As I walked outside this morning, I noticed something— a chill in the air! I live in Colorado, where the nights get cooler long before the days do. This is the time where it's common to see people walking around with shorts and sweaters in the morning (gotta be prepared).

The sight of my breath was a reminder that soon I'll be running my heater again and will want to run it as little as possible while staying comfortable. If that sounds like your plan, consider scheduling a home energy assessment. Also known as an energy audit, an energy assessment shows you where your home is losing energy and how to make it as efficient as possible.

You can perform a simple energy assessment yourself, or hire a professional to provide a more thorough assessment.

A professional auditor uses a variety of techniques and equipment to determine the energy efficiency of your home, using equipment such as blower doors, which measure the extent of leaks in the building, and infrared cameras, which reveal hard-to-detect areas of air infiltration and missing insulation. At the end of the assessment, you'll know exactly what to do to make your home energy efficient, stay warmer this winter, and spend less money on utility bills.

Many utility companies provide this service for a reasonable fee, and some give discounts for low-income and elderly homeowners. This is one service that can pay you back in energy savings in the short or long term.

Andrea Spikes is a communicator at DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which assists EERE in providing technical content for many of its Web sites.