Home Energy Audit 101: What You Should Know

Blower doorHome energy audits are a new concept in the real estate industry.  Energy efficiency continues to be a hot topic as costs rise and the world becomes more educated on these issues.  With the increased frequency of extreme weather, its hard to deny that our habits are affecting the environment.  If we want to give future generations a fair shot at a quality life, we need to take action and it starts with each individual.  We need to change our habits and start living more efficiently.  The efficiency of cars has advanced, as well as in homes.  The difference is, the car industry is easier to change due to in frequency we purchase a new car verses a new home.  We can’t just go tear down all these inefficient homes and build new ones.  However, we can alter our homes to become more energy efficient.  A home energy audit is the best way to prioritize improvements geared at saving energy and money over the years.

What is an energy audit?

Good question!  It’s a whole house approach to evaluating the performance of your home with regard to efficiency, safety and water management.  The whole house approach is important because, many times one area of the home is affecting the other and changes to one aspect can lead to problems in another.  The audit will access the performance of the home from a building science approach and give the homeowner a prioritized action plan.

How do I find the right auditor?

Hiring an auditor with the right certifications and experience is crucial.  I am not trying to put anyone down, but there are a lot of energy auditing services that will only recommend things that are common sense and very basic.  The company you hire should be an expert in building science and not just qualified to recommend switching from incandescent to CFL bulbs.  Reputable certifications to look for would be from the Building Performance Institute (BPI), Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), LEED and ENERGY STAR Rater Partners.  I am not saying those are the only credible certifications, but these organizations take building science very seriously and are used by ENERGY STAR, EPA and many other agencies and programs within the industry.  Many auditing companies will hold multiple certifications.  BPI Certified is very important for auditing existing homes.

How much should I be paying for an audit?

Do not hire the auditor that quotes you the lowest price!  “You get what you pay for” is a very true statement in every industry.  A real audit should cost anywhere from around $300 to $1000+, depending on the number of tests being run and of course the market you are located in.  If you see advertisements for audits under $300 be very cautious (some companies will offer A La Carte services for lower than $300 and that is fine.  We offer A La Carte Services in the $250 range).  The auditors experience in the construction and remodeling industry is also very important.  Make sure you ask questions and do your research before you hire someone.

Be careful hiring an auditing company that performs the work in which they are recommending.  Remember, they are more than likely profiting off of that work, which can leave room for biased opinions.  I don’t want to include every company in that statement because, there are some out there that are very honest.  Just  be careful.  Companies offering very low up front audit prices should raise a red flag to you.  I realize using separate companies might not be the cheapest option, but if you are spending a lot of money on a major retrofit, the upfront price of the audit is minimal and will pay for itself if you get the right recommendations.

If you do choose a separate auditing company and they recommend a contractor, make sure you ask them if they are getting any percentage of the sale.  Get multiple bids for any work recommended.  If you are managing the renovation project on your own, take a look at our 10 steps for starting home renovation projects.

What should the audit include?

  • Interior and exterior evaluation of the home.  These inspections should focus on the building envelope, water management, HVAC system, lighting and appliances.
  • Checking the accessible natural gas lines for leaks.
  • Air infiltration testing.  This test will see if the home is too leaky or too air tight.  If the home is leaky, it would benefit from air sealing to improve efficiency.  If the home is too tight, mechanical ventilation is a must to maintain good indoor air quality.  A blower door is the ideal tool to run this test, which will give you scientific numbers to compare to industry standards.  The key is to find the balance between efficiency and indoor air quality.
  • Many auditors are trained to use thermal infrared cameras to use in conjunction with the blower door, which shows you visually the location of air leaks.  This is also a great tool to locate missing or inadequate  insulation.
  • Combustion appliance testing is very important to make sure your combustion appliances are running efficiently and safe.  A number of tests should be done on these appliances.  Typically the furnace, water heater and range (if they are fueled by gas).
  • Duct leakage is also a service that auditors sometimes offer.  Most duct work in existing homes is very leaky, so many times this service is a waste of money.  The bottom line is if the joints on the duct work are not sealed, they should be.  Hire your HVAC contractor to seal the joints and boot connections with mastic.  If you are having concerns with low amounts of air being distributed to a room, when the furnace or AC is on, then you could have some other issues with the duct work and in that case discuss the problem with your auditor.
  • A good audit should include a report with pictures, numbers and recommended solutions.  The recommended solutions should be prioritized.

I hope this answers some of the general questions when it comes to energy audits.  Many states are seeing similar audits being required when a home gets sold.  I have a feeling this will become a normal process in the years to come.  Remember, at one point general home inspections were not used.  Now it would be almost considered insane not to get one performed prior to purchasing.  If you are buying a home, consider an audit.  Know what you are getting yourself into.

GreenEdge offers many services to homeowners or anyone looking to purchase a home.  CLICK HERE for more information on our services.


One Response to Home Energy Audit 101: What You Should Know

  1. C. Marshall February 12, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    Absolutely. A home energy audit is the one of the best things a home owner can do. We encourage new home owners to have one soon after they take possession of their house. Home owners a can start saving money right way and it doesn’t matter what time of year it is.

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