Feeling pinched by utility bills? It's no wonder: Since 2001
home-energy costs have more than tripled, rising from an average of
$600 annually to $1,900. There are plenty of ways to trim costs,
starting with Jimmy Carter's advice from the energy-scarce 1970s:
Turn down the thermostat and wear a sweater. That alone could save
you $100 over the heating season. A lot of other fixes, from adding
weather stripping and insulation to getting rid of an old
refrigerator in the basement, will cut your energy costs, too. The
savings will be especially dramatic if your home shows symptoms of
energy illness: draftiness, a room that's always too hot or too
cold, ice dams on the roof, foggy windows or a musty smell.
Give your home a physical
Start with a free and easy self-assessment: Compare your utility
bills with those of a neighbor whose home is about the same size as
yours. If your bills are notably higher, you have a problem. Next,
survey your energy use with an online tool such as the
Home Energy Saver, designed by the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.
On its Web site, as well as those of the federal
Energy Star program and your local utilities, you'll find tons
of energy-saving advice.
But for a comprehensive diagnosis and significant payback, you'll
need an energy audit. For a cost of up to about $400, an auditor
will spend as long as six hours evaluating your home from top to
bottom, including the exterior (how airtight is it?), ductwork (is
cooled or heated air going where it should?), heating and cooling
systems (are they efficient?), and appliances and lighting (do you
need energy-efficient upgrades?). Two vital tools in the auditor's
black bag are the blower-door test and infrared scanning, or
thermography, which will detect thermal defects such as missing or
inadequate insulation and air leaks. The auditor will also check
carbon-monoxide levels. You'll receive a summary report with
recommendations, including estimated costs, savings and length of
Energy Star says homeowners can cut their energy use 25% to 50%,
depending on the condition of the house and how many recommendations
homeowners implement. Plus, local utilities and state energy offices
often offer incentives and rebates to homeowners for making energy
improvements. You may also qualify for up to $500 in federal
income-tax credits that you can claim on your 2006 or 2007 return
for insulation and energy- efficient windows and doors, roofs, and
heating and cooling equipment (the deadline for installation is
December 31, 2007). A bonus: Your home's energy efficiency will be a
future selling point.
Find an auditor
Some utilities, such as CenterPoint Energy, in Minnesota, have
begun to offer professional audits and may subsidize the cost. Or
get a referral from your state or local energy office (for a list,
www.naseo.org). You may also find auditors in the building
trades, such as insulation or heating and air conditioning, or check
the Yellow Pages under "Energy."
Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a "board
certified" specialist. These auditors have credentials from either
the Home Performance With Energy Star program, now operating in 12
states, or the
Building Performance Institute, operating mostly in the
Northeast but expanding. They can also do the recommended work,
which will be verified by an independent third party.
PAYOFF: What a Typical Household Could Save
These estimates, ranked by payback period, are for a
2,000-square-foot home. The numbers are national averages; savings
will vary by region.
||1 year, 4
||6 years, 6
||11 years, 5
*In southern U.S.
#Additional cost and savings beyond that of standard replacement
SOURCE: Energy Star