With temperatures hitting record lows all over the country, trying to keep the house warm without spending a fortune is at the top of everybody’s checklist. But where do you even begin?

When it comes to increasing energy efficiency, most homeowners use the guess-and-spend method. Chilly rooms? Install weather stripping. Damp bathroom? Put in a fan vent. Icy-cold windows? Upgrade to double-paned glass.

But when these fixes don’t work as well as expected, homeowners are left with a uncomfortable house and a wasted investment. Even with the help of a contractor, it’s easy to end up wasting money on a so-called solution that doesn’t fix the problem.

So what’s a savvy homeowner to do?

Don’t Just Guess-and-Spend

To answer that question, we talked to the experts at BPI. If you don’t already know about BPI (its full name is Building Performance Institute), then you should: the independent agency sets industry standards for residential energy efficiency, and has some valuable tools to offer homeowners.

The most valuable tool by far? A home energy audit.

Most Americans, explains BPI CEO Larry Zarker, live in homes that were built before modern energy codes were established. That means big problems such as poor air quality, arctic drafts, and gargantuan heating bills caused by up to 40% of heated air escaping from the home before it can do its job. But when homeowners approach fixing these big problems, they may waste money guessing at solutions that don’t work.

“You might think you need new windows,” says Zarker, “and that will be a ten or twenty thousand dollar investment. But in many cases, windows are pretty far down the list in terms of priority because the payback is so low. Test before you invest. Let’s go for the biggest bang for the buck.”

Test Before You Invest

If bang for the buck is what you’re looking for, then a home energy audit is the way to go.

A home energy audit is not something you can DIY. In fact, the point of an audit is to save you the money that you’d waste if you tried to guess your home’s energy efficiency problems and fix them yourself.

The BPI motto for homeowners is test before you invest.  In a home energy audit, a contractor that has earned the BPI GoldStar credential comes to your home and uses tailor-made tools to figure out the real reasons why that back room is always drafty or your energy bill is always so high. The professional inspects your entire home from top to bottom, determines what’s really going on, then works with you to create a road map of improvements that you can make to get a more comfortable home. The professional can even work with you to coordinate your road map with Department of Energy and Energy Star incentive programs, such as rebates and low-interest loans, so you can stop wasting money on changes that don’t make a difference, and get a toasty-warm home for less.

BPI can also help you get the work on your roadmap done effectively: BPI-certified professionals are trained to test before and after work is done, so you can rest assured that you’ll see real results.

Get a Toasty Home Without Wasting Money

If you’re one of the 130 million homeowners living in a home with energy efficiency issues, then a home energy audit from a BPI-certified pro is your secret weapon for home energy efficiency. Instead of spending double this year on the guess-and-spend method, consider getting a home energy audit. Look for the BPI-certified badge on contractors’ Porch profiles, check out home energy auditing incentives in your state, and get a toasty home this year without wasting money.

Top Image Credit: Motionspace Architecture + Design, PLLC