How much energy are you wasting?

Allecia Vermillion

A professional energy audit is a great way to find out how you can lower your energy bills, but an at-home inspection also can make a big difference. Follow this checklist to curtail wasted energy in your home.

Inspect your baseboard

Check baseboards and surrounding areas for gaps where cold air can seep inside. Remember to watch for spaces between the flooring and the wall, and where the wall meets the ceiling.

Rattle your doors and windows

Reducing drafts in your home can cut 5 to 30 percent from your energy bill, according to federal estimates. Inspect all your windows and exterior doors for leaks. If you can rattle a door or window in its frame, air likely can get in from the outside. You might be able to seal these leaks with caulk or weather stripping.

Weatherproof openings

Make a checklist of other spots in your home where cold air may be coming in. The list should include:

- Fireplace dampers

- Mail slot

- Electrical outlets

- Switch plates

- Window or wall-mounted air conditioners

If drafts are getting in through any of these spots, you may need to apply extra caulking or weather stripping.

Check your heating and cooling system

Unless your manufacturer recommends otherwise, you should have a professional inspect your heating and cooling systems annually to ensure their safety and that the systems are running at maximum efficiency.

Survey your lighting situation

Evaluate the light bulbs used in your home. Do you have 100-watt bulbs in areas where 60 or 75 watts would be adequate? Consider using more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs, in areas where you leave the lights on for hours at a time. Check with your electric utility for any discounts, rebates or other incentives for using CFL bulbs.

Compare your bills against the average

Collect your last 12 months of utility bills and visit to see how they stack up with other similar homes. Visit the Web site’s home-improvement section and select the “energy yardstick” feature. The program will ask for specific information, like your ZIP code, home square footage and the total cost of your bills each month.

Seek discounted professional help

Professional energy audits cost about $500. Check whether your local utility company offers free or discounted energy audits for customers.

Use an energy meter to detect wasteful appliances

Plug-in power meters measure how much energy your plug-in appliances use, even when sitting idle. These devices cost about $40 and can help you determine which electronics, kitchen appliances or other devices should be unplugged while not in use to cut your energy bill.