Adding insulation and sealing up the house are the first steps to energy efficiency. By Jessica L. Anderson, Associate Editor and Pat Mertz Esswein, Associate Editor September 11, 2009 The wise first step in reducing your energy use is to have a qualified energy auditor diagnose your home. A complete home-performance audit will generally take three to four hours and cost $250 to $600, depending on the age, size and design of your home. To find a qualified auditor, visit www.energystar.gov (click on “home improvement” and “home energy audits”) or www.natresnet.org (click on “consumer information” and “find a certified rater”). RELATED LINKS Make Every Drop Count Power Up on Your Own Take Your Home’s Energy Pulse The auditor will provide a road map for improvements. Chandler von Schrader, a program analyst with Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, says that auditors’ top three recommendations usually include sealing a home’s exterior, sealing the ductwork and adding insulation. The work may run $3,000 to $4,000, but up to $1,500 of that can be paid by a federal tax credit if done before the end of 2010 (see www.energystar.gov for details). Also high on the list: installing compact fluorescent light bulbs and low-flow shower heads, replacing appliances with Energy Star-approved models, and tuning up and repairing heating-and-cooling equipment. If your heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system is in bad shape, you’ll need to replace it, which increases the total cost to, say, $5,000 to $15,000. But the tax credit applies to that, too. Savings will vary widely. For example, a typical American family living in a single-family home spends $2,200 annually for energy, nearly half of which goes to heating and cooling. After spending $3,000 on improvements, the annual savings would be $250 to $600. Advertisement You can make gradual improvements, of course, but you should make them in the correct order, says home-performance contractor Isaac Savage, of Home Energy Partners, in Asheville, N.C. For example, tighten up a leaky house before replacing your heating-and-cooling equipment; otherwise, you may end up conditioning the air of the great outdoors -- albeit more efficiently. Plus, once the house is tightened up, you may get by with a smaller, cheaper unit. New windows will earn you a tax credit and may increase your home’s resale value. But if energy efficiency is your goal, you’ll get a much better return on your investment by adding insulation, which is much less expensive, says von Schrader. For a broader look at energy-efficient remodeling, see ReGreen: Residential Remodeling Guidelines, by the American Society of Interior Designers Foundation and the U.S. Green Building Council (www.regreenprogram.org). A Brilliant Idea: Buy Better Bulbs Advertisement By 2014, all light bulbs sold in the U.S. must use almost one-third less energy than they do today. Incandescent bulbs, which cast off 90% to 95% of the energy they use as heat and last only 1,000 to 2,500 hours, won’t disappear, but they will evolve to meet the new standard. Among the current alternatives: The halogen bulb. At least 30% more efficient than an incandescent, with an expected life span of 3,000 to 6,000 hours. Try the Philips Halogena Energy Saver ($12 for two; www.amazon.com). Compact fluorescents. 75% more efficient; up to 8,000 to 15,000 hours of use. GEÕs Energy Smart CFL offers a traditional shape ($10 for the equivalent of a 60-watt incandescent; www.elightbulbs.com). Light-emitting diode bulbs. 75% more efficient; 25,000 to 50,000 or more hours. A ZetaLux bulb, equivalent to a 50- to 60-watt incandescent, is $40. Pricey, but great for hard-to-reach places.