Looking for the best ways to save energy and money? Making some key energy-efficient upgrades can help homeowners do both.
The first step: Start with a free home energy audit. Duke Energy Home Energy House Call is available to customers in Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina. Duke Energy customers in Florida can sign up for a free Home Energy Check.
These audits take about 60 minutes. Energy advisors check for air leaks, assess appliances, inspect heating and air conditioning systems and measure insulation. They crawl into crawl spaces and venture into attics. They analyze a household’s energy use. Then they sit down with homeowners and share their findings and make recommendations.
They also arrive with a free savings starter kit that includes energy-efficient items like a showerhead, faucet aerators and weatherstripping, which the advisor can install during the visit.
Robert Lewis reached out to the Duke Energy program after opening an unusually high utility bill. An energy advisor inspected his three-bedroom home in southern Indiana, pointing out ways he could improve his energy efficiency.
Those suggestions included re-taping areas around vents and the furnace, and unplugging lights and appliances Lewis wasn’t using. And swapping his lightbulbs for ones that are more energy efficient.
“They found some areas they thought would be beneficial to address that would take the energy bill down,” Lewis said. “That did happen.”
Lewis says the savings were significant, and his next bill was “way down.”
That’s just what Cameron Woodard wants to hear. He oversees Duke Energy’s Home Energy House Call program.
“This program is a good way to help customers save,” he said, “but then also arm them with the information to make some significant savings for themselves and their homes.”
That information ranges from suggesting behavioral changes to adding insulation and swapping appliances.
So which upgrades will add up to the most savings?
A spokesperson for ENERGY STAR, a federal program to promote energy efficiency, said home energy assessments, performed by an expert, can guide homeowners to the improvements that are most needed and will save them the most money.
Here are the estimated savings, based on national averages, for the top energy-efficient upgrades. All information is from ENERGY STAR. Many of the upgrades qualify for tax rebates under the Inflation Reduction Act.
Heating and cooling systems
ENERGY STAR recommends checking a furnace’s air filter monthly. The dirtier an air filter is, the harder the system must work. When it’s time to replace your system, the folks at ENERGY STAR say one of the most energy-efficient upgrades a homeowner can make is to switch to a certified heat pump. They estimate installing an ENERGY STAR certified heat pump can deliver up to three times more heat to a home than the electrical energy it uses. And a heat pump won’t require an electrical panel upgrade.
Water heaters are the second-largest energy user after heating and cooling systems. Switching to an ENERGY STAR certified electric water heater can save hundreds of dollars a year – the average family of four could save about $550 annually. Those savings and rebates from the Inflation Reduction Act mean a homeowner could recoup the cost in as little as three years. Solar water heating systems are also available. Most are installed on the roof, face south and get sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Details: ENERGY STAR.
Sealing and insulating
Air leaks around doors, windows, ducts, attics, crawl spaces, basements and exterior walls can drastically affect a home’s energy efficiency. ENERGY STAR prioritizes sealing and insulating attics for the most savings. Sealing air leaks and adding insulation there can save an average of 10% on energy bills. Seal the attic before insulating. After the attic, ENERGY STAR recommends reducing leaks and drafts by sealing the basement or crawl space; then ducts; then doors, windows and walls.
Windows, doors and skylights
The energy savings from replacing doors and windows depends on a few factors, including the type and number of windows being replaced and their location. Upgrading to ENERGY STAR certified windows should help save 6%-13% on annual energy bills. ENERGY STAR said these tend to be the most accessible areas and easy for a do-it-yourselfer. While drafts may be uncomfortable, they don't have much affect on energy use. In addition to applying weatherstripping, plastic film can be placed over glass windows.
A Duke Energy home energy advisor can install a smart thermostat during an assessment. The unit is available at a discounted price, and the installation is free. The advisor will also show the homeowner how to use it. Installing an ENERGY STAR certified smart thermostat can cut heating and cooling bills by more than 8% annually and save about $50 a year in energy costs. Savings can be higher for households with higher bills. Make sure the thermostat you buy is compatable with your HVAC system.
Replacing a refrigerator with one that’s ENERGY STAR certified and properly recycling the old one can save about $230 and reduce a home’s carbon footprint by about 4,400 pounds of carbon dioxide over 12 years.
An ENERGY STAR certified dishwasher is about 12% more energy efficient and 30% more water efficient than standard models. An upgraded dishwasher would cost about $35 annually to run and will save an estimated 3,800 gallons of water over the lifetime of the appliance.
ENERGY STAR certified washing machines use about 30% less water and about 20% less energy than standard washers. That can save about 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, 21,800 gallons of water and $550 in utility bills over the lifetime of the washer.
Electric clothes dryers that are certified by ENERGY STAR are on average about 20% more energy efficient than standard clothes dryers. They could save about 1,900 kWh of electricity and about $210 in energy bills over the lifetime of the product.
ENERGY STAR certified LED lightbulbs use up to 90% less energy than standard bulbs and last 15 times longer. Replacing a home’s five most frequently used incandescent lightbulbs with LED bulbs can save $30-$40 each year.
That can be a lot of information for someone to sift through. And that’s also where Duke Energy’s programs can help. Energy advisors can connect customers with Duke Energy-approved contractors, taking some of the guesswork out of the next steps.
How to get a free home energy audit
To qualify for a home energy audit, a Duke Energy customer must own their single-family home. The program does not include townhomes, condominiums or manufactured homes.
Qualified customers in Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina can make a Home Energy House Call appointment here.
Qualified customers in Florida can make a Home Energy Check appointment here.