smart spending

An energy audit can cut your power bill

Highlights
  • Tap utilities to find where energy is seeping out of your house.
  • A private energy audit costs more but yields more detailed results.
  • Not all private firms are legitimate, so check them out before hiring.

Leaky windows and faulty insulation can sap money out your front door, but a home energy audit can help counter the loss of energy while lowering your power bill.

So where do you get your home audit -- your local utility company or a private auditing firm? The answer may depend on how much energy savings you want for the initial outlay.

Taking steps to conserve energy can cut your electricity bill by as much as $600 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Add tax credits of $1,500, and it's not surprising why performing a home energy audit is a burgeoning business.

The free home energy audit offered by many power companies is usually comprised of a visual inspection. That could include identifying energy hogging appliances as well as leaky windows, air ducts and areas where insulation is lacking. A professional audit, which can cost $300 to $500 depending on the home's size, is a more in-depth assessment -- about four hours long and utilizing measurement tools to identify leaks, according to the Department of Energy.

The free utility audits give homeowners ideas on how to save energy, but fee-based energy audits, because they are so detailed, can potentially save homeowners 30 percent or more on energy costs, according to Brian Castelli, executive vice president at Washington, D.C.-based Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit group of that supports energy efficiency.

A free energy audit makes sense for homeowners who aren't paying excessive energy bills or aren't dealing with drafty areas of their home, says Mark Cannella, a partner at Cleveland-based Pro Energy Consultants.

"If a homeowner truly has an issue and truly wants to make a home more energy efficient, a full-blown audit is necessary," Cannella says.

Utility companies help consumers conserve

For some homeowners, swapping out old appliances may be enough. According to the Department of Energy, replacing your old, in-room air conditioner for one with an energy efficiency rating of 10 can cut your A/C energy costs in half.

Duke Energy Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., offers a free home energy audit through its House Call program. During an assessment, a specialist reviews appliances, analyzes home energy use, checks the home for air leaks, examines insulation levels, and monitors heating and cooling systems. Duke says homeowners get a custom report within 10 days, providing ways to increase efficiency and reduce energy loss. The report's recommendations could include buying energy-efficient appliances, adding insulation or sealing up leaks.

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Although it isn't free, Long Island Power Authority of Uniondale, N.Y., or LIPA, offers its Home Performance with Energy Star program. Customers pay $200 to $400 for the home assessment performed by contractors accredited by the Malta, N.Y.-based Building Performance Institute, an organization that offers contractor training and certification.

LIPA says it will rebate 25 percent of the cost up to $3,000 if customers choose to follow up on recommended electric energy-saving measures from the Energy Star program. LIPA reimburses after it receives proof the work was done.

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