Do you tremble when you open your monthly utility bills? If so, it's probably time for an energy audit an assessment of your home's energy efficiency. Energy audits help you to identify problem areas, like leaky ducts or ill-fitting windows, where heated or cooled air escapes. To conduct your own energy audit, walk through the house and closely examine the areas around outlets, baseboards, window and door frames, fireplace dampers, pipes and attic hatches. If air can flow through these places, they need caulk or weather stripping.
Checking insulation is a bit trickier, but well worth the effort. Consult the U.S. Department of Energy's climate zone map, which details what R-value insulation is recommended for different areas of the home, depending on your climate.
A professional auditor will go into greater detail, studying past utility bills and using state-of-the-art technology to examine your house room by room. Professional energy audits by certified contractors may be necessary if you plan to take advantage of state or federal energy efficiency home improvement incentives, so consult the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency to to find information about incentives and requirements in your area.
Professionals generally use two standard tests: A calibrated blower door, mounted in an exterior door frame, measures the amount of air able to be pulled out of the house by a fan; a thermographic scan from an infrared camera measures variations in surface temperature, which indicates heat loss. Locate an auditor through Energy Star's Home Performance program, or ask your utility for a recommendation.
> Related: Low-Cost Home Winterization Tips
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