A Free and Easy Way to Save Money on Heat and AC

A couple snuggle on the couch with a blanket in their home.
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All the homes my husband and I saw while house shopping last spring were incredibly well-insulated, according to the realtors we spoke with. We were impressed, but more so when we learned that the local utility company provided the insulation for free.

Despite the fact that it sounded too good to be true, I started investigating our options shortly after closing on a single-family house on Cape Cod. I couldn’t believe it: not only would my utility company help pay for new insulation, they would also provide a free energy audit to make sure my house was as energy efficient as possible.

According to the Alliance to Save Energy, “the average U.S. household spends $5,550 a year on energy. But buying energy-efficient appliances, making energy-efficient home improvements, and taking energy-efficient actions every day can save hundreds of dollars.”

Ready to learn about local resources that can help you make your home more energy-efficient?

My Free Energy Audit

We live in Massachusetts, so my local electric provider directed me to Mass Save, an initiative sponsored by Massachusetts’ gas and electric utilities and energy efficiency service providers. The program offers services, incentives, training, and information on energy efficiency to help residents like me manage our energy usage and energy-related costs. After spending the winter renting a house that cost over $1,000 a month to heat, I was excited to learn about this program and schedule an audit.

The energy specialist assigned to our case arrived early, reviewed our most recent utility bills, and got right to work. She surveyed the outside of our house as well as our living quarters, basement and attic. She tested our water heater, checked the type of insulation we had in place and offered a multi-page report with suggestions for improvement. She answered our questions about everything from Energy Star ratings on appliances to the most efficient light blubs. It was like having our own personal energy guru for a few hours!

Our “new” house was tired and in need of some updates, so it was welcome news to learn that the home energy assessment qualified us for a rebate program that provides up to $2,000 towards insulation improvements. We also qualified for the HEAT Loan program, which provides 0% interest loans for customers like us looking to make high-efficiency improvements including replacing windows and updating heating, hot water and air conditioning systems.

But the best part of the audit was when our specialist opened the trunk of her car to pass out free goodies to help us make changes right away. She loaded us up with new energy-efficient lightbulbs, water-saving showerheads, an eco-friendly power strip and a programmable thermostat. While the total value of the audit and items she gave us was $243.94, the out-of-pocket cost to us was $0!

Finding Savings for Your Home

What if you don’t live in Massachusetts like we do? It appears most states have similar programs. The best resource for locating a program near you is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE). The site allows you to search by state and provides links to participating organizations and incentive programs.

If you’re confused about where to start, Energy.gov produced a helpful guide covering everything from air conditioning to lightbulbs; download it for free on their website.

DIY Energy Audits

If you aren’t ready for the commitment of an in-home assessment, consider a DIY option instead. EnergyStar.gov offers the Home Energy Yardstick, a simple online program that assesses your home’s annual energy use against similar homes in your area and offers suggestions for improvement and savings. It’s free to participate and all you need to get started are the last 12 consecutive months of utility bills.

Trying to find your energy information? Check out Green Button, an “industry-led effort that responds to a White House call-to-action: provide electricity customers with easy access to their energy usage data in a consumer-friendly and computer-friendly format.”

Need any more reason to schedule an appointment or give your home a quick audit? Not only do these energy-efficient changes help your bottom line, but they’re good for the environment too.

Your Turn: Have you had an energy audit or tried the Home Energy Yardstick? How much did you save on your utility bill?

Ally Piper is a writer, designer and marketing director living on Cape Cod. She blogs about life, business and balance at allypiper.com.