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Home Energy Audits: Why They Matter and How to Get One

How you can save on utility bills, cut your household's carbon footprint and be more comfortable in your home with an energy audit.

Alexandra Jones Contributor
Alexandra Jones is a CNET contributor who writes about food, farming, gardening, and climate change. Her work has been published in USA Today, Forbes Food & Wine, Ambrook Research, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, among others.
Expertise Climate adaptation | Agriculture | Home gardening
Alexandra Jones
8 min read
An electricity meter showing kilowatt-hours increasing quickly.

Want to use fewer kilowatt-hours of electricity every month? A home energy audit can show you how.

Bjoern Wylezich/iStock via Getty Images

Feeling the pinch of high utility bills? Taking steps to make your home more energy efficient can cut down on the electricity and gas you use. 

But beyond turning off the lights when you leave a room, unplugging seldom-used electronics and buying Energy Star appliances, it can be tough to know where to start.

That's where a home energy audit can help. Also called a home energy assessment, getting an audit and putting its recommendations into place can save you anywhere from 5% to 30% on your utility bills, according to the US Department of Energy. Making energy-efficient upgrades based on a home energy audit can also create a safer and more comfortable environment inside your home while cutting down on your carbon footprint.

What is a home energy audit?

A home energy audit measures how much energy you're using and identifies opportunities for increasing energy efficiency in your home. If you're interested in creating a more energy-efficient home, getting an audit is the first step. 

You or a professional auditor will identify factors in your home that are affecting energy use, and an auditor can recommend repairs, adjustments or upgrades you can make to increase efficiency. A home energy audit involves examining utility bills or energy usage data to look for anomalies and evaluating the building envelope -- the parts of your house like walls, floors, windows and roofs that separate indoor air and outdoor air. That includes checking insulation, identifying air leaks and evaluating appliances such as HVAC systems. It may also include assessing indoor air quality and ventilation.  

"The three big things that go into energy efficiency are air sealing your house, insulating your house and your heating and cooling system," said Joel Rosenberg, special projects program manager at electrification nonprofit Rewiring America.

The most basic form of energy audit takes place without an auditor entering your home. This process, known as a remote energy audit, virtual energy audit or quick energy audit, involves answering basic questions about your utility bills and different areas of your home, such as the age of your furnace or the condition of your windows. You might complete this type of home energy audit via a simple online questionnaire or with an auditor present via videoconference.

A more thorough energy audit includes an in-person visit from a professional auditor who will visually inspect areas of your home and may conduct physical tests. They'll pay particular attention to doors and windows, attics and basements, floorboards, baseboards and other areas where air leaks can be common. Depending on the type of audit you're getting and who's providing it, an in-person home energy audit could include: 

  • Blower door test to identify leaks and cracks throughout the home
  • Insulation check in attics and basements
  • Assessment of appliances like your furnace, AC unit and water heater
  • Infrared camera test to identify leaky windows or doors
  • Lighting inspection
  • Analysis of recent utility bills
  • Discussion of your home's energy uses and any comfort issues you're experiencing

In-person audits can take anywhere from one to three hours and cost up to several hundred dollars. But your utility may provide free or low-cost home energy audits, and in some states, you can get an in-person energy audit for free.

The most comprehensive home energy audits will also assess and make recommendations around safety factors that relate to energy efficiency measures. These safety checks may include radon testing, testing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, assessing indoor air quality and checking gas appliances for leaks or other malfunctions that can affect residents' health and safety if the building envelope is improved. 

"A lot of people recommend air sealing, which is really good for energy," said Mike Barcik, technical principal at sustainable building nonprofit Southface in Atlanta. "If you aren't paying attention, you can create a situation that could be dangerous."

To prepare for a home energy audit, it's a good idea to review recent utility bills and have them on hand for your auditor to review. Prep a list of questions or problem areas to discuss with your auditor, such as leaky windows or uninsulated mudrooms. 

Before the auditor arrives on the day of the audit, close all windows and exterior doors to prepare for the blower door test. During the test, a special device called a blower door uses a powerful fan to blow the air out of your home, lowering the pressure inside and allowing outside air to flow in through any cracks or leaks. You'll also want to clean out wood-burning stoves and fireplaces and ensure they're not in use before the audit, as the blower door test can create an ashy mess. 

The benefits of a home energy audit

While a comprehensive home energy audit typically comes with an upfront cost, the cost savings on utility bills and the increased comfort you'll feel in the home can be more than worth it. Getting a home energy audit is just the first step of the process. You'll need to make the upgrades and adjustments recommended by your auditor before you can experience the benefits. 

"The energy audit is a great first step. It's like going to the doctor for a physical, but the doctor is going to write you a prescription for what to do next," Rosenberg said. 

Energy bill savings

The most obvious benefit of a home energy audit is lowering your utility bills. As you might expect, an energy-efficient home will use less energy, leading to lower energy costs on your gas or electric bill (or both). "If your house is leaking less air that you've paid to heat or cool to the outside, the less money you're wasting," Rosenberg said. 

A more comfortable home

If your home is sweltering in the summer and freezing in the winter, energy efficiency upgrades recommended by your auditor can increase your and your family's comfort in the home. "The more control you have over your indoor air, both in terms of the air quality and the temperature, the more comfortable the house will be," said Rosenberg.

By sealing up leaky doors and windows, adding insulation where it's needed and upgrading HVAC systems, your home will lose less heat in the winter and cold in the summer, giving you better climate control indoors year-round.  

Reduced carbon emissions

The appliances in an energy-efficient home don't have to work as hard or use as much fuel to do their jobs. That applies to HVAC systems, lighting and even ceiling fans. By using less energy, you're burning less fossil fuels, thereby reducing carbon emissions. 

Tax credits for home energy audits

The energy efficient home improvement credit, part of the Inflation Reduction Act, provides a tax credit of 30%, up to $150, for taxpayers who get a home energy audit conducted by a qualified professional auditor. Many states and local utilities also offer incentives for home energy audits, ranging from tax rebates to discounts to no-cost assessments. For example, Massachusetts homeowners, landlords and renters can take advantage of free energy efficiency assessments through the state's Mass Save program. 

How to find an energy auditor

If you're hoping to take advantage of the IRA tax credit, note that only audits conducted by auditors certified by organizations on the Department of Energy's list of qualified certification programs will be eligible. These certifiers include the Building Performance Institute, the Association of Energy Engineers, ASHRAE and the Residential Energy Services Network

Barcik recommends seeking out home energy auditors with a certification from BPI or Home Energy Raters, the latter of which is offered through RESNET. "I'd say the highest level of a residential audit is to have a full-on audit with a HERS rater," he said. "Anybody that has one or both of those credentials usually knows what they're doing."

Rosenberg recommends searching the BPI or RESNET websites to find certified home energy auditors in your area, as well as checking with your utility, which may have their own list of qualified auditors for state-level or utility-level incentives. Once you've narrowed down a list, check online reviews for those companies and go with a well-rated auditor that fits your budget. 

Do-it-yourself home energy audits

A professional home energy audit will give you the most comprehensive information about your home's energy use and ways to boost energy efficiency. However, there are a few things homeowners can do on their own to identify and make improvements. 

Look for areas along doors and windows, floorboards, baseboards and the junctions between walls and ceilings where you can see or feel air gaps. You also can buy or rent an infrared camera or smartphone attachment, which creates a visual representation of hot or cold air coming in, to pinpoint these areas. Seal gaps with an appropriate material such as caulk or weatherstripping

Check the insulation in your attic, especially around your attic hatch, if your home has one. If your home has a fireplace, make sure the damper is closed. You can also insulate any exposed hot water pipes yourself, as long as you can access them. If you have combustion appliances such as a gas or oil-burning furnace, a gas fireplace or a gas stove, check with a professional to ensure there's adequate ventilation for the appliances to operate safely before sealing. 

If you're not using a professional auditor to evaluate your energy-using appliances, Rosenberg recommends checking their age for yourself. "The auditor can come in and look at your equipment and tell you how old it is, but you can do that too," he said. "Look at the nameplates on your equipment, often near the serial number. It will say around when it was manufactured, and that's a pretty good proxy for how old it is." 

The lifespan of HVAC systems, like furnaces, boilers and AC units, tends to be around 15 to 20 years with proper care and maintenance, while water heaters typically last up to 10 years. If your equipment is nearing the end of its lifespan, chances are that upgrading to a newer, more efficient model or electrifying your system will save significant energy and reduce your utility bills. 

Finally, one very easy energy efficiency strategy that just about any homeowner can do -- even without a DIY assessment -- is to switch from incandescent or fluorescent to LED bulbs

"There's never a downside to upgrading to 100% LED lighting," Barcik said. "You shouldn't even wait for your light bulbs to burn out. It's to your economic advantage to just go ahead and replace them today." If the bulbs you're replacing are fluorescent, he notes, be sure to recycle them at an appropriate facility rather than throwing them in the trash.

Frequently asked questions

Can a home energy audit help reduce electricity bills?

Yes. Making the recommended upgrades from a home energy audit can save you anywhere from 5 to 30% on utility bills. 

How much does a home energy audit cost?

Home energy audits range in cost from free for virtual, remote, or subsidized assessments to anywhere from $100 to $600 on average for more comprehensive, in-person assessments. Tax credits, rebates and other incentives offered by federal and state governments or local utilities can reduce that cost.