Q: I want to make my house more energy efficient. I am not sure what improvements it needs, and I don't want to invest in a professional energy audit. What do I need and how can I do my own energy audit?
A: Most houses, unless they are very new, can benefit from energy improvements. The older your house is, the more likely you can significantly reduce your utility bills.
The first step is to do a quick, simple analysis of your home's energy efficiency. This involves adding all the energy your house uses throughout the year. This total energy amount divided by the square footage of the living area — and adjusted for your climate conditions — is a good rough estimate of the overall efficiency.
Check your utility bills or other receipts for the amount of energy used. To convert the amounts into the quantity of Btu you consumed, use the following conversion factors: 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity equals 3,414 Btu, 1 cubic foot of natural gas equals 1,025 Btu, 1 gallon of propane equals 91,000 Btu, 1 gallon of oil equals 138,700 Btu, and 1 cord of wood equals 19,000,000 Btu.
Once you have the total annual Btu amount, divide this by the sum of the cooling and heating degree days for your climate. (A degree day is the difference between the average daily temperature and the balance point temperature: 60 degrees; find those numbers at weatherdatadepot.com.) Next divide this by the square footage of your house. The calculation results for most houses fall into the 10 to 20 range, meaning energy improvements are possible. If your result is greater than 20, your house is very inefficient. Under 10 means significant improvements will be difficult to achieve.
Every house is different, but air leakage typically accounts for 35 percent of energy consumption. Check the windows and doors for leaky gaps and joints. Also check for gaps where the walls rest on the top of the foundation. Heat loss (or gain during summer) through the walls and ceiling account for about another 30 percent.
Hold a lighted stick of incense near the walls, windows and doors and observe the smoke trail to identify leaky spots. Black & Decker now offers a low-cost Thermal Leak Detector for homeowners (call toll-free 1-800-555-1212 or go to blackanddecker.com). The detector uses infrared technology, similar to professional models, to sense cold and warm areas on walls, windows, etc. The sensor beam turns red on hot spots and blue on cold spots.
Check the accuracy of your central furnace/air conditioner thermostat by taping a bulb thermostat next to it on the wall. You may find the thermostat is inaccurate and you are actually keeping your house colder or warmer than you think. This can greatly increase your utility bills.
Oregon Scientific (toll-free 1-800-853-8883, www2.oregonscientific.com) offers a solar-powered central digital thermometer with two remote sensors. This allows you to monitor the temperatures and humidity levels in three rooms. It also remotely picks up and displays the local weather forecast.
Q: I have heard of vampire electricity used by appliances and for cell phone chargers even when they are turned off. What is the best method to reduce this vampire electricity waste?
A: Electronic equipment and appliances do continue to use a little electricity for the controls and to maintain settings when they are turned off. The only way to totally stop it is to unplug the appliances.
Much electricity is consumed by chargers for an array of gadgets and phones. Always unplug them when the item is charged. You can feel how warm they stay even when the phone is disconnected indicating they are still using electricity.
Send inquiries to James Dulley, St. Petersburg Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.