With autumn just around the corner, it’s a good time to think about saving energy and money on your HVAC system. A great way  to start is with a professional home energy audit.

Certified energy auditors conduct a series of tests to identify where your home is losing energy and suggest ways to remediate the problem and cut costs. An energy audit usually includes a review of your utility bills, a thorough visual inspection of the structure and HVAC system, and the use of such diagnostic testing equipment as a thermographic (or infrared) scanner, which can pinpoint poorly insulated or drafty areas. Blower door tests are another common technique. The test measures a house’s airtightness by using a powerful fan to create a pressure difference between the inside and outside of the structure. Once located, air leaks are often easily repaired with insulation, caulking or weather stripping.

After the home energy audit, you will receive a report listing recommended measures. Be sure to ask about government programs that can help offset the cost of improvements. For help finding a qualified auditor, check with your state or local government energy or weatherization office, your electric or gas company, or the Residential Energy Services Network directory of certified energy  auditors.

The DIY Option

If a professional audit isn’t possible, a do-it-yourself assessment is the next best thing. As you inspect your home, keep these common trouble spots in mind:

• Do doors and windows seal tightly? Are windows caulked around the edges? Do doors need new weather stripping?

• Are there gaps along the baseboard or edge of the flooring and at junctures of the walls and ceiling? Are there holes or cracks outside the house where faucets, pipes or wiring enter, or exposed areas where two different building materials meet?

• Is the attic adequately insulated? Is there a vapor barrier (usually tarpaper, Kraft paper attached to fiberglass batts, or a plastic sheet) beneath the attic insulation?

• Has your heating and cooling equipment been cleaned and serviced? If your furnace or water heater is more than 15 years old, have you considered replacing them with newer, energy-efficient models. If you’re shopping for new appliances, be sure to look for the Energy Star label, indicating the product exceeds minimum federal efficiency standards.

• Are you selecting energy-efficient settings on washers, dryers and dishwashers? Can you use them less often?

• Are you using energy-efficient lightbulbs? Lighting accounts for about 10% of your electric bill. When it’s time to shop for new bulbs, select energy-saving incandescents, CFLs and LEDs.

• Do you unplug chargers, stereos, VCRs and other electrical devices when not in use?  Phantom load, also known as standby or vampire power, is the energy devices consume when they are turned off, and they can add as much as $200 to your annual electric bill. Unplug devices that aren’t being used or simply turn off the power strip. Invest in smart power strips that disable power to devices that are not in use.

You’ll be surprised just how quickly the savings add up after even a few simple fixes. According to the US Department of Energy, upgrades following a home energy assessment typically yield savings of 5 to 30 percent in energy costs, not to mention the  benefits of using less energy and making your home more comfortable.