Page One

Energy self-audits – energy awareness and savings

By Alice La Pierre
Tuesday January 15, 2002

Energy conservation measures in your home or business can save you money, energy and even help to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels as a source of power. The trick is in finding out what measures you should take. Then you can find the right products to help conserve energy. 

Perform your own energy self-audit in your home or business. It takes less than an hour, and can end up saving you energy and money and make your home or office a more comfortable place to be. And, of course, you will be doing your part to reduce our reliance on oil and gas and the pressure to import or drill in wildlife areas. You will also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fuel.  


What to do 

The main categories are: lighting; heating/cooling systems; insulation, hot water use; and plug loads (appliances and equipment that plug in). You can set up a chart for each category, and leave room for quantities of each item on your checklist. 

Commercial buildings will have other things, like walk-in refrigerators or hard-wired specialty equipment. For assistance on items or areas not covered by this article, contact Berkeley’s Energy Office at 981-5435. For TDD, 510-981-6903. 



Is there sufficient light from windows in areas where overhead lights could be turned off during the day or light sensors installed? Do you have a lot of incandescent bulbs? Incandescent bulbs are the traditional light bulbs that get very hot. 

Incandescent bulbs consume a great deal of energy. All that heat coming from each bulb is wasted energy. Incandescent bulbs can usually be replaced by compact fluorescent lamps, which use one-quarter of the energy for the same amount of light. Mark down the number of lamps that have incandescent bulbs, and their wattage. Remember to look for ceiling fixtures, small occasional lamps and bathroom lights. Once you’ve identified all the incandescent lamps, mark down the quantities of each watt size to be replaced.  

Replacing incandescent lamps with compact fluorescent lamps is simple in most cases. To find the correct watt size in CFLs, simply divide the existing bulb’s watts by four. So, to replace a 100-watt incandescent lamp, use a 25-watt CFL. It’s that easy, and you will save three-quarters of the energy per lamp you replace. That might be as much as $15 per month, depending on the number of CFLs you install. Inexpensive, high-quality CFLs are available from the Berkeley Conservation and Energy Program, through the Ecology Center, at all Berkeley Farmer’s Markets an other retailers in Berkeley.  



Next look at the heating/cooling system. Is your thermostat programmable? What are the set points for daytime versus nighttime? Daytime temperatures should be about 68 degrees Fahrenheit, higher for the elderly, very young infants, or someone suffering from an illness where the cold would contribute to the illness.  

For every degree you lower your heat in the 60-degree to 70-degree range, you’ll save up to 5 percent on heating costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.  

If you feel chilly, layer your clothes. It’s the trapped air inside the layers of clothing that will keep you warmer. Nighttime, or unoccupied building temperatures should be reduced to 55 degrees. Set your thermostat to these temperatures for weekdays. For weekends, set the temperatures to reflect the building’s actual occupancy – if you are not home on weekends, then set the thermostat to vacation mode, or 55 degrees. Programmable thermostats are relatively inexpensive (about $30) and available through the BC&E program. 

Air conditioners should be set to kick on at 80 degrees. Fortunately Berkeley has very few days that require air conditioning.  

Check heating ducts for leaks – don’t use duct tape, as ironically, it dries out quickly and looses its sealing capabilities. Replace bent and poorly-fitting ducts, and seal with a foil-based or mastic approved for heating ducts. 

The building’s envelope is another area to check. Do exit doors have a bottom weatherstrip in good condition and a raised threshold? Note those that don’t, and measure their width (32 inches, 34 inches, 36 inches, etc.) and thickness (1-1/2 inch, 1-5/8 inch, etc.). 

Windows should be checked for air leaks, dry rot, and cracks. Broken windows should be replaced. Homeowners who have single-pane, double-hung windows (sashes slide up and down) where the wood needs replacing should take advantage of the opportunity to replace them with wooden, double-pane, insulated windows. Kits are available for between $225 and $350 per window, depending on size. Double pane windows will make your home much more comfortable by reducing drafts and conductive heat losses. See the Energy Office’s Web site article on the Cold Wall Effect. Measure windows for weatherstripping as needed, or complete replacement. 

Metal-framed windows actually conduct the heat out of a building faster than any other type of frame. 

When possible, replace your metal windows with wooden framed ones, which have the highest insulating value. Vinyl windows are better at insulating than metal, but have other problems associated with them, including off-gassing toxins as they heat up, which contributes to poor indoor air quality. (See the EPA’s Web site on Sick Building Syndrome, www.epa. gov/ebtpages/airindoosickbuildingsyndrome.html). Wood is still the best solution for window frames. 

Attics should be insulated to a minimum of R-30; more is better if there is sufficient room. Never pack insulation into a space, or block eaves or ventilation holes. Doing so will trap moisture and create a habitat for termites, powder post beetles and other pests. Walls and crawl spaces should also be insulated. See the Energy Office’s Powerplay article on insulating at 

All outlets and wall switches should have insulating foam gaskets. These take only a minute to install, and will help eliminate drafts, especially on outer walls. Note the number of outlets and switches in each room, and mark them down. 

Hot water heaters should be inspected. Note whether your tank is gas or electric, and whether or not it has an insulation blanket on it. A blanket can save as much as 15 percent of water heating costs. Set the thermostat to between 112 and 120 degrees. (Be sure the tank has those earthquake straps securely holding it to the wall.) Check the pipes running to and from the tank: there should be insulation on all the hot water outlet pipes for as far as you can reach and insulation on the first five feet of the cold water inlet pipe. Heat is lost through the inlet pipe, so insulating it will save energy. Measure the amount of insulation you will need, and mark it down.  

Check your sink and shower aerators – if they aren’t low-flow, you are wasting money and energy. Note how many need replacing. 


Plug loads 

Plug loads are the fastest-growing category of energy use in homes and businesses. There are more computers, copiers, FAX machines and printers in homes and businesses than ever before. Check each computer for screen savers and “sleep” modes. Be sure the EnergyStar features are activated.  

Check televisions, VCRs, stereos, DVD players and anything else that works with a remote, and plug each one into a power strip that has a “kill” switch, and turn the equipment off there when you aren’t using it. The reason these things work with the remote is that they aren’t really “off,” they are in a stand-by mode, waiting for you to power them up again. 

Check the number of large appliances you have. Large appliances, such as vending machines and refrigerators should be plugged into a “watt squasher” or vending miser, a simple device that plugs into an outlet, and compresses the current flowing to your appliance. This reduces the amount of energy needed for refrigerators, vending machines and water coolers. Watt squashers cost about $35 each, but a study done at Rutgers University showed that one of these used on a vending machine can save approximately 50 percent of the energy used on average; about 2,000 kilowatt hours a year.  


Shopping wisely 

Now that you have a list of the items, you can organize a shopping trip. Note that the items that will have the fasted payoff are compact fluorescent lamps. If you have a limited budget, start with these. 

For a list of residential energy conservation products, go to and check out the energy-saving products listed in the BC&E program. These products are available at wholesale prices to anyone, and can be found at Berkeley Farmers’ Markets, the Ecology Center, and various retailers in Berkeley.  

For commercial assistance, contact the City of Berkeley’s Energy Office at 510-981-5435. 


Alice La Pierre is an energy analyst for the city’s Energy Office. Her column appears as a public service the first and third Tuesdays of the month.