Temperatures have dropped over the last week and with the threat of frost in the air, folks are looking at their houses and thinking its time to weatherize. However, not all weatherization is the same, and a few missteps can cost in the long run.

A lot of commercials purport that replacement windows provide answers to cold, drafty homes, but new windows are expensive and may not be the best answer for you. How do homeowners really know what is the best solution? Some window companies may even offer a free or low-cost energy audit. While an energy audit of your house is the right idea, a company that offers a free or low-cost audit may have an ulterior motive. More than likely, their audit will reveal you need new windows, for example. (Similar no-cost/low cost offers may be made by insulation companies, etc.)

The only way to really know what is needed and thereby get you the best energy savings and possibly qualify you for tax rebates or incentives is to have a qualified energy audit performed. This type of audit will typically run anywhere from $500 to $600. While this is a lot of money, if weatherization work is performed the cost is typically reimbursed through the qualifying rebates or incentives.

Instead of replacing whole windows, your home may only need caulking around windows or doors. You may need added attic or wall insulation. Homes built before 2000 are especially vulnerable to these types of needs. The homeowner can complete many necessary items on the checklist and still qualify for the rebates and incentives.

Other items as simple as wrapping insulation blankets around the hot water heater and its pipes, using aerators on all faucets, changing incandescent light bulbs to either compact fluorescent lamps or LEDs (light-emitting diodes), installing programmable thermostats, and installing ceiling fans can greatly decrease you energy usage.

If you want to step up a Green level and decrease your dependence on our natural resources, solar energy is now at a place where regular residential customers can afford this option, even to the point of selling extra power back to the grid.

One way to think about the audit process is to compare it to the shade tree mechanic. It was easiest to make the most apparent and cheapest step when repairing a car. When the first step did not work, you simply repaired the next cheapest part, until you finally got the car working.

Now, you take the car to the auto repair shop and they hook it up to a computer, which immediately shows where and what the problem is. An energy audit works the same. It shows the homeowner immediately what needs to be done, allowing you to make the best and greenest choice on a course of action.

Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association; a residential energy client service coordinator certified by the National Energy Retrofit Institute, and a former nature center manager.