsh summers, and brutal storms. Other homes are slackers, offering little protection against the elements of nature.
Hard-working homes are energy efficient. They are so well insulated they cost little to run; heating and cooling costs are low, and energy bills are affordable. Rooms are comfortable, temperature-wise, and draughts are nonexistent. Slacker homes, on the other hand, are energy burners. With little insulation and countless air leaks, these homes cost a small fortune to run. The indoor temperature follows the direction of the outdoor thermometer - if the temperature outside drops, so does the temperature inside. The heaters and air conditioner burn more energy to heat and cool a home, increasing energy bills. What should you do if your home is a slacker? Give it a performance review.
A home energy audit is an inspection that measures the energy efficiency of your home. During the inspection, an auditor checks for air leaks and inadequate insulation, the main reasons a home loses heat in winter. If a home turns out to be energy inefficient - in other words, a slacker - an auditor can recommend improvements to increase its efficiency. By making these improvements, a home owner can turn their slacker home into a hard-working one, saving money on energy bills in the process.
Professional auditors use specialized diagnostic tools to find air leaks and cold zones. They also have a working knowledge of building codes; for instance, they know what type of insulation you need in your roof. While you might not have the same tools as the professionals, you can perform a home energy audit of your own - here’s how.
You pay good money to heat your home in winter. But air leaks are like thieves, stealing away all that warmth and replacing it with cold, outside air. By sealing the air leaks in your home, you can save five to 30 percent on your energy bills every year. The benefits are not just monetary - you’ll also have a more comfortable home, eliminating the need for blankets and sweaters in winter and window air conditioners in summer. Air leaks are most commonly found around windows and doors, but you could also have a draft along baseboards and around electrical outlets and switch plates. If you live in a cold weather climate, you’ll know if your home has air leaks - you can feel them. Fortunately, you can also detect drafts when the weather outside is warm. First, close all doors and windows, close your fireplace flue, and turn off the water heater, gas-burning furnace, and other combustion appliances. Next, turn on all the exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathrooms. The exhaust fans will suck the air out of your home, which draws outside air into your home through air leaks. Take a candle or an incense stick and hold it by all possible sources of drafts - windows, doors, electrical plates, and baseboards. If the smoke blows, you have an air leak. The good news is, air leaks are easy to fix - simply seal the crack with acrylic or latex caulking. Avoid silicone caulking, since it is not paintable.
The exterior of your home should also be airtight. Walk around your home and check for any holes, paying close attention to areas around pipes and electrical outlets. When you find a hole or a crack, caulk it with exterior caulking. You should also run a bead of caulking around your windows and doors - but clean the area first, so the caulking will adhere.
Single pane windows are not energy efficient, but replacing all of the windows in your home is rarely economical, unless you choose secondary panel retrofit windows.
Next, check the insulation in your home. Newer homes are well insulated against cold winters and hot summers. But many older homes lack adequate insulation - the insulation might not be thick enough, or there might be no insulation at all. Think of insulation as a blanket wrapped around your home - just as your toes will get cold if they poke out from under a blanket, your home will get cold if a room is not blanketed in insulation. First, head for the attic. Look at the bottom side of the roof, specifically the openings around chimneys and pipes. If you see holes or gaps around these openings, seal them with expanding foam caulk. Check for a vapor barrier between the attic floor and the insulation. This polyethylene plastic sheet prevents moisture problems. If you can’t find a vapor barrier, hire a contractor to install one, or paint the ceiling under the attic with vapor barrier paint. The insulation on top of the vapor barrier should evenly cover the attic floor. If you can see any of the floor joists, you’ll need to add more insulation; in a properly insulated attic, the floor joists are hidden under layers of insulation. You can add any type of insulation to your attic – make sure you employ an approved installer as it can be dangerous doing it yourself. The overall depth of the insulation on your attic floor should be 10 to 14 inches. Since loose-fill insulation requires the use of a blowing machine, you should hire a professional for the job. And don’t forget to insulate your attic hatch door. Tape insulation to the topside of the hatch door, and weatherstrip the door’s edges to prevent cold air from leaking into your warm home.
For determining the R value of the insulation in your walls, you will need the help of a professional home energy auditor. A professional auditor takes a thermographic scan of the walls in your home, which shows him the warm zones and cold zones. He can see which areas of your home need more insulation without ever cutting a hole in the drywall. If your home’s exterior walls do need additional insulation, you don’t necessarily have to rip apart the drywall. A contractor can help you find alternative ways to insulate your home. You can apply an insulating foam system to the exterior walls, or you can have insulation blown into the cavities between the wall’s wood studs.
Lastly, check all the light bulbs in your house. Have you made the switch to CFL, or are you still using incandescent?
Heating and Cooling
Your furnace and air conditioner play important roles in your home’s energy efficiency, but you cannot inspect either one - you’ll need to schedule yearly inspections for both your furnace and your air conditioner. A qualified service technician will make sure your HVAC system is operating properly and efficiently. But you can do your part to maintain these expensive machines. Change your furnace’s filter regularly - at least once every two months. In winter months, protect your air conditioner from the wind and the snow with a specially designed, breathable air conditioner cover. If your furnace is 15 years old, it might be time to buy a new one. You will soon recoup the cost of a new, energy efficient furnace through the money you save on your monthly energy bills.
A home energy audit lets you know if you’re living in a hard-working home or a slacker home. Slacker homes are bad for your wallet, but they are also bad for the environment. Energy inefficient homes draw more electricity from an overburdened energy grid. And if that electricity comes from coal-fired power plants, it adds to the problem of global warming. By performing a home energy audit, you can help save the planet.
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