The high heating bills that come with winter's chill have sent some homeowners hunting for energy efficiency.

"It's been cold. People have been cranking up the heat," said Jim Apperson, owner of Apperson Energy Management, with offices in Mendocino and Sonoma counties.

When they find it costs too much to keep the house toasty, some seek a home energy evaluation.

Kimberly Melvin and her husband this year had their drafty Ukiah home evaluated and opted for a house retrofit, including insulation, double-paned windows, new furnace and air conditioning.

Apperson also made safety checks and found her oven was emitting unsafe amounts of carbon dioxide, a problem that was fixed with a new vent fan. The energy makeover cost the family about $23,000, but they recouped $5,500 in rebates and are saving money on their monthly energy bills.

"It was so well worth it. The money we're saving is incredible," Melvin said.

Last winter, her monthly heating bill was close to $220 a month. Her November bill this year was $120, she said.

"I keep it warm" because of the children, Melvin said. But now it stays warm enough for minimally clad children when the thermostat is set in the mid-60s.

The makeover was conducted utilizing a new program, Energy Upgrade California, a collaboration of counties, cities, non-profits and utility companies. Property owners can find out what energy-saving incentives are available in their area by going to www.energyupgradeca.org, and then entering their zip codes.

Homeowners have nothing to lose by having their homes evaluated because rebates cover their costs.

"So it's free," Apperson said.

The tests are comprehensive, with two energy technicians spending three hours at each home, he said.

Last week, Vince Caffery and Sergio Galarza were busy evaluating a vintage west Ukiah home. Their work included sealing off the front door with a vinyl-covered frame fitted with a fan. Facing outward, the fan pulled air out of the house, creating a vacuum inside. That allowed the technicians to measure how much air was leaking using a hand-held computer.

A smoke-emitting device helps locate the leaks.

"We have tangible evidence where drafts are," Caffery said.

An evaluation looks at a home as a whole system rather than at individual parts — like the insulation, windows and ducts, Apperson said.

Making changes piecemeal can result in something like a heating system that is too large for the house, causing it to cycle on and off frequently and inefficiently, he said.

Looking at individual symptoms also can lead to erroneous assumptions, Apperson said. People often think they need insulation under their homes because the floors feel cold when in fact the problem is air leaks elsewhere in the house sucking the cold air up through the floor. The solution is getting rid of the air leaks, not insulating the floors, which has a minimal effect on a home's energy efficiency in our climate, Apperson said.

To be eligible for Energy Upgrade rebates, a home must be tested before and after installation of new devices to prove they work.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or Glenda.anderson @pressdemocrat.com.