A home energy assessment or audit is step one to assess how much energy your home consumes and where your house is losing energy. You can perform a simple energy assessment yourself, or have a professional energy auditor conduct a more thorough evaluation.
According to HomeAdvisor.com, fixing problems identified through an energy assessment can save you between 5% and 30% on your utility bills.
Using a Pro
Professional energy auditors use specialized equipment — such as blower doors, which measure the extent of leaks in the building envelope, and infrared cameras, which reveal hard-to-detect areas of air infiltration and missing insulation — to determine your home’s energy efficiency. Most professionals will have either a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) or BPI (Building Performance Institute) Certification.
According to HomeAdvisor, hiring a pro to conduct a home energy audit costs anywhere from $100 to $1,650 with an average of $404.
Audits can be done on new and existing homes, with different end goals. In a new home, the rating often verifies energy performance for the ENERGY STAR home program, energy efficient mortgages, and energy code compliance. In existing homes, the audit pinpoints specific renovations that will improve the home’s energy efficiency.
3 Common Upgrades
Water heaters are the second-highest source of energy use in the home, accounting for 15% to 25% of a home's energy use. If your water heater is more than 15 years old, you should consider replacing it with a newer, tankless unit, says HomeAdvisor.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, tankless water heaters are 8% to 34% percent more energy efficient than traditional water heaters because they heat water on-demand, rather than continuously heating a tank full of water. Gas-burning tankless water heaters range in cost from about $170 for small unit to more than $2,000 for a high-output heater that can supply two showers at the same time. Electric tankless water heaters run between $90 and $900.
Gas-burning tankless water heaters should operate for 20 years or more, while tankless electric units have shorter life spans — normally 7 to 10 years.
Tankless water heaters are available at plumbing-supply stores, big-box stores, and online or directly through a plumber. You will definitely need a pro to install your heater as it involves connecting to water and gas lines in the case of gas or propane units, or upgrading the wiring and circuit-breaker panel, for electric units.
Many homeowners install solar panels to help reduce energy bills.
Solar panels generate their own power and can therefore greatly, if not entirely, offset your monthly electricity bill. Of course, the higher your bill, the more you can save. You can estimate the efficiency of panels in your area by using the Solar-Estimate calculator.
An average-sized installation ranges from $11,411 to $14,874 after solar tax credits, according to Energysage, and the average home can save between $20,000 and $30,000 over the system’s lifetime.
A third way to save on energy bills is installing energy-efficient appliances, including energy-rated clothes washers, dishwashers, or refrigerators. A dishwasher with the Energy Star label is required to use 5.8 gallons of water or less per cycle, compared to the more than 10 gallons used by older models. Additionally, some utilities offer cheaper rates during certain times of the day, making laundry and other energy-intensive chores 5% to 25% less expensive during off-peak times.
If you set your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees when you’re asleep or away from home, you can lower your annual heating and cooling costs by around 10%. For a standard, 2,000-square-foot home, the cost of installing or replacing a thermostat averages between $112 and $250, including the price of the unit and professional installation, says HomeAdvisor. The thermostat itself will run between $15 and $300, depending on the type and its features. A licensed electrician can install the unit in less than two hours at a rate of $65 to $85 per hour.
While it’s possible to install the thermostat yourself, HomeAdvisor recommends using a pro to avoid “electric shock, blowing a circuit breaker, damaging the thermostat unit, or even the AC/furnace unit itself.” Yikes. Unless you know what you’re doing, call a pro for this one!
Based on the estimated costs of your home energy efficiency improvements, you may want to consider refinancing your existing mortgage to get cash out to cover the costs. To learn more about refinancing, click here.