Instructions For A DIY Home Energy Audit

By: Nikki Fotheringham

Electricity bills have been steadily rising with no respite in the foreseeable future. Increasingly, home owners are turning to efficient building envelopes to create homes that utilize less energy. Investing in making your home more efficient and more comfortable will save you money in the long term and will reduce your impact on the environment.

But energy-efficient retrofits don’t come cheap and you want to know where you are going to get the most energy saving bang for your buck. One way to determine where your energy saving investment will go the furthest is by getting a home energy audit. This will show where your conditioned indoor air is escaping so you can plug the gaps in your building envelope.

While a professional home energy audit will be more accurate, you can do your own and get a general idea of which issues to tackle first. Keep a checklist of issues which you can prioritize according to your budget.

Mind the Gap

Each home has gaps, cracks and holes through which indoor air escapes. You can save as much as five per cent to 30 per cent per year by plugging gaps in your building envelope. Sealing these gaps with caulk is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to reduce your energy consumption.

Do a visual inspection both inside and out, taking special note of wall junctions, plumbing openings, lighting openings, electrical outlets and switch plates, around door and window frames, wall-mounted air conditioning units and around vents and fans.

Check the seals around doors and windows for cracks or deterioration. Check along baseboards and where floors and ceilings meet the walls.

Another way to check for gaps is through a blower door test. You can do a building pressurization test without the blower door equipment.

  • Conduct your test on a windy, cool day
  • Turn off all combustion appliances such as gas-burning water heaters and furnaces
  • Close all openings like windows, doors and flues if you have fireplaces
  • Suck the air out of your home by turning on all exhaust fans, dryer vents, bathroom fans, stove fans etc.
  • Light a stick of incense and walk slowly from room to room, paying particular attention to places where leaks are common like around windows and electrical outlets
  • Smoke that is blown in or sucked out will show you where the leaks are

Once leaks have been detected, caulk the openings or replace weather stripping to seal your home.

Inspect your Insulation

These kinds of retrofits cost more, but they do make a huge difference to your monthly energy bill.

Ensure that your attic hatch is insulated, that it seals tightly and that the weather stripping around the attic opening is in good condition.

Check for gaps and holes, especially around vents, electrical boxes, ductwork and chimneys.

Inspect the attic vents to ensure that they are not blocked by insulation. Attic vents enable any moisture that builds up in the attic to escape.

Check that your insulation isn’t flattened or settled as this will reduce its efficacy. Measure the amount of insulation you have in your attic to ensure that it meets current building standards. If you have an older home, improving your insulation can really help to seal the deal.

You can check the thickness of insulation in your wall by switching off the circuit breaker to an exterior wall outlet. Be absolutely sure that the power is off. Remove the cover plate and gently press a crochet hook into the wall. This will tell you how much insulation is in the wall and some insulation will come out when you remove the hook so you can see what kind of insulation it is.

Unfortunately, this test doesn’t tell you if your wall insulation has settled, only a thermographic inspection can show where insulation is in a wall.

Is your basement or crawlspace conditioned? If not, it should have a minimum of R-25 insulation. This is especially important if you have heating or cooling appliances, ducting or plumbing running through this space.

Check that your water heater, hot water pipes, and ducts are all insulated.

All Systems Go

Inspection of your heating and cooling systems should take place on an annual basis. If your heating or cooling systems have filters, these should be cleaned and checked regularly according to your manufacturer’s instructions. Some filters need to be cleaned every month. Doing so will vastly improve the efficiency of those systems.

Have a professional service your furnace annually or do it yourself. Get a guide here.

If your furnace or air conditioner is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it with an Energy Star appliance. Check you ducting for gaps, holes or other corrosion and fix these with mastic.

Appliance Compliance

‘Vampire’ loads account for 10-15 per cent of your home’s energy consumption. Get a power bar with a timer so your appliances aren’t on when you are at work or sleeping. If your appliances are old, consider investing in Energy Star appliances which will reduce your monthly energy bill.


33 Clever Little Ways To Help You Go Green in 2016

By: Jayne Leonard

At least one in three of us will decide to better ourselves over the coming twelve months. Most people will choose to lose weight, get healthier, save money or get organized.

But what if we could achieve some, or all, of these things while taking into the account the bigger picture – the state of our environment?

The truth is that, by choosing to be eco-conscious in 2016, we can make a difference to our health, waistline and bank balance while still effecting great change all around us.

It’s important to mention that, while 33% of Americans make resolutions, research says that less than half stick with them for six months, and only one in ten will see it through to the year end. Those who achieve their targets do so as they start small.

With that in mind, here are 33 easily achievable New Year’s Resolutions to help you go green in 2016 – why not choose one or two that appeal to you?

Ditch the Bottled Water

Splash out on a stainless steel reusable water bottle this year in a bid to avoid buying plastic.

Making bottles to meet America’s demand for bottled water uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually – enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for the year.

Brew Coffee at Home

Swap your takeout coffee for a more relaxed at-home version – or make it ‘to go’ in a reusable travel mug.

It’s estimated that Americans drink more than 100 billion cups of coffee every year – 14.4 billion of which are bought in disposable paper cups. If placed end-to-end, these cups would wrap around the planet 55 times.

Opt for a French press over a single cup coffee maker though – enough K-Cups coffee pods are sold per annum that, if placed end-to-end, they would circle the Earth 10.5 times!

Invest in Reusable Bags

A plastic shopping bag can take anywhere from 20 to 1,000 years to decompose. In a compressed landfill, without exposure to air to help them break down, paper bags aren’t much better.

Given that the United States alone uses approximately 100 billion new plastic bags per year – and the average person goes through between 350 and 500 – it’s easy to see how a simple change like using canvas shopping bags can make a positive environmental impact.

No More Disposable Tableware

Make meal times more special by using nice China plates and cloth napkins in place of their disposable counterparts.

The average American uses 2,200 two-ply paper napkins per year causing around 662 billion napkins to end up in the trash every twelve months.

And, 64 billion paper and 73 billion Styrofoam and plastic cups and plates are thrown away in a 12 month period in the US.

Stop Using Plastic Wrap

As convenient as it may be, plastic wrap is terrible for the environment. Every year, Americans make enough to shrink-wrap the state of Texas!

Keep your food in empty glass jars or reusable containers instead.

Try Organic Foods

Gradually try and move to organic food where possible. Organic farming works with nature and supports biodiversity to preserve soil quality and the delicate balance of our ecosystem. Conventional farming Read more »

Renewable Energy from Evaporating Water

New clean energy source produces electricity, could power robots, sensors, vehicles

Eva, the first evaporation-powered car, has a turbine engine that rotates as water evaporates from the wet paper lining the walls of the engine. Credit: Xi Chen, Columbia University

An immensely powerful yet invisible force pulls water from Earth to the top of the tallest redwood and delivers snow to the tops of the Himalayas. Yet despite the power of evaporating water, its potential to propel self-sufficient devices or produce electricity has remained largely untapped — until now.

In the June 16 online issue of Nature Communications, Columbia University scientists report the development of two novel devices that derive power directly from evaporation — a floating, piston-driven engine that generates electricity causing a light to flash, and a rotary engine that drives a miniature car.

When evaporation energy is scaled up, the researchers predict, it could one day produce electricity from giant floating power generators that sit on bays or reservoirs, or from huge rotating machines akin to wind turbines that sit above water, said Ozgur Sahin, Ph.D., an associate professor of biological sciences and physics at Columbia University and the paper’s lead author.

“Evaporation is a fundamental force of nature,” Sahin said. “It’s everywhere, and it’s more powerful than other forces like wind and waves.”

Last year, Sahin found that when bacterial spores shrink and swell with changing humidity, they can push and pull other objects forcefully. They pack more energy, pound for pound, than other materials Read more »

Yves Parlier: Driven by the Wind and the Waves

The French yachtsman is pioneering the use of kite technology to produce clean power for cargo ships

By: Patricia Jolly

The MS Beluga SkySails, thought to be the world’s first commercial cargo ship to be partially powered by a giant computer-controlled kite. Photograph: SkySails

The only souvenir Yves Parlier has kept from his long career sailing the seven seas is the skeleton of a mahi-mahi, or common dolphinfish, almost one metre long. In February 2001, somewhere near the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, he caught this fish with a hook made from a broken aerial. It saved him from dying of hunger. Even now Parlier licks his lips at the thought of the feast that followed. “I started by devouring the offal, then I stripped the fillets and put them out to dry,” he says. “After that I sucked the bones and ate the skin. I had enough food to reach the finish.”

Parlier made this miraculous catch while he was competing in his third and final Vendée Globe single-handed around-the-world race, sailed non-stop and without assistance, a contest he never managed to win. Dispirited and desperately hungry, he had spent the previous 10 days mixing packets of dehydrated food with platefuls of seaweed and krill, seasoned with the spices from oriental soup packets.

Damage to the vessel had forced him to stop for several days, dipping so far into his reserves he was no longer sure he could make it to the finish at Sables d’Olonne in western France. “It was a nightmare,” he explains. “The weather was foul, my onboard phone had broken down and the inside of the boat, slippery with seaweed, really stank. I was so famished Read more »

The Kymogen Wave Energy Generator

Mechanical Engineer David Hartmann and Craftsman Jason Ballash have designed a new wave power technology called the KymoGen, which has the potential to produce clean, low-cost energy using the constant power of waves. Key to the design is its simplicity. A portable 8’x8? platform is tethered to a mooring on the sea floor. Inside the floating platform, the tether is connected to a drive system which spins a flywheel as the waves rise and fall, providing constant power between waves. The generated electricity can then either be stored, or connected directly to existing power grids.

Weighing in at an estimated 800 lbs, the KymoGen can output 2 hp in as little as 12 inch waves and 8hp in 4 foot waves. Larger KymoGens could generate substantially more in rougher waters. The estimated average output per day is 25 to 100 kilowatt hours. It will be constructed of high strength Marine Composites, and the platform can accommodate wind or solar technologies to increase the energy output.

The name KymoGen comes from the word Generator combined with Kymopoleia “the wave walker” the greek goddess of waves. A Kickstarter campaign will be launched in March 2015 (see video below). Plans are to have the first units produced in May 2015, with large scale manufacturing by September 2015. We’ll be sure to post updates as the project gets underway. In the meantime you can find more info and contact information at