smart spending

An energy audit can cut your power bill

The utility company also is testing a program to select customers with electric heat or air conditioning in which accredited contractors perform assessment and sealing services for free.

LIPA will cover 75 percent of recommended energy-saving measures up to $3,000 from the free service, says Dan Zaweski, LIPA assistant vice president. In addition, electric heating customers can save from $150 to $300 a year, depending on the home's square footage, under the program.

Buyer beware when it comes to audits

Not all fee-based home energy audits are created equal. As in any budding industry, there are fly-by-night companies that claim to be experts but really aren't, according to Cannella. Make sure you're using an accredited auditor and that the auditor uses specific energy measurement tools.

Before hiring a professional auditor, check with the local Better Business Bureau to verify the company is legitimate. Also, ask for references and confirm the auditor does a blower door test and thermographic scanning.

"You want to be sure the person is certified by the Building Performance (Institute) or Residential Energy Services Network, and you want to be sure the auditor uses a calibrated blower door and infrared cameras," says Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home editor at Yonkers, N.Y.-based Consumer Reports. The Oceanside, Calif.-based Residential Energy Services Network is a nonprofit group that sets energy efficiency standards.

The blower door is a powerful fan mounted on the front-door frame that tests a home's air leakage; thermography (infrared scanning) pinpoints failures in insulation. Proper home air tightness will reduce energy usage and eliminate drafts, the Department of Energy says. Private auditors will take around four hours before providing a detailed report.

Bottom line: Whether you go with the free assessment from your utility or pay for a more detailed one from a private auditor, any steps taken to curb energy usage will save you dollars over the long run.

"Sealing up your house, adding insulation and sealing duct work can result in between 20 percent and 40 percent savings," says Cannella of Pro Energy Consultants.

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