Most homeowners have only a vague idea of how energy efficient their home is. We pay our bills and try to quell the nagging feeling that we are probably paying more than we should. Why? Because we fear the unknown. An energy audit has to be expensive, right? And who has the extra money to pay for the systems upgrades they will undoubtedly recommend?
The truth is, however, that while energy audits tend to run around $400, government agencies often offer incentives bringing the cost way down. Seattle City Light, for example, is currently offering King County costumers energy audits for $95. They also offer rebates and affordable loans through their Community Power Works program. And while an energy audit will undoubtedly uncover needed upgrades of some kind, keep in mind that the initial expense will be offset by energy savings over time. And even if you decide to delay upgrades, you will have the knowledge you need to prioritize improvement projects. It’s possible that a small fix could save you big time over the long run.
In addition to helping the general homeowner, an energy audit can also be invaluable to those who are in the market to buy or sell their home. Buyers should consider including an audit as part of the inspection process to evaluate a home’s energy efficiency and estimate costs of upgrades. Seller’s can use an audit to identify potential upgrades that can add value and boost sales potential. If the home is already energy efficient, an assessment will offer a persuasive marketing tool. Regardless of whether you are buying, selling or improving, homeowners will want to make sure testing and assessment is part of the decision making process before beginning any major renovation or retrofitting of systems.
So what exactly is an energy audit?
There are two types of energy audits. The simplest and quickest diagnostic method is a walk-through energy survey, sometimes called a clipboard audit or simple assessment. During the survey process the evaluator will do a visual inspection of the following:
- Building envelope (walls, windows, doors and insulation)
- Heating & cooling types, characteristics and ages
- Appliance types, characteristics and ages
- Lighting characteristics
- Moisture indicators
- Comfort and health issues (including drafts & cold and hot spots)
- Review of utility bills
The evaluation report will include recommendations for improving energy efficacy, low-cost and DIY fixes and corrective measures and available utility programs and incentives.
A more thorough energy audit uses technology tools and performance tests such as the Blower Door Test, Duct Blaster Test and Thermographic Scanning to identify issues in a home. Testing determines where and how energy is being lost, what systems are operating inefficiently and what cost-effective improvements can be implemented.
When selecting an energy assessment professional, be sure to ask what type of inspections and tests will be performed and what the analysis report will contain.
Portions of this article are taken from the 2011 Green Resource Council of the National Association of Realtors manual.