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For homeowners interested in saving energy and money over the long term, investing the time and resources into a whole home upgrade can reap big rewards. Austin Energy's Advanced Tier program has brought homeowners comfort and savings through a multistage process that involves energy advocates and emphasizes homeowner engagement.

The Advanced Tier program includes everything from insulation and weatherization to duct and HVAC system improvements. The program's goal was to achieve at least 20% energy savings per upgrade, using energy advocates to guide homeowners through the two- to four-month process and tiered incentives that increased when higher level savings were achieved.

Homeowner Jules Vieau's older house was ready for improvement. "The contractor used an infrared camera to show me problem areas, which was good," he says. Addressing these issues included installing new insulation, as well as a new heating and air conditioning unit that resulted in shorter and quieter run times. Since the upgrades, Vieau estimates that his home's energy use has been reduced by 25% or more. "I'm more comfortable, and the insulation has really made a difference."

Lower energy bills and improved comfort are not the only benefits from Austin's comprehensive program. Homeowner Karen Poff noticed that the weatherization included in her home energy upgrade resulted in a better smell in the kitchen, which is connected to her home's garage. "We found that smells from gas and garbage don't waft into the kitchen anymore," she says. As for air inside her home, Poff's replaced air conditioning unit led to better air flow. "I'd recommend it," she says of the Advanced Tier program, "Because it looks at the whole house, addressing all issues to maximize savings."

For Vieau, the all-in-one program's advantages were clear, and he advises other homeowners considering a whole-home energy upgrade: "Just to do it."