This post is contributed by Joe Truini, guest blogger at The Home Depot.

Part 1 of our DIY Home Energy Audit Series

Buying a home can be an exciting time. It can also be nerve-wracking and extremely time consuming: you have to find a home within your budget that’s the right size and layout, with curb appeal to boot.

Something you might overlook, however, is the home’s energy consumption — a source of hidden monthly costs that can add up to higher bills and less spending cash.

Performing an energy audit on a home is key to reducing your monthly costs and ensuring efficiency in all areas. It can help distinguish between user-based energy and energy wasted through leaks or outdated lighting and equipment. An energy audit can also significantly reduce your bills in the long run and help you save money, according to the budget experts at Money Crashers.

“Think of it this way: if you can find 5 ways to save $5 per month on your home energy bills, that equates to $300 of annual savings,” they explain. “That’s the best way to approach this strategy. In the long run, you’ll generate plenty of extra cash to help out your budget, improve your retirement savings, or even beef up an emergency fund.”

Fortunately, a do-it-yourself energy audit is an easy and affordable way to examine how your home works and a chance to correct any energy-sucking culprits. Solutions that save significant money may be as simple as replacing missing storm windows or adding insulation.

An audit is also a good idea for anyone who already lives in their home and would like to reduce their monthly energy costs. Plus, according to Money Crashers, “The repairs and upgrades needed [to conserve energy] usually aren’t that expensive to complete.”

In our weeklong series, you’ll find out how to perform your own DIY energy audit. And the best place to start is with a thorough inspection for air leaks and drafts.

3 ways to spot (and repair) air leaks and drafts

1. Inspect your windows and doors
Difficulty level: easy DIY

a. Check the corners on the inside and the exterior for any gaps between the house, the window, and the door frames. Extreme cold and heat can cause the window frames to contract and expand, leaving gaps and creating drafts.

Make sure the windows and doors don’t move or shift when pushed and pulled. If the doors or windows stick when they’re opened, it’s likely there’s a gap or track issue where air can come through.

b. Hold your hand up against the corners or sides of the window and door frames inside the home. Do you feel air seeping through? If so, you may need to fill the space with caulk or silicon.

Pro tip: Use incense to detect drafts more precisely. Slowly pass a burning incense stick around the inside of a window — the slightest breeze will make the smoke dance, indicating the exact location of the draft.

c. Check the material of your windows and doors. Aluminum and wood doors and windows can shift more dramatically than those made of vinyl, which are able to fluctuate and adapt through extreme temperature and foundation shifts.

d. Do all the windows and doors open and close properly? If the sash or sliding door frame sticks and is difficult to open, these are signs the frame has shifted significantly and may need to be replaced.

e. Do the windows and patio doors have argon gas between the panes or low-E film? There should be a small sticker or indicator on the frame (typically the sash), indicating the energy rating of the window and patio door.

  • Argon gas is a colorless, odorless gas that’s more than twice as dense as oxygen. Modern windows have argon gas injected between the panes of glass, which slows the penetration of heat from sunlight or cold air through the windows.
  • Low-E film is an invisible cover on windowpanes, which serves as a reflective surface. Low-E bounces sunlight away from the window, diverting heat.

2. Repair your windows and doors
Difficulty level: moderate

If there are noticeable gaps or drafts around the frame of the windows and doors, use caulk or silicon sealant to fill the openings. Choose a color-matching caulk for the exterior or a clear silicon for the interior.

  • Lightly squeeze the caulk gun trigger until a small amount of sealant emerges.
  • Run a line of sealant smoothly across the gap or opening, making sure the tip of the caulk gun is in contact with the frame.
  • Use your finger or a small edge to smooth out the sealant and make it look seamless.

3. Replace your windows and doors
Difficulty level: call a pro!

If you notice significant drafts, or your windows and doors don’t open or close properly, replacements may be necessary. If this is the case, attempting to replace windows and doors on your own isn’t recommended. Consult professionals to order window and door styles and schedule an installation.

Aside from considering the look and style of the windows, consider both argon gas and low-E film in the windows to ensure they are as energy efficient  as possible. New vinyl windows also come with air chambers inside the frame, reducing the impact that cold or heat may have on the home.

Pro tip: If the sashes are in disrepair but the window frame is in good condition, have a professional install a sash-replacement kit. They provide an easy and affordable way to upgrade the overall performance and energy efficiency of a window. The new sashes will fit snugly into the existing frame while eliminating the expense of installing a whole new window.

Other possible draft areas

Doors and windows aren’t the only places where air could be escaping the home.

  • If you have a chimney, inspect the flange around the outside for any spaces. There are specific asphalt sealants you can use with your caulk gun to close off any gaps around the chimney. This may require a ladder and getting onto the roof, so take extreme precautions or call a professional.
  • Take a look at the fireplace damper, electrical outlets, baseboards, or any other place where a shifting foundation could cause gaps and potential leaks.

If you spot any of these gaps or drafts, use the appropriate sealant to repair. But if the cracks are too large to properly repair with sealant, you’ll need to call a professional.

Check out the rest of our home ownership series, where we go over insulation, heating, lighting, and electric appliances.  You can also find other innovative ways to organize and upgrade your home.

Joe Truini writes extensively about DIY home remodeling and repair, including performing energy audits to evaluate efficiency. He has worked as a remodeling contractor, cabinetmaker, and union carpenter. Joe is the author of 8 home improvement books, including Building Sheds and Stanley Homeowner’s Guide to Tiling, both published in 2016. He also writes for The Home Depot on home improvement topics like installing storm windows.

DIY hacks | Home and garden