A key step to understanding how you use energy in your home is doing a home energy audit. An energy audit usually means you walk through your home and analyze all the systems that impact how you use energy. There are two ways to approach a home energy audit: finding a professional or doing your own.
Scientific American's "Solar At Home" Blogger George Musser had a great blog discussing the tools needed to do your own energy audit. In addition, the U.S. DOE has a nice section related to doing your own home energy audit. The main strategies they list for people doing their own home energy audits are finding air leaks, looking at insulation, inspecting heating/cooling systems, and looking at lighting. TheDailyGreen has a nice post on the DIY home energy audit that include a nice checklist to use as a guide (although it leaves off lighting!).
While you can learn a lot from doing your own home energy audit, you gain a lot more by having an energy audit done by a professional. There are probably three things that a professional brings to the home energy audit that most people just can't do on their own:
- Experience - professionals have done this many, many times, so they know how to make the biggest impact
- Blower Door tests - equipment that measures how air flows through your home
- Thermographic Scan - equipment that shows where heat leaves your home (the high-tech/whole-home equivalent to the Black & Decker thermal leak detector)
For obvious reasons it is a must that a professional energy auditor have the first requirement, but you should question them if they dont have the second and third requirements. In addition a professional home energy auditor will develop a detailed report for you detailing his/her findings. While it's hard to verify, chances are a professional energy auditor will save you more money in energy savings than what their services cost. It's like a personal trainer; sure, you could do it your self, but you'd benefit that much more from an expert!
Energy Circle, which is a site with very similar goals to Mapawatt, had a great blog related to the top ten lessons learned in doing energy audits.
An energy audit usually only takes a few hours and provides a great understanding of what you're doing well and what needs improvement. I would recommend doing an energy audit twice a year, if not more. It is important to benchmark how you use energy so you will know how to improve. In between energy audits, make sure you monitor energy usage to get further tuned in to how you use energy on a daily basis.
If you aren't ready to hire a professional home energy auditor that's fine. At least take a few moments and walk around your home while thinking about where your energy dollars go. Energy audits are like a car inspection, they help you see how you can perform better, save more energy and save more money!