Homeowners can expect to pay more this winter to keep warm, according to a government forecast, but there are steps consumers can take to limit their utility bill totals.
Problems as obvious as leaky windows and drafty doors make it more expensive to keep your home at the right temperature, but there are less noticeable culprits that can also make your utility bills soar. To identify any money drainers in your home, experts recommend conducting an energy audit.
“DIY home energy audits cannot take the place of a far more regimented and rigorous professional audit, but they are a good first step for identifying easy places your home is losing energy, and correspondingly, money,” says Rachel Rothman, technical manager and engineering director of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. “Depending upon your energy use expenditures, it may be worth it to pay.”
Before embarking on a DIY energy audit, review a year’s worth of utility bills and compare your rates to the Energy Star’s Home Energy Yardstick, to assess your home’s annual energy costs compared to similar homes.
To calculate your “Yardstick,” which is a score from one to 10 (10 being the best), you’ll need to know your home’s square footage, the different types of fuel used in the home and the last 12 months of utility bills, which can typically be found in the 1- month summary on your utility bill.
If you don’t have the bill, some utilities let their customers securely download their annual usage via the Green Button file on Energy Star’s website. That information can be directly uploaded into the Yardstick tool, which can be found here. https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=home_energy_yardstick.showgetstarted.
Once you have your score, you can now evaluate your home’s energy consumption and identify any problems.
Finding and fixing leaks and drafts within your home can be a big money saver: According to the City of Houston Public Works & Engineering Code Enforcement, reducing drafts in a home can save 5% to 30% in heating and cooling costs a year.
One way to check for leaks is to hold a feather or lightweight piece of string in areas that air could be leaking air and looking for movement. Experts recommend checking all windows, doors, electrical outlets, wall or window-mounted air conditioners, attic hatches and kitchen cabinet baseboards.
Steve Stelzer, program director for the City of Houston Public Works & Engineering Code Enforcement, says in a report that cobwebs could indicate a leak because spiders put webs in areas with air movement. If you do find any leaks, plug or caulk them to prevent air from getting in or out.
The amount and condition of your home’s insulation also has a direct impact on your monthly energy bill. Rothman recommends checking insulation once a year to make sure it isn’t crumbling or has become compacted.
“Make sure the floor of your attic, including the hatch is insulated, as well as hot water pipes, furnace ducts and exterior walls,” she says. Making sure your water heater and water pipes are properly insulated, says Stelzer. Because water cools faster, if the pipes aren’t insulated, it will have to be re-heated more often, requiring more energy.
You should also review your lighting and replace any energy-draining light bulbs with more efficient ones. Rothman also advises using motion detectors or dimmers when possible to reduce your energy usage, and to always make sure appliances and electronics are being used as efficiently as possible. Unplugging electronics when they’re not in use and using energy-saving modes on appliances like air conditioners can also reduce utility bills
Experts also recommend replacing old thermostats that don’t let you program when the heat and cooling system come on and off: After all, you don’t want your homes at 70 degrees all day if nobody is home.