A friend that just bought a 1927 home is wondering what they can do to improve their home insulation and reduce their heating and cooling bills. Although best results would come from having a professional perform a home energy audit it is easy enough to do some of the steps yourself and see what types of results you can get before taking the next step of paying someone to audit your home.
Some electric and gas companies may offer a free home energy audit but unless they are going to take the professional steps of doing a home vacuum leak test and also use very expensive inferred cameras at night to look for heat loss in your walls the tests they perform may not be much better than what you can do yourself.
The first thing I would suggest is that you check for the presence of insulation and if you have insulation how much and what type.
You will need a tape measure and maybe a flashlight unless your attic is well lit. Enter your attic space and visually inspect the floor surface for insulation at the minimum you should have about an R40 however many areas may suggest an R60 as a starting place. This means that if you have fiberglass insulation that is either bats or loose fill the height of the insulation should be about 9 inches. If you have two layers of insulation you should make sure that there is a vapor barrier against the living area wall and this can be the paper facing of the insulation or plastic poly tarp. No paper or plastic vapor barrier should be present on the top layers of two or more layers of bat insulation.
Now that you know that all areas of the attic have insulation and that they have enough insulation you can move on to a air infiltration test. If your attic needs insulation then add it to appropriate levels.
Air infiltration will cost you a lot of energy. The first thing you want to know is are your doors and windows sealing well. The way to test for leaks is to close all of the windows in your home and then place a very large fan in a window that you tape off with cardboard to seal around its gaps. They can also be placed in a doorway but it takes more time to seal around the opening.
Having the air blow out of the home means that any cracks or gaps around your home will show up by air being sucked into the home and towards your fan.
An easy way to find these air leaks is with a incense punk. They come in scented and unscented and they stream a small amount of smoke that will be disturbed when it is near a window or door with an air leak.
Studies show that replacing windows with double pane units and doors is not as cost effective as adding storm windows and storm doors.
I personally suggest that everyone get storm doors for their home the improvement is well worth the cost and if you shop wisely you will find that you can get very attractive and featured units for very little money.
Storm windows are a bit difficult. If your home does not have them then they may not be an option however you may be able to remove your screens and replace them with glass. Units are available for standard sizes or you can get them custom made. They will reduce drafts and leaks but they do not insulate like low e glass. The dead air space between the glass will however add some insulating value. You can leave them in all year if you do not open the units normally.
Spray can foam and caulk is a great way to seal large gaps and for doors and windows you want to make sure that your weather strip is in good condition. The cost for new weather strip is pretty minimal and higher grad steel weather strip around doors is a good option.
If you can get a free energy audit ask if they have inferred cameras to test heat loss in your walls and find cold or hot spots.
You also want them to check the efficiency of your heating and cooling units. If you have a very old unit it may be worth replacing but if it is 10 years or less you should wait because it is probably very efficient even if it is not the very very best. The cost of replacement won’t be saved for many years if your unit is newer.
Water heaters are the same way but since they are normally replaced every 10 years or so due to life limitations you shouldn’t jump into replacing a working unit until it is required or you will lose money.
A good inspection will also take a look at the loss around your wood stove or fireplaces and let you know of any improvements you can make to the efficiency. The main thing is that they seal well when not in use and that the chimney is safe for flow.