It's more than just turning off the light when you leave the room. Or dropping the thermostat to 55 during winter nights.

Home energy savings, both a conservation and budget imperative, is the mission of the nonprofit Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance. Through comprehensive, reduced-cost energy assessments and energy improvements, homeowners typically save 20 percent or more on monthly energy bills.

The Energy Alliance is a "customer advocate," says Executive Director Andy Holzhauser, providing steep discounts on a certified energy assessment of the home and a list of home energy contractors certified by the Building Performance Institute.

Market cost of the assessment, a three-to-five hour examination for leaks, insulation, air quality as well as furnaces, air conditioners and other equipment, can be $400-500. Homes of 3,000 square feet or less in the counties of Hamilton, Boone, Campbell and Kenton, may qualify for a $50 assessment with the Energy Alliance.

Financial assistance, including incentives, grants and low-interest loans, is available once the homeowner decides what improvements he or she chooses to make.

New and Old

New or old, most homes can benefit from a thorough assessment, says Holzhauser. More than 1,800 homes have been examined through the program, some as old as 150 years and others as new as 5 years old. New homes built to just minimum standards, he says, can be made more efficient. "It just depends on the builder."

Of the 1,800 homes assessed, 850 homes received energy upgrades. Next year's goal is 2,000 homes, he says.

The assessment report details what can be done to reduce energy bills, what each improvement will cost, and the expected energy savings. Projects can range from $1,000-$25,000 with immediate return on investment in terms of lower utility prices.

"In virtually every home we get into, there's a need to address what I call the "¢low-hanging fruit,"' Holzhauser says. Specifically, inadequate floor and ceiling attic insulation; loosely connected heating ducts in need of sealing; and air infiltration reduction. "Anywhere you find an ant or a fly sneaking in, it means there is a gap," he says.

Beyond that, he says, improvements could include replacing a furnace or hot water heater with high-efficiency models, installing new windows or investing in geothermal.

Holzhauser founded the Energy Alliance in 2009, inspired by a PBS documentary on a project in Cambridge, Mass. He took his idea to the Mayor's Young Professionals Kitchen Cabinet, secured funding from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the Duke Energy Foundation and launched the program.

NonProfits, Commercial

In 2010, efforts were bolstered by a $17 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Energy Alliance works with non-profits and commercial building owners to reduce energy bills, too. It also partners with municipalities to provide additional incentives to homeowners who make energy-saving improvements.

Jobs are also in the mix. A partnership with Cincinnati State Workforce Development Program was developed to re-train workers and formulate an expanded workforce skilled in energy auditing, renewable energy and sustainable building. "Our mission of saving energy is not complete unless it involves the creation and retention of green jobs in our region," according to the Energy Alliance website. - 

Assess, Then Cut Costs

Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance can help homeowners:

"¢ Reduce the cost of an energy assessment, which provides a roadmap of possible savings and improvements.

"¢ Find certified contractors for improvements the homeowner chooses.

"¢ Explore financing options, including loans, grants and incentives.

For details, visit