Autumn is upon us, along with typical fall chores: raking leaves, cleaning gutters and winterizing your home. Consider adding a home energy audit to your to do list. Rising energy costs mean higher bills, but increasing the energy efficiency of your home could save you money this winter and beyond.
What is it?
A home energy audit is a checkup for your house, apartment or condo that will help determine whether your home is wasting energy -- and money -- through drafts, improper insulation, poorly operating fixtures, furnaces and ductwork or other sources. The end result is a prescription that you can use to cure your house of energy-sapping problems, and it's the first step toward greater energy efficiency.
But should you take the DIY approach or bring in the professionals?
The federal Energy Star project is a great resource for homeowners hoping to do some basic checks on their own. For instance, using the Energy Star Home Energy Yardstick, a few minutes and the last year's utility bills will help you measure your home's energy efficiency against comparable residences.
The Department of Energy also has a how-to guide for do-it-yourself home energy audits. This covers the basics, like locating and sealing air leaks, checking insulation, inspecting heating and cooling equipment and running usage estimates on your home appliances to determine how much of a drain they might be on your energy budget.
While a do-it-yourself walk-through can be a good starting point, the DOE recommends calling in a professional for a thorough audit. Professional auditors have the advanced tools and experience to give you a more definitive analysis. You can locate a reliable energy auditor through state or local government energy or weatherization offices, your local utility company, the telephone directory or online.
Do your homework when choosing an auditor. Contact references and check with the Better Business Bureau. Once the audit has begun, make sure the professional conducts a thermographic inspection.
In many cases, utility companies offer free or discounted energy audits to customers.
It can be more cost-effective to replace older, energy-guzzling appliances with newer, more efficient Energy Star-rated models. Common offenders include dishwashers, refrigerators, dryers, air conditioning units and even certain electronics. Checking for Energy Star certification will help you determine whether an appliance is efficient. Some appliances also boast their own industry-graded efficiency level, too. For instance, air conditioners and heat pumps carry seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) ratings.
You can even earn tax credits for certain home improvements that increase energy efficiency.
Be energy conscious
Once you've had your energy audit and eliminated the drafts in your home, improved insulation and replaced your old, energy-chugging appliances, remember to continue with the best energy-saving practice: conserve as much as possible. Use heat sparingly, stay warm with cozy sweaters and blankets and always turn out lights when you leave a room. And if you're in need of furnace repair or a replacement, call in a professional who can advise you on energy-efficient options.