There might be energy monsters below your house - gobbling up as much as one quarter of your home’s annual energy use.  What are these monsters?  While you won’t find them in every home across the country, basements are often neglected and unused spaces. They can harbor air and/or water leaks, and depending on where you live, they can be susceptible to dampness, humidity or mold. 

But don't let that basement scare you. Keeping energy efficiency in mind, here are a few improvements you -- or a qualified contractor -- can do to help make your basement an efficient, comfortable, and inviting space.

Eliminate air leaks by sealing any gaps and holes in the floors, walls or ceiling

Explore your basement from floor to ceiling to identify any air leaks caused by gaps or holes from wiring, pipes, vents, windows or doors. Small gaps can be filled with caulk, while holes measuring up to three inches in diameter can be repaired with insulating spray foam. Holes larger than three inches should first be closed off with foam board and then sealed with insulating spray foam. Don’t forget to check for gaps in the uppermost section of the basement wall where the house frame meets the cement foundation or cinder block.

Safety Tip: Any sealing of your home’s perimeter framing, known as the rim joist or band joist, should be addressed by a contractor. Once you have completed any type of major home sealing project, it is advisable to hire a contractor to verify that combustion appliances (gas- or oil-fired furnace, boiler, water heater and clothes dryer) are properly vented.

Lighting improvements will also help to reduce your energy bills

Looking for ways to brighten up your basement? Consider installing energy-efficient LED light bulbs in your basement lighting fixtures. Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, are also a good option. LEDs are known to deliver a higher quality of light, could last 25 times as long as old incandescent bulbs, and use even less energy than CFLs.

Remember to seal or insulate any basement air ducts

Air ducts leaking either cool or warm air can be a large source of energy loss in your home. You can make simple repairs -- such as sealing leaks, usually found at the metal joints -- to your home’s air ducts. Avoid cloth-backed, rubber adhesive, and instead use mastic or foil tape to seal air ducts -- especially if your basement is unheated and does not use air conditioning. Check out other tips for sealing and insulating ducts.

Change the way you think about your basement appliances and equipment

If you’re in the market to replace older appliances or equipment, such as heating or cooling units, consider switching to one that has earned an ENERGY STAR® label, which requires products to meet specific standards for energy efficiency. While the savings will vary based on where you live, switching out old heating and cooling units could help to reduce your home’s energy bill by more than $200 a year. You’re also best off having any new equipment installed by a qualified technician.

Consider hiring a professional contractor

If you have the resources to do so, hire a qualified contractor to provide diagnostic testing both at the beginning and end of your basement improvement project. A contractor can verify if your basement is adequately insulated, provide ideas for making suggested improvements and install equipment.

A contractor can also help with project planning so these improvements are done both logically and sequentially. Improvements can sometimes impact one another, possibly making them less effective if not installed in the right order -- such as sealing gaps and installing installation before addressing basement moisture issues. Doing this could easily introduce rot and mold, and also impact indoor air quality.

Tackling basement spaces so that they’re no longer scary, but usable and comfortable, is a worthwhile undertaking. It will help improve indoor air quality, and save you money on your utility bills and other home operating costs. Not only will you have more money for Halloween candy, but your home will be easier to maintain and can be enjoyed for many spooky seasons to come.