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Used properly, a laser thermometer can pinpoint where inadequate insulation and/or air leaks are making your summer air-conditioning bills and winter heating bills higher than they could be. Identifying these energy-porous points- a process called an energy audit- is only the first step. Someone still has to plug any major leaks around windows and doors with weatherstripping and/or add insulation wherever the audit indicates. If you're handy, you can do those jobs yourself. If you're not, you can hire a contractor.

Whichever route you choose, you'll instantly recoup the cost of a laser thermometer- under $100 for a basic model, in most cases- by making your home energy audit a DIY task, as opposed to a job you pay an energy auditor or HVAC contractor to do. Why? Do the math. The prevailing rate for a HVAC contractor ranges from $59 to $89 an hour in most parts of the U.S. Most technicians charge a "house call" fee that amounts to an hour and a half to two hours of work at that rate. Considering all the other money-saving and informative tasks an IRT can do around the home (check this blogspace for further posts), even $100 amounts to chump change.

To get started, the fastest and easiest way to determine if your walls need more insulation is to use a laser thermometer- also called an IRT, for infrared thermometer- to compare the surface temperatures of an exterior wall and an interior wall in the same room. If the difference between the two readings is more than a few degrees, the exterior wall doesn't have enough insulation and could likely use a bit more.

IRT670 Vent_newAn IRT is just as good at detecting air leaks. In the summer, hot outside air seeping in around doors and windows makes your air-conditioner's compressor run more than necessary. In the winter, inside air that you've paid a fortune to heat escapes through the same gaps. Each loss represents wasted energy, and energy doesn't come cheap. You may not need an IRT to guess where your home's air leaks are; feeling a cold draft near a door or window in the winter is a telltale sign. Although goosebumps can't compare the size of the air leaks, an IRT can, and in the process indicate which repairs will produce the biggest energy savings.

A strategically pointed IRT can also quickly alert you to heating/cooling problems with your furnace/air conditioner system. Locate the system's air intake (return) register or grille, which may be in the ceiling, near the base of the wall, or occasionally on the floor. Compare the temperature of the air there with the temperature of the air exiting the system through its output registers or vents (taking into account your thermostat setting), and you'll have a better sense of whether or not your system is heating or cooling properly. If you think not, your DIY options are limited to changing the intake air filter and checking that output registers are open. You'll have to bite the bullet and hire an HVAC contractor to do anything more complicated.

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