When the weather turns icy you may still get hot under the collar when you open your utility bills. Before you set your thermostat to freezing temperatures, though, you should take the time to do an energy efficiency check-up on your home. A home energy audit will look at every part of your home inside and out to find out where you’re losing energy and what steps you can take to use less energy and save money. While some results from an audit may recommend expensive actions such as replacing your heating and air conditioning system, you can often learn about small tweaks that can result in big reductions in your energy bills. You have three options for an energy audit:
- A do-it-yourself assessment with the help of a checklist from the U.S. Department of Energy
- A free quick home energy check-up from the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO)
- A home performance energy audit with an ENERGY STAR contractor
Resources if you want to do-it-yourself
Washington Gas offers some resources on their site including an energy efficiency video at washingtongasliving.com.
If you’d like to involve the whole family in improving your home’s energy efficiency, you can go to www.energyhog.org to learn about the topic through interactive games.
Another valuable source of information is www.Energy.gov, the U.S. Department of Energy’s site, where you can find articles under the Energy Saver tab including a checklist for a DIY energy audit. Make a list of any problems you find so you can set your priorities for improving your home’s energy efficiency. The first step is to look for air leaks or drafts along your baseboards and where your walls and ceiling meet. You can save as much as 5 to 30 percent on your energy bill by finding these drafts and fixing them, along with making some other changes in your home.
Washington Gas recommends that you download “Energy Saver$ Tips on Saving Energy & Money at Home” at the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website, www.eere.energy.gov/consumer, or call 877-337-3463 for a copy. You can also try the Home Energy Saver online audit recommended by SMECO at http://hes.lbl.gov/consumer/.
Free professional energy audit
A professional energy audit can give you even more individualized advice about how to make your home more energy efficient. You can have a Free Quick Home Energy Check-Up from SMECO, where a professional comes to your home for about an hour and looks at your insulation, your air leakage, your windows, doors, lighting and appliances, and then checks your water heater and your heating and air conditioning system. SMECO will even install up to three some energy-saving products if you want, such as a water heater tank wrap, faucet aerators, an efficient-flow showerhead, pipe insulation, power strips or replace 12 of your light bulbs with CFLs. Schedule your appointment online at www.smeco.coop or call 877/818-4094. This free audit is available to all SMECO customers regardless of whether they are homeowners or renters and whether they live in a single family home, a townhouse, a condominium or an apartment.
Low-cost professional energy audit
A professional energy audit can cost $300 to $500, but SMECO offers a $100 audit, estimated to be worth $400. This audit is only available to SMECO customers who live in a single family home or townhouse they own. This more comprehensive energy assessment takes three or four hours and involves some additional tests such as a thermographic scan of your house to see where the energy leaks are. At the end of that, you’ll get a report telling you what they found and advice on how to reduce your energy use. You’ll get the free improvements that come with the free energy audit, plus the possibility of up to $2,750 in rebates for energy efficient improvements such as air sealing, insulation or replacing your heating and air conditioning system. You can save up to 20 percent in energy costs with this comprehensive energy audit. You can schedule this assessment through the SMECO website.
Once you have your energy assessment in hand you can decide whether it’s time to replace your heating and air conditioning system, invest in some new insulation or switch out your appliances for energy efficient versions. Did you know that lighting accounts for about 10 percent of your electric bill? One of the easiest ways to lower your electric bill is to replace your old light bulbs with energy efficient bulbs.
Check out the energy saving videos on the SMECO site for more helpful energy efficient tips that can reduce your bills in every season.