The first line of defense against high utility bills is knowing where your home has efficiency issues; a home energy audit can tell you where your problem areas are. An audit can cover heating and cooling systems, as well as water and electricity.

An audit, also known as an assessment, tells you how much energy your home uses and what you can do to increase your efficiency. It should be performed by a professional for a thorough assessment. Many homeowners try to save money by performing a DIY audit, but a professional audit will pay for itself in energy savings.

When you’re ready to call in the professionals, compile the previous year’s utility bills and make a list of problem areas. 

The first step is to locate air leaks. Sealing leaks will help keep the home more comfortable and save energy and money. Use your hand to feel for drafts or temperature changes near outlets, switch plates, window and door frames, and baseboards. Make note of any leaks you find.

Next, venture into the attic.  Check that the attic insulation is adequate for your home’s needs. If you aren’t sure how much you need, ask a professional.
If you have a basement, check for insulation under the living area flooring. If the basement is unheated, it should be insulated to an R-value of 25 or greater; if it’s heated, it should be 19 or greater. Any water heater, pipes, or furnace ducts in the basement should be insulated as well.

If your heating and cooling system is more than 10 years old, look into replacing it; the cost of a new high-efficiency system is quickly offset in reduced utility bills.
Look for dirt streaks on any exposed ductwork, especially around seams.  This indicates an air leak, which should be sealed with duct mastic.

Check that the light bulbs in each fixture do not exceed the recommended wattage.  Change incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents or even LEDs for maximum energy savings. You can do this yourself without waiting for the auditor.

A professional energy auditor will examine the outside of your home and go room-by-room inside. He or she will ask you questions about your any problem areas you’ve identified, your habits and usage.  Then, he or she may use equipment such as infrared cameras to see areas of hot and cold, blower doors to measure leaks, furnace efficiency meters, and surface thermometers. Finally, you’ll receive detailed suggestions to increase your energy efficiency as well as instructions on how to implement them.

An energy audit is a great idea in these times of constantly rising utility bills.  Even doing a few things yourself can make a difference, but calling in a professional energy auditor is the best way to be as energy efficient as possible and save the most money.

Sources: energy.gov/energysaver/energy-saver
                  http://www.energystar.gov
                  http://www.doi.gov