Had your energy audit yet?

Every homeowner in the United States will be offered a free energy audit under a conservation law that went into effect last month. Don't rush to phone the Department of Energy. Each state still has six months to come up with a residential conservation program ensuring availability of audits by utility company inspectors for homeowners who request them. But you don't have to wait to obtain a potentially valuable audit on your own.

If you have never had one, an energy audit is just what the name implies, a survey of your home to see where the energy goes -- and the money for it. Hereabouts they can be obtained for as little as $25 including a computer printout, with no obligation to buy anything from the auditing firm. It is an instructive exercise for Americans leaving the age of responsible use of resources. But it's wise to look over the shoulder of the energy auditors no less than the auditors down at the office or the plant.

Some people we know had an audit that came up with means to save $700 a year in heating bills. By the way, what was their present outlay? They checked their receipts and discovered it was $735. They do keep a rather cool house. But it was a reminder that at least some computer printouts note how energy-efficiency steps can be so interrelated or overlapping that the total saving is not necessarily the sum of the parts.

Nevertheless, healthy savings can be achieved by some of the big things energy auditors look for, such as attic insulation. And they seem especially fond of such little things as placing draft seals in electric outlets on outside walls. Better put a curtain on the dog door, said one auditor instantly.

For every major job tempting homeowners to engage professional help, there are several small ones tempting them to go it alone. The difference in cost can be specified in the audit, along with estimated savings to give an idea of how soon he cost would pay for itself. Some improvements are eligible for federal tax credits. Considered as an investment, a typical package can return 17 percent taxfree.

The federally sponsored inspections are slated to include recommendations across the board, ranging as far as fundamental shifts to solar and wind power where these would be feasible. By 1985, according to government figures, the program should have resulted in savings of 200,000 barrels of imported oil a day. This would amount to some $5 million at present prices. Imagine what it will actually be if prices continue to rise as they have done.

Here is a reason for not deferring an energy audit -- or at least one's own household energy inspection -- until the federal machinery grinds around to providing one. The higher energy costs go, the cheaper a present investment in energy efficiency will look a few years from now. And, to be a bit less selfcentered about it, every extra smidgen of fuel each of us stops wasting right away will mean that much more to meet the needs of all, whatever the foolish price becomes.

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