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Perform Your Own Audit

Whether you plan on hiring a professional energy auditor or not, conducting your own audit is a good starting point. The information you gather will be helpful to professionals if you go that route, it will queue up questions in your mind, and may even convince you that your audit is sufficient. Begin by doing a simple walk around the outside and inside looking for problems, like holes where air can leak in or out and dripping faucets.

First! Find and Fix Air Leaks

The first place to focus your attention is on places where air is leaking into and out of your home. Therefore, as you walk around, make a list of all the places where such leaks could occur. The potential energy savings from reducing air leaks, also known as drafts, can be as high as 30% per year, and the home is usually more comfortable afterwards. That's why it's recommended as the first place to begin your audit.

On the outside of your house, inspect all areas where two different building materials meet. Pay particular attention to possible gaps at the place the foundation meets the walls. Studies have shown that this can be one of the largest offenders in allowing air to flow in and out of homes practically unobstructed. Also inspect all exterior corners; where siding and chimneys meet; and areas where the foundation and the bottom of exterior brick or siding meet. Plug and caulk holes or penetrations for faucets, pipes, electric outlets, and wiring. Look for cracks and holes in the mortar, foundation, and siding, and seal them with the appropriate material. Check the exterior caulking around doors and windows, and see whether exterior storm doors and primary doors seal tightly.

Inside, look for gaps along the baseboard or edge of the flooring, and where the walls meet the ceiling. Check to see if air can flow through electrical outlets, switch plates, window frames, baseboards, weather-stripping around doors, fireplace dampers, attic hatches, and wall- or window-mounted air conditioners. Look for gaps around pipes and wires, electrical outlets, and mail slots. Check to see if the caulking and weather-stripping are in place with no gaps or cracks and are in good condition.

Inspect windows and doors for air leaks. See if you can rattle them, since movement means possible air leaks. If you can see daylight around door and window frames, then the door or window leaks. You can usually seal these leaks by caulking or weather-stripping them. Check the storm windows to see if they fit and are not broken. You may also wish to consider replacing your old windows and doors with newer, high-performance ones. If new factory-made doors or windows are too costly, you can install low-cost plastic sheets over the windows.

One creative way of finding leaks is to slightly pressurize your home using fans, then walk around and feel for air leaks. They'll identify themselves to you if you place your hand over areas where you suspect a leak. Placing a little moisture on your hand intensifies the effect, making it even easier to find leaks. Before you begin, close all exterior doors, windows, and fireplace flues. Turn off all combustion appliances such as gas burning furnaces and water heaters. (Remember to turn them back on when you've completed the test.) Then turn on all of your home's exhaust fans. Most homes have these in the kitchen and bathrooms. Alternatively, or in addition, you can use a large window fan to blow air out of the house. This increases infiltration through cracks and leaks, making them easier to detect.

For unheated basements, determine if there is insulation under the flooring of the living area. In most areas of the country, R-25 is the recommended minimum level of insulation. The insulation at the top of the foundation wall and first floor perimeter should have an R-Value of 19 or greater. For heated basements, the foundation walls should be insulated to at least R-13.