MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With winter at the doorstep, energy bills are about to jump. It’s the season when our furnaces run harder and lights are on longer.

In north Minneapolis, newly constructed homes will help lower the bills because of the way they are designed and built.

“They each have a high efficiency furnace and high efficiency water heater,” Contractor Henry Ford said.

Ford works with the city to build homes that both meet and beat current energy standards. From attic to basement, he uses foam to fully insulate rim joists and double insulates poured concrete walls.

“I think that’s way better, it holds way more heat and air,” Ford said.

But for most of us living in older existing homes, there are simple ways to tighten the energy budget.

The good news is that both Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy can help show us how.

“The goal of the audit is to lower costs and make your house more comfortable,” Mike Childs, an Xcel energy auditor, said.

Homeowner Gabriel Flaa is taking the first step to improve his 65-year-old Highland Park home. He contacted his energy company to get a visit from the Home Energy Squad.

“We noticed some pretty high numbers during winter,” Flaa said.

To slash winter’s $400 monthly heating bills, he’s getting an energy audit.

“Air sealing is one part of the weatherization – insulation is the second part,” Childs says as he walks through the home.

It’s a comprehensive check, top to bottom – looking for air leaks, adequate insulation and efficiency of water heaters and furnaces.

“One thing I see you can do is seal around the water heater flue,” Childs said.

Auditor Childs then performed what is known as a blower door check, where the home is sealed to the outside and a fan applies a negative pressure to the interior of the home.

“It’s actually depressurizing the house, pulling air in from whatever leaks there are,” Childs said.

Drafts from a poorly insulated attic will quickly reveal themselves, obvious to the touch.

“There is quite a lot we can do to improve our energy efficiency,” Childs says to homeowner Flaa.

The top of the line audit includes the use of a thermo imaging device to check for heat loss. And if you think your appliances are energy hogs, here’s an easy way to find out.

A device known as Power Check from Xcel Energy can be checked out free of charge from local libraries.

You simply plug the appliance into the meter and cycle through various modes, which will indicate how much electricity is being used and the monthly cost.

Most home energy audits will cost between $25 to $100, but the savings are immediate. Simply adding a programmable thermostat trims $180 from the yearly heating bill.

Switching out old incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs can save $50 over the life of each bulb. The savings are even greater with the replacement of LED bulbs.

And with water heating the second largest energy expense, installing simple flow restrictors can cut water usage in half.

“So you’re saving water and that will lower your bills right there,” Flaa said

For not a lot of money, Gabriel will contract with an insulator to tighten up his home. Spending a few dollars now, to save big energy bills in the months ahead.

“We all know that our dollars and cents are important, and so we’re trying to keep as much of it in their pocket as possible,” Childs said.

Bill Hudson