Home energy audits 101

Don't fear the audit: An Introduction

Does the phrase "home energy audit" put you on edge? Does the exact meaning of it remain abstruse, hard to understand? Do you envision one to be invasive, uncomfortable and revealing in a not-so-good way?

Well, it shouldn't. A home energy audit - the U.S. Department of Energy prefers the less sinister term "home energy assessment" - is nothing but beneficial, the first step in diagnosing how much energy your home consumes. Sure, a home energy audit might reveal your home's shortcomings in the efficiency department - poor insulation, leaky windows, a clunky HVAC system that should have been put to rest during the Regan administration--but identifying these problems and correcting them through retrofit projects both major and minor will ultimately help you save on utility bills, reduce your carbon footprint and live more comfortably.

In this introductory article you'll read more about the basics of home energy audits: how to go about setting one up, what exactly one entails and the million-dollar question: How much do they cost?

The do-it-yourself (DIY) audit

Although there's no real reason to be sheepish about inviting a professional energy auditor into your home for an initial assessment, many homeowners choose to go the do-it-yourself route and perform a residential energy audit themselves.

There are numerous online tools to assist homeowners in conducting DIY energy audits. ENERGY STAR offers a Home Energy Yardstick program that lets homeowners enter basic information including a home's location and square footage, yearly energy use and costs (as found on monthly utility bills or a year-end summary) and the energy sources being used in a home. With this information, homeowners can see how their home stacks up against similar homes across the country and then consult the ENERGY STAR Home Energy Advisor for suggested efficiency-boosting home improvement projects.

The Department of Energy's Energy Savers website also offers a DIY home energy assessment guide that lists key areas to be scrutinized during a self-audit: air leaks, insulation, HVAC equipment and lighting. As noted by the DOE, the guide is meant to assist during "simple but diligent" assessments. Don't rush it or cut corners. And if you think you may be in denial about certain energy-wasting peccadilloes your home may have, it may be best to bring in outside help.

Bringing in the pros

Two things to keep in mind when hiring a home energy auditing company: they aren't exactly hard to find--RESNET maintains a database of energy auditors and raters--and they won't always cost you an arm and a leg with average rates ranging from $250 to $500 with some companies offering simple walk-throughs for under $100. In addition to independent firms, many utility companies offer energy audits, often free of charge. Like securing a babysitter or auto mechanic, it helps to ask around when settling on an energy auditor. Perform a bit of reconnaissance work--make some phone calls, check references and compare rates.

So what can one expect during a preliminary visit from a home energy auditor? Expect an initial interview/review of your utility bills and a room-by-room walk through of your home in which the auditor(s) pinpoints areas of energy waste. Based on their findings, an auditor will make recommendations on how to correct any energy inefficiencies through energy saving home improvement projects.

An auditor will not perform any actual improvements during a visit--this is just an assessment--although some audits are more comprehensive than others with some firms offering retrofitting services at an additional cost. Most reputable energy auditors use special tools such as infrared cameras, blower doors, furnace efficiency meters and other items not available to DIY energy auditors.

For many homeowners the step after a home energy audit, following through on an auditor's recommendations and embarking on energy-saving home improvement projects, can be financially daunting. But with careful prioritizing and a helping hand from both federal and state retrofitting rebate programs, doing so will ultimately keep money in your pocket.

About the Author:

Matt Hickman, a Brookynite with an affinity for Dt. Coke, keeps busy as an eco-friendly writer. His work has appeared in CITY Magazine, GreenYour website, Curbed, Mother Nature Network and more.