Rent or own — old house or new — it’s possible, and often easy, to cut down on your energy costs at home.

Last year, I volunteered for a project with Penn State grad students. Their research focused on how people’s energy conservation behaviors changed in correlation with how much they were willing to spend on energy costs. All I needed to do was complete a couple of surveys and allow the students to perform a high-level energy audit on my home.

The process itself was fascinating. We walked from room to room in my house, even venturing into the basement and attic, using an infrared camera to check for air leaks. After a couple of weeks, I received an audit report with a few recommendations. For instance, the report suggested I seal the leaks around some of my windows and doors and add insulation to my attic and built-in window seats.

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait to participate in a study to receive an energy audit. If you’d like to have an energy audit to see how you can save on your energy costs, there are  free or low-cost options:

  • Your Utility Company – If you live in western Pennsylvania and Duquesne Light is your utility provider, you’re in luck. They recently launched a Whole-House Energy Audit program. With an instant Watt Choices rebate of $250, the audit will cost $149. The fee also includes installation of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and smart power strips. Households that meet income-eligibility guidelines can receive the audit at no charge. For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit the WattChoices website or call 1-888-998-9478. Duquesne Light also offers the no cost option of conducting a self-audit through their website, after which you’ll receive a free Watt Choices Energy Saving Kit via mail. Duquesne Light isn’t the only utility provider to offer discounts or rebates on energy audits. PPL Electric Utilities, a provider in the central region of PA, provides online tools. In addition to the energy audit, your utility company may offer rebates for some of the recommended changes you can make to lighting, appliances, or your heating and cooling system.
  • Not-for-Profits – Organizations like the CCI Center offer a custom walk-through energy audit service to identify key priorities for improving your home’s energy efficiency, which can save you money and improve comfort.
  • EPA ENERGY STAR – ENERGY STAR offers online information for both older and newer homes. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)
    has online tools that you can use to measure your home’s energy use compared to similar homes. ENERGY STAR Home Performance is a program that benefits homeowners by helping them to lower utility bills, reduce drafts for more comfortable rooms and get third-party quality assurance to make sure the work gets done right. While not as precise as an in-home audit, a “virtual audit” from ENERGY STAR is a good place to start.

EPA ENERGY STAR Program Recommendations

The EPA has some general recommendations for keeping your house as energy efficient as possible.

  • Seal air leaks and add insulation. Check weather stripping around doors annually and replace as needed. Use caulking around window and door trim wherever you feel cold air coming in. See ENERGY STAR for information on insulation and how to determine if your home needs more.
  • Check your filter every month, especially during winter and summer. If it looks dirty, change it. At a minimum, you’ll want to change it every three months. A dirty filter slows down air flow and makes the system work harder to maintain the desired temperature, wasting energy.
  • Have your heating and cooling system checked yearly. This will help you catch small issues before they become big ones.
  • Seal duct work. Ducts that move air to and from a forced air furnace, central air conditioner or heat pump are often big energy wasters. Sealing and insulating ducts can improve the efficiency of the system by as much as 20%.
  • Upgrade to more efficient lighting, appliances and water heating systems. Use ENERGY STAR certified light bulbs, such as Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFL) or Light Emitting Diodes (LED) to provide bright, warm light while using 75% less energy. These types of bulbs can also last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Homeowners who use incandescent bulbs spend $400 more per year on utility bills than homeowners who install ENERGY STAR lighting throughout their homes. See ENERGY STAR for information about choosing the right lighting for your home.
  • Install new windows. If you’ve sealed everything you can and you’re still feeling a draft new windows may be necessary. ENERGY STAR qualified windows can reduce your energy bill by up to 15%. Savings vary from region to region depending upon current heating and cooling costs and are greatest during hot summers and cold winters.
  • Turn off and unplug electronics when they’re not in use. In the average U.S. home, 25% of electricity used by home electronics occurs while the products are off! In the U.S., “vampire power” costs con­sumers more than $3 billion a year. Reduce your costs by unplugging electronics such as laptop chargers and turning off power strips when not in use.

    Sources of common air leaks in your home

    Source: ENERGY STAR – Energy Savings at Home