If a rock came crashing through your window leaving a large hole, you’d want to fix it almost immediately. You’d be able to feel the heat escaping your home during the winter, or feel it coming in during the summer. Yet, your home most likely has a number of energy holes that, right now, are sucking expensive electricity, heating fuel, or other resources from your home.
The good news is that most of the time it’s not that hard to identify and fix your home’s energy holes. Here are some of the most common ways homes lose energy, as well as a few ideas about what you can do to solve the problem:
Start with your furnace.
The biggest energy hole in most home is the furnace. If you have a furnace today that operates at 60% efficiency, upgrading to a 90% efficiency furnace will pay off. Yes, you’re going to spend a few thousand dollars today, but it will reduce your heating costs by about a third each year. This investment is one that probably gives the most bang for your buck. If you already have a more modern high-efficiency furnace, the payoff isn’t as significant, obviously.
You’ll also want to make sure that you’re having your furnace inspected annually, too. This inspection process will let you know how efficiently your furnace is actually running, and whether it’s becoming a problem.
If you have a forced-air furnace, you’ll want to look around the ductwork and see if there are any streams of dirt near your seams. These indicate leaks that can be patched with duct tape if they’re inside, or addressed with duct insulation if they’re in an unheated area such as a crawlspace.
Look at your doors and windows.
Doors and windows are some of the most common culprits when it comes to losing energy. There are a number of ways you can look for energy holes in your windows and doors. You can, of course, bring out a contractor who will use advanced equipment to measure loss of heat and discover leaks, but there are also some things you can do on your own. If you can rattle a door or a window, for example, there’s a good chance that there’s enough room there for an energy hole.
You can close up some of the door and window energy holes with caulking, for example. In many cases, however, you’re looking at replacement. This can be more expensive than the energy you’re saving, so be sure to do some calculations.
If you have a window with no visible leak but with a slight rattle, you might consider some energy-saving window treatments in order to minimize the energy loss.
Check your insulation.
Insulation is another potentially problem area. Over time, the insulation in your walls will settle, often creating energy holes.
There are a couple of ways to inspect your insulation. One is to use an electrical outlet test. Kill the power to the outlet, then remove the cover plate. Look inside, and see if there are spots where the insulation just isn’t covering.
The other way to test your insulation is to use two thermometers. One should be on a chair in the middle of your room, while the other one should be taped to the wall about halfway up. If you have adequate insulation, the difference between the two should be about five degrees or less. If it’s more, you’re probably not adequately insulated.
If you’re willing to pay for it, a contractor can do a thermographic inspection which will tell you precisely where your insulation problem areas might be.
Assess your behavior.
It’s most often the behavior of the inhabitants of a home, rather than the structure or its condition, that lead to the loss of energy. Whether it’s leaving a door open, leaving appliances plugged in when they’re not in use, or refusing to install a programmable thermostat, there are things you do every day that cost energy in your home.
If you truly want to plug your home’s energy holes, start with your own habits and behaviors. Work outwards from there to detect air leaks or structural issues that might lead to energy loss, and do whatever you can to address those issues. Be realistic about the energy savings you expect, of course, so that you don’t wind up dumping a lot of money into a project that just won’t pay off.