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Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010 10:40 am

Energy-saving tips and tricks: Day Two

Happy Groundhog Day, readers! Here's an appropriately-themed card.


Welcome back to Tips & Tricks Week! (Does that sound dirty? I don't mean for it to imply prostitutes and dollar bills in g-strings. Maybe I need a new title.)

On day two, let's talk about home energy audits. While green building has become more and more popular, most of us live in homes built before energy efficiency was a priority. The rest of us live in shoddily-constructed abodes, like my college house in Michigan with its single-paned glass, two inefficient furnaces and visible cracks where the floor met the walls. (Yeah, classy.)

An energy audit is a great way to determine how best to save on utility bills in your home. I don't know that it would do much for an apartment, especially since you don't really have climate control beyond turning your own thermostat, but it's great if you've got an older (or as previously mentioned, university-slumlord-constructed) house.

Most people think of an energy audit as a costly, time-consuming, pain in the ass. However, it's really worth it. The auditor will inspect your home from basement to attic, checking your insulation, caulk, weatherstripping, doors, windows, and lighting and other appliances. They will also do an air-blowing test (using a fan they attach to an exterior door) to find out if you have any drafts, and if so, where they are coming from. At the end of the audit, the expert will give you a list of efficiency providers/products, depending on your needs.

The process takes about two hours. Not bad, considering it can save you money for years to come.

I realize that not everybody can afford to take all the steps the auditor might list. Just like when you go to the salon and they recommend you buy a pricey new ceramic flatiron along with special curl-enhancing shampoo and conditioner. Oh, and throw in some hair spray while you're at it.

The point is, if you can't afford to get everything, get one thing. Just like you'd maybe buy the flatiron and leave everything else, work on affording a more efficient refrigerator or furnace. Small steps - they work!

Here are some local places to get an energy audit. (If you're an energy auditor and I've left your business off the list - comment or e-mail me and I'd be happy to add you to this post.)

City Water, Light and Power does home energy audits for $25. If you make any of the suggested improvements within a year of the audit, you can get the original fee back in a rebate.

Home Energy Solutions is a privately-owned local company that offers audits for varying prices, depending on the size of the home.

Springfield Electric also does home energy audits. I've linked to the page with their contact information, as no prices are listed online.

The Green Center at Lincoln Land Community College has a great page showing how to get an energy audit if you can't afford one. There's a U.S. Department of Energy service that offers weatherization services to low-income families. If you think you might qualify, or want to learn more, check it out here.

If you're the do-it-yourself type, here are a few resources:

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has a good checklist.

The Home Energy Saver is a web-based tool that allows you to calculate your current energy use and potential savings.

Those are the resources I've found. As said above, let me know if you've had experience with other energy auditors.

See you tomorrow, after the primary, for tip #3! (Reminder -- go vote if you're an Illinois resident and not a transient from Michigan who's saving her vote for her struggling home state's August primary.)

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