Four Ways to Tell if Your Home Might Be Wasting Energy

From inadequate insulation and loose ductwork to drafty windows and aging heating and cooling equipment, the opportunities for wasting energy—and money—abound in Maryland homes. But how do you know if your home is an energy waster? And what can you do about it?

Gregory Lane, the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program's quality assurance manager and his team have reviewed the results from thousands of comprehensive home energy audits performed under BGE's program. Here's a peek at what they found, including some typical energy efficiency problems found in many Maryland homes and ways to determine if your home might have energy leaks that could be causing comfort problems and increasing your energy costs.

1. Typical Energy Efficiency Problems

Believe it or not, your windows aren't necessarily the problem, although many homeowners assume them to be the most likely culprit. "Windows are always going to be weak points," Lane says. "But the incremental improvement of upgrading windows often does not deliver as much of an impact as energy efficiency improvements elsewhere in your home that provide more savings at a much lower cost."

One of the most common problems is undertreated attics. "For the last 30 years, ads have hounded us about adding insulation," Lane says. "But we were never told to air seal the attic at the same time. Now, we have older homes with more insulation, but they're bleeding air out of the attic."

Another big problem is the heating and cooling system. Homeowners often don't understand what type of equipment they have and whether it's working properly. "For many, an air conditioner is a magic box that sits outside and does something to cool your home," Lane says. But, is the equipment the right size? Is the duct system doing its job to move the air where it needs to go? Homeowners really need to require their contractor to check these things before replacing equipment. There is no guarantee the size was right in the first place.

"Think of it this way," Lane says. "Heating and cooling equipment is like a heart, and the ducts are like the arteries." Pairing an oversized heart with clogged arteries leads to high blood pressure and other health problems. Similar problems occur with oversized heating and cooling equipment. It may cool your home faster, but incorrectly sized equipment will cost more in the long term. Just like turning a light bulb on and off, cycling the heating and cooling equipment more often than necessary can shorten the lifespan of the equipment and require maintenance and repair during its lifespan.

2. Age of Your Home

In general, the older the home, the more likely it is to have energy efficiency problems. "Air leakage is a problem for any home built before 2012, when Maryland adopted a more stringent building code," Lane says. Any house built before 1990 is likely a candidate for an insulation upgrade.

But, he adds, houses change hands so often that even if you live in an older home, it's possible that previous owners may have performed energy efficiency upgrades.

3. Type of Home

All types of homes have the potential for problems, but some designs are more prone to energy efficiency challenges. According to Lane, Cape Cods, bungalows, and balloon frame homes are particularly likely to have air leaks.

Rowhomes, like those in many Baltimore neighborhoods, typically are not well sealed from one another, so air moves back and forth the between units. Rowhomes also have flat, shallow attics that tend not to have as much insulation.

Cape Cod Bungalow
Balloon Frame Rowhome

4. Design Features

Some homes' design features increase the likelihood of them having air leakage problems. Homes with half stories, for example, tend to be less energy efficient. Other problematic features are bonus rooms, master suites over garages, cantilevers, dormers, and crawl spaces. Further, Lane says, "If you can see the floor joists and trusses in your attic, there's a good chance you need more insulation."

Master suite over garage Cantilever
Dormer Crawl Space

Home Energy Audit

How can you know for sure what energy efficiency problems your home is experiencing? You can schedule a home energy audit through BGE's Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program.

A specially trained contractor will use state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment to evaluate your home's energy efficiency and identify problem areas. For example, the blower door test uses a combination of pressure and airflow measurements to determine the amount of air leakage in your home. The thermographic camera test uses infrared images to assess the effectiveness of your insulation. Combustion and safety testing help detect dangerous carbon monoxide and natural gas leaks.

The audit, which costs just $100* (a $400 value) for BGE customers, includes installation of a variety of energy-saving products, such as LED light bulbs, faucet aerators, efficient-flow showerheads, pipe insulation and smart strips.

Based on the results of your audit, you can take advantage of rebates averaging $2,500 to make qualifying energy-saving home upgrades that will improve comfort and could help you reduce your energy use up to 20%.

"It's hard to spend money on stuff you can't see," Lane says. "But after participating in this program, homeowners say they feel a real difference in their homes. Improved comfort is as immediate as the next heating or cooling season. And, when they tell me their bill dropped, well, that's music to the quality control inspector's ears!"

Ready to get started? Learn more or find a participating contractor.

*The $100 offer is valid for homes up to 3,000 square feet with a single combustion appliance zone. Audits of larger homes or ones with multiple combustion appliance zones may cost more. Discuss the cost with your participating contractor.

Program at a Glance
Home energy audits performed 19,968
Households that implemented at least 1 recommended project 6,614
Number of homes insulated 6,402
Number of homes air sealed 6,397
Number of incandescent bulbs replaced with CFLs and LEDs 85,060
Average rebate per household $1,713
Total rebates issued to BGE customers $11.3 million

As of February 2017.