How to Save on Energy Bills: Get an Audit

With rising energy prices and inflation, now's a great time to check the efficiency of your home.

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 With extremes of weather and inflation’s hit to your budget--not least the rapidly rising cost of energy--you may want to reduce your utility bills. To maximize savings and increase your comfort, an energy audit—a.k.a., a whole-house assessment--and home retrofit may be in order. 

Think of an energy audit as a physical for your home. Are you suffering any of these common symptoms? One room is always too cold or hot. In summer, your second story feels hotter and more humid than the rest of the house or, although your air conditioning runs all the time, you’re still uncomfortable. In winter, you suffer with drafts. Your house quickly gets dusty. Dank smells rise from the basement or crawl space or smoke from wildfires creeps inside. You suffer from frequent sinus or respiratory problems. You’ve compared your energy costs with your neighbor’s and yours are much higher for apparently similar homes.

A whole-house assessment recognizes that each of the components or systems in your home—the exterior shell, insulation, heating and cooling systems, ductwork, and ventilation-- work together and recommends fixes to optimize efficiency and comfort. Most homes have inefficiencies; correct them and you can cut your energy usage and bills by as much as 25%, says Home Performance With Energy Star, a national program administered by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “If you reduce energy cost, you can increase comfort, and vice versa,” says Jonathan Waterworth, a certified energy auditor in Phoenix, Ariz. He says some of his clients cut their energy use by 30%. 

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An energy audit and recommended improvements have other benefits: You can maximize the life of your current heating-and-cooling system, and when those components ultimately fail, you’ll be ready to replace them with higher-efficiency electric ones, such as a super-efficient heat pump. You’ll reduce your personal carbon footprint. If you’re thinking about going solar, reducing your home’s energy demand first will allow you to install a smaller, less expensive system. When you sell your home, proven energy efficiency will appeal to buyers, and they may be willing to pay a premium.

How it works 

 Energy auditors will visually evaluate your home inside and out. Their diagnostic tools include a blower-door test, which measures the draftiness of your home, and thermal infrared scans to locate drafts and missing insulation. They’ll identify problems, prescribe solutions and, after any work is completed, test to ensure it was done properly and the problems have been solved.

Your energy auditor should be trained and certified in a whole-house approach through one of two organizations:. The Building Performance Institute sets standards for residential energy auditing and upgrading and certifies the contractors it has trained and tested. Click on “Homeowner” to search by zip code for BPI-certified contractors. Home Performance With Energy Star assists local program sponsors--typically a state energy agency, utility company or nonprofit organization—to train home improvement contractors in the whole-house approach (at energystar.gov/campaign /improvements, click on “Find Local Help”). 

Waterworth suggests looking for energy auditors with at least five years of experience. “The more you do, the more things you see and can identify and know how to deal with them in the most beneficial and cost-effective way,” he says. 

What you’ll pay 

 An assessment typically costs $250 to $500, depending on the location, age, size and design of your home, and could take several hours. (Auditors may credit you for the cost of the audit if you hire them for the recommended work.) Regardless of whether the auditor will perform the assessment only, some of the retrofit work or the whole shebang, they should recommend all of the appropriate improvements and prioritize them by cost effectiveness, says Larry Zarker, of the Building Performance Institute. If you want to get multiple bids for the work, look for BPI-certified contractors. 

Waterworth says the most typical issues he encounters are air leakage in the outer shell of the home, air leakage and resistance to airflow in heating and cooling ductwork, negative air pressure in the home that invites outside air (including polluting particulates) to infiltrate, and poorly installed insulation that doesn’t meet its performance rating (R value). He says his customers’ typical cost to retrofit is $9,000 to $12,000.

At a starting point for homeowners who are especially budget conscious, some utilities provide free “audits,” but they are typically very limited in scope. Or you can try online tools, such as Energy Star’s “Home Energy Yardstick” and “Energy Star Home Advisor” (energystar.gov, click on “Save at Home”).

With massive funding provided to the states by the Inflation Reduction Act, low-to-moderate-income households can get rebates covering 50% to 100% of the cost to install new high-efficiency, electric appliances, such as an induction cooktop or heat-pump clothes dryer. All households, regardless of income, can take a tax credit that will cover 30% of the cost to install solar panels and battery storage systems, make home improvements to reduce energy leakage (with an annual limit of $1,200), or upgrade HVAC equipment. 

For more information, visit DSIRE, “The database of state incentives for renewables and efficiency” (go to dsire.org and search by zip code) or check the websites of your state’s energy department and local utility providers. 

Patricia Mertz Esswein
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Esswein joined Kiplinger in May 1984 as director of special publications and managing editor of Kiplinger Books. In 2004, she began covering real estate for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, writing about the housing market, buying and selling a home, getting a mortgage, and home improvement. Prior to joining Kiplinger, Esswein wrote and edited for Empire Sports, a monthly magazine covering sports and recreation in upstate New York. She holds a BA degree from Gustavus Adolphus College, in St. Peter, Minn., and an MA in magazine journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University.