With temperatures falling and more homeowners turning up their thermostats, Columbia Gas of Kentucky is beginning a promotional campaign for its free Home Energy Checkup program.
Since 2010, the utility, which serves 31 Kentucky counties, has offered the inspection service free to residential customers. The walkthrough audit generally takes about an hour and ends with a list of potential improvements that homeowners can make to save energy.
"It's absolutely painless," said Rick Staviski, a contractor for Columbia Gas who conducts the inspections.
Staviski said he inspects items such as ductwork.
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"I look at air infiltration into the house," he said. "A lot of people think the insulation is going to keep the air out, but insulation is not an air barrier.
"We're looking for ways air is getting in. A lot of it is duct leakage."
He noted sometimes it's areas where wires come into homes and the hole is larger than the wires.
The homeowner is required to be present.
"I was just really impressed with the service," said Lexington's Beth Alexander, whose home was inspected recently. "We've done some of what he suggested, and it's made quite a difference.
"One of the main things he found was our ductwork in the attic was not sealed completely."
Alexander's husband, Mark, sealed it, and "that made a big difference," she said.
The Home Energy Checkup program is one of a trio of energy-saving programs offered by Columbia Gas. The company also has a rebate program for natural gas appliances and a low-income furnace replacement offering. The programs are paid for by a small surcharge on customers' bills that was approved by the state Public Service Commission.
Columbia Gas is hoping more customers will begin using the Home Energy Checkup. There were 212 inspections in 2010 after the program began that April. That increased to 250 in 2011 but has since declined to 136 so far this year.
The company has begun promoting the program through advertisements on local radio and various Web sites, as well as through mailings and bill inserts. The company is also setting up a booth at Fayette Mall this holiday season, said spokeswoman Lisa Smith.
The promotional campaign came after focus groups were conducted earlier this year in Ashland and Lexington.
"What we learned was when natural gas prices are low, there's not really that sense of urgency to do something with your house and make it use energy more efficiently," Smith said. "Nevertheless, it's still a good thing to do.
"It can save you some energy and save you some money."