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Getting a home energy audit

An assessment could help you lower heating bills buy almost half the cost, says Gerri Willis.

By Gerri Willis, CNN

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Winter heating bills are going to be even more brutal than the government projected, according to a new report. The average household will pay $986 in heating costs this winter. This is up almost 11 percent from last season, according to the Energy Information Administration. To prevent skyrocketing bills, invest in an energy audit. We'll tell you how.

An audit assesses how much energy your home uses and evaluates how you can make your home more efficient. You can slash your heating bill by up to 40 percent.

1: DIY energy audit

First, make a list of the places in your home where you feel a draft. Cutting these drafts could save you up to 30 percent a year, according to the Department of Energy.

Check for indoor air leaks at junctures of the walls and ceilings, the edge of your flooring, electrical outlets, window and door frames and baseboards. You can usually seal these leaks by caulking or weather stripping them. It's definitely a good weekend project.

On the outside of your house, inspect the areas where different building materials meet. We're talking about the place where the foundation and the bottom of the exterior brick meets. Look for cracks in the siding or foundation. And make sure to caulk any holes for faucets, pipes or electric outlets.

And of course make sure you check your furnace and replace the filter as needed. The Department of Energy has a guide for consumers who want to know more. That Web site is www.eere.energy.gov.

2: Go pro

If you're dreading your heating bills this winter, you've lived in your house for at least a year and you want to make sure your home is as energy efficient as possible, you may consider hiring a pro.

It doesn't come cheap. Costs can range from $300-$700 for an audit, according to Matt Dean of the Association for Energy Affordability. But you'll generally get more savings. And you won't need another audit for another 15 to 20 years.

Before the auditor comes to your house, make a list of problem spots in your home and have copies of your home's energy bills. Some of the tests the auditor will perform include: a blower door test to determine how airtight your home is, a thermographic scan - this detects air leaks and moisture problems in your home, a combustion safety test for your heating system, plus an insulation, lighting and appliance survey.

3: Ask your utility company

Check with your utility company first. Some companies even provide free audits. Or the company may recommend local auditors. Your state energy or weatherization office may also help you find a local company or organization that performs audits.

You can also go to energystar.gov. There you will find a list of home energy raters in your area. November is one of the busiest months for auditors. You may have to wait a month or two to even schedule an appointment.

Before you sign on with any auditor, make sure you check in with the Better Business Bureau to check the complaint record. And make sure the auditor outlines specific recommendations to increase your home's energy efficiency.

4: Grab your tax credits

Remember, if you do replace your windows or add insulation to your home, you'll be eligible for tax credits of up to $500. You won't be able to get these credits after Dec. 31st this year.  Top of page

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