Looking for cost-effective ways to reduce your home’s energy consumption? As discussed in our section on heating and air-conditioning services, a good first step is to get, and use, a programmable thermostat—limiting the amount of time your heating and cooling equipment run is the easiest way to reduce consumption.

Another way to save is to install or add insulation where needed, and to seal cracks and gaps to reduce air leakage. If your home is under-insulated or has a lot of air leakage, heat escapes during winter and your hard-earned money floats away with it. In summer, heat flows into cool spaces in your home, raising your cooling bill.

If you don’t have any attic insulation now, adding to the recommended level and sealing big leaks produces substantial savings that fairly quickly recoup the costs of the improvements. But before considering insulation improvements, first find and plug air leaks—holes, cracks, and gaps that let cold air in and warm air out in the winter—and do the reverse in the summer. One little leak might not seem like much, but the cumulative effect of several leaks can amount to the equivalent of leaving open a small window. If you have a lot of leaks, they will dramatically decrease the value of any insulation you add. Also check for holes or gaps in exposed ductwork and seal them with duct tape. Leaky ducts can waste 20 percent or more of your home heating energy bill.

Our ratings of insulation contractors reveal that most insulation contractors seem to do satisfactory work. Because prices vary widely from company to company, get several price quotes. It’s worth your time to collect at least a few prices. Consumers' Checkbook’s mystery shoppers found dramatic company-to-company price differences for an insulation job we priced with local outfits.