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Home Energy Checkup

Q: I probably need to make some energy-saving improvements to my home, but how can I be sure? Also, what are the most common areas to check for inefficiencies in the typical home, and can I do this myself?—Jerry V.

A: If your home was built using typical construction methods and is more than 20 years old, you can be pretty certain it is not as energy efficient as it should be. You cannot expect to make an older existing home as efficient as a brand-new home, but investing in some energy improvements would be wise and probably provide a reasonable economic payback.

There are several methods to determine how efficient your home is. The easiest and most effective is to contact your local electric co-op. There you will find experts who can make the best recommendations for energy efficiency.

A more complicated method is to do a calculation to estimate energy efficiency. This technique gets somewhat involved, calling for converting electricity, propane, firewood, and other energy sources to Btu equivalents, dividing by the size of your house, and then dividing by the number of degree days in your area. The result will give your house an energy-efficiency score to determine whether improvements are needed. For step-by-step details on this calculation, go to
, type “calculation” in the Keyword Search box, and click “Go.”

It also helps to know where your home is losing heat so that you know where to look for possible efficiency improvements. Each house is unique, but in general, ceilings account for 15 percent of losses (gains during summer); windows/doors, 26 percent; walls, 13 percent; basement/slab, 11 percent; and air infiltration (leakage), 35 percent.

Tightening up your home, meaning reducing air infiltration, is a good place to start. Check the weatherstripping on the doors by closing each door on a dollar bill. You should feel some resistance when you try to pull it out. Try this in several locations on each door because resistance will vary.

Check the air tightness of your window weatherstripping. Wait for a windy day and hold a lighted stick of incense near the weatherstripping. Watching the smoke trail will indicate any leaks. Do the same around any ceiling penetrations by ceiling fans or exhaust fans, recessed lights, etc. If you have a basement, check for gaps where the walls rest on the foundation and fill any with spray foam insulation.

Make sure your attic insulation thickness is up to current recommended levels for your area. Wear a breathing mask and gloves when handling insulation in the attic. If it is blown-in insulation, use a rake to level it out before measuring its depth. Air movement through the attic can create deep and shallow spots. Make sure the attic insulation is not blocking soffit air inlet vents.

Check to see if your home has wall insulation and note the type of the insulation. Switch off the circuit breakers to wall outlets on outside walls. Double-check with a circuit tester to be sure the power is off. Remove the electrical faceplate. Using a nonconducting plastic knife, poke around the sides of the conduit box to look for signs of insulation. Having a professional infrared scan of your house will also indicate if you have adequate wall insulation.

Since heating and cooling equipment accounts for the majority of your utility bills, have it serviced regularly to be sure it is operating at maximum efficiency. If it is old, have your contractor do a payback analysis for installing new higher-efficiency models. This will save energy and generally improve your comfort level.


To rate the energy efficiency of your house, click here: calculation

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