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While certainly a worthwhile undertaking for any home owners who wants to trim his utility bills, the typical, commercially-offered home energy audit is a lengthy and expensive proposition. But now there's a free and simple way to accomplish pretty much the same task.

Offered by the American Homeowners Foundation, the self-help test helps owners identify practical -- and often easy and inexpensive steps -- they can take to reduce their energy consumption.

The self-administered audit comes not a moment too soon. According to the Department of Energy, home heating costs can be expected to skyrocket this winter. For example, DoE said that homes heated with natural gas could see their fuel costs explode by as much as 48 percent. And the cost of home heating oil could surge by up to 32 percent. On top of that, a colder winter than usual also is predicted.

The test guides owners through their homes, room by room, so they can address 25 items and grade key features that impact energy usage. Features such as air registers, insulation, thermostat, fireplace, appliances and even light bulbs are scored.

The self audit identifies where energy is being lost, and can be saved, by specific enhancements. "Simple, efficient changes can lead to quick paybacks for homeowners," says AHF President Bruce Hahn.

"And in addition to reduced home heating bills, these changes can increase a home's comfort level and provide an overall more energy-efficient dwelling."

The only tools needed to take the test are a pencil, paper, flashlight, ruler and a screwdriver.

The 10-minute test covers 25 questions, and gives -- or subtracts -- points for each answer. After tabulating the total, your house will range in scale for a triple A model of efficiency to an energy clunker that needs professional help.

To give you an idea of just how simple the do-it-yourself audit is, here's what the exam asks about your home's heating system:

  • If yours is a brand new, super high efficiency/energy star system, add 10 points.
  • If your system is less than three years old and high efficiency, add 7 points.
  • If your system is three to five years old and high efficiency, add 5 points.
  • If your system is five to 10 years old and in good shape, add 3 points.
  • If your system is an oldie but a good, 10-plus years old, add 1 point.
  • If your system is over 20 years old and in poor shape, subtract 3 points.
  • If you have had your system checked out by a qualified HVAC professional within the last year, add 2 points.
  • If you have solar heating, add 5 points.
  • If you have changed your filter six times in the last year, add 2 points.
  • If you have changed your filter two to four times in the past year, add 1 point.
  • If you have not changed your filter within the last 12 months, subtract 5 points.

To receive the free audit, e-mail the foundation at , or send a stamped, self-addressed envelop to AHF, 6776 Little Falls Road, Arlington, Va. 22313.

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