Take advantage of utility companies' home audits and rebates to save money and reduce waste.

It is more exception than rule to see the walls of our home meet the ceiling or floor at a 90-degree angle. Our small fridge is jammed into what might be best described as a kitchen annex. The kitchen cabinets are too shallow for our modern dishware. Our closets are the depth of one coat hanger, but no more.

Fortunately, the house has seen some updates over the years. We have a dishwasher now, and previous owners added a half-bath and replaced the windows. My husband and I ponied up for a new furnace and air conditioning unit after our A/C kicked the bucket one hot summer, and last winter I installed a Nest thermostat a week before birthing my son. (And did so with a minimal amount of cursing.) Shortly before that, my husband, with the help of a friend, installed a low-flow toilet in our full bathroom. (That process involved significantly more bad words.)

All of those improvements have bettered the quality of life in our cozy house. But my favorite upgrades made our home life not just pleasant, but cheaper, too. And I know there’s more we can do. 

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Thankfully for the time- and cash-strapped among us, local utility providers have made it easy to save money while making our residences more comfortable and efficient. (For instance, that programmable Nest thermostat? It earned me rebates from both American Electric Power and Columbia Gas.)

Here are a few ways you can cash in on the savings:

Get a Home Audit
If you’re looking for an easy and quick way to save, completing a Home Energy Profile online through AEP Ohio is a great start. Head to the utility’s website to take a brief survey covering questions about your home’s square footage, insulation and appliances. For less than five minutes of my time, I received a free energy-saving kit from AEP with four LED bulbs, weather stripping and other items that the utility company says will save my household $100 annually. AEP also provided suggestions on upgrades such as controlling ventilation and sealing ductwork to reduce energy waste.

Dig in deeper with a Home Energy Audit from Columbia Gas of Ohio. It’ll set you back $50, but it’s worth $500, according to the company, and you’ll get a comprehensive, three- to four-hour in-home review by an energy auditor. They’ll check your gas furnace for efficiency and carbon monoxide, check insulation levels, test for air leaks and install free, energy-efficient items such as showerheads, insulating pipe wrap and thermostats. Plus, the auditor will create a personalized report of your home’s efficiency that offers discounts, rebates and other incentives toward upgrades. 

Get Rebates
AEP offers rebates of up to $1,200 (for a new geothermal heat pump) when you make energy-efficient home improvements. Homeowners are limited to one rebate per product type per account per year, and appliances and equipment must be Energy Star-certified. The savings go beyond the short term: Upgrading to more efficient products will reduce energy usage and shrink spending throughout the item’s lifetime. Find appliance options, the most efficient models at the best price, price tracking and more at aepohiomarketplace.com.

Similarly, Columbia Gas provides instant rebates on high-efficiency furnaces, boilers or water heaters when installed by participating contractors, plus product rebates on thermostats and showerheads. For instant rebates, shop columbiagasohiostore.com.

Get More Help
Both AEP and Columbia Gas can connect homeowners with professionals to help make upgrades. AEP’s “Find a Contractor” tool lists businesses with contact information and areas of expertise. Columbia Gas has a PDF guide of participating contractors organized by region and star rankings, which are based on an evaluation of the contractor’s completed work. Call 877-644-6674 and Columbia Gas will even recommend one for you. Plus, you can earn cash through a referral program. 

Ohioans living on a low or fixed income might be eligible for additional services from local utility companies. For instance, under AEP Ohio criteria, residents who are living at or under 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (currently $42,660 for a family of three) or who have enrolled in other assistance programs may be eligible for its Community Assistance Program, which provides free energy-efficiency and repair services. That includes a home energy assessment, free LED bulbs, refrigerator and/or freezer replacement, insulation and other improvements to save energy. To participate or apply online, contact your local community agency or call 800-672-2231.

Jennifer Wray is a freelance writer, mother and fan of all things pop culture.