Home Energy Audits

In a Nutshell

Home energy audits are very important. You should not go about your business without having your doctor give you a physical. And you should not go on living in your home without having an energy audit. According to the Dept of Energy, the average home wastes more than 30% of all the energy coming in to the home.

A home energy checkup helps owners determine where their house is losing energy and money - and how such problems can be corrected to make the home more energy efficient. A professional technician -- often called an energy auditor -- can give your home a checkup. Items shown here include checking for leaks, examining insulation, inspecting the furnace and ductwork, performing a blower door test and using an infrared camera

Practical Solution

The “How To”The “How To”

Energy.govpublishes a guide to preparing your home for a professional energy audit. They also give tips on how to choose an auditor.  They also publish a guide called “Living Comfortably: A Consumer’s Guide to Home Energy Upgrades.”It gives homeowners four steps to creating an energy efficient home, including a home energy audit. Finally, they publish a guide called “Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audits”which instructs home owners on conducting their own audits.

Green Houston, a project of the City of Houston, Texas, publishes the guide “Home Energy Audit”.The guide takes homeowners through a step by step process on how to conduct their own audits and what to test for.

Keep Illinois Warmalso provides a page on their site with a guide for people to conduct their own audits, and also lists of Certified Energy Raters, to allow residents to “Obtain professional help in performing an energy assessment of your home. Find a certified energy rater in your area: Illinois Association of Energy Raters.”

A complete home energy audit should include at least the following:

  1. A blower door test-This lets you know how leaky your home is, and the auditor should be able to show you where significant leaks are and how to deal with them.
  2. Combustion testing on all gas appliances – hot water heaters, furnaces, stoves and ovens, gas fireplaces, etc can be burning poorly, allowing emissions into the home, or leaking gas. All of these are dangerous.
  3. An attic examination – there may be poor or no insulation up there, there could be holes and leaks that allow air to move between the attic and the living space, there may be water damage from roof leaks that haven’t shown up in the living space yet, there could be exposed wiring, or a number of other things that should be fixed immediately.
  4. Checking for lighting issues. The result of all this should be an understandable report that the owner can use to fix issues found.

Planning & ZoningPlanning & Zoning

The City of Tallahassee offers Free Home Energy Auditsfor City of Tallahassee Residential Electric and Natural Gas Customers.

The Missouri Division of Energy offers information and forms for tax deductions and auditor certification.

Home energy audits and the results can be of significant value to the community. First, the reduction of energy usage by a number of buildings can reduce the need to build new power plants and/or add additional power lines or gas pipes to a neighborhood. Secondly, the reduction of utility bills adds wealth to the local community. And if that spent in the community, then additional money flows to the municipality as sales and income taxes from the businesses absorbing the new money. Finally, a building with lower utility bills and a certified audit can command a higher price at sale. We like to look at “Total Cost of Ownership”, which includes mortgage payments, utility payments, insurance, and property taxes. If that total has been lowered, the new owner can afford a higher sale price.

Dollars & CentsDollars & Cents

Energy.gov gives a listof tax credits, rebates and savings sortable by state, eligibility, what the savings are for, providers and any expiration dates.

The Home Energy Saver™ (HES)(a program of the Department of Energy) empowers homeowners and renters to save money, live better, and help the earth by reducing energy use in their homes. HES recommends energy-saving upgrades that are appropriate to the home and make sense for the home's climate and local energy prices. The money invested in these upgrades commonly earns "interest" in the form of energy bill savings, at an annual rate of 20% or more (see examples). HES also estimates the home's carbon footprint and shows how much it can be reduced.” They also provide a page that lists all financial incentivesthat homeowners can apply for.

As noted above, the average home wastes 30% of all the energy coming into it. This can be old, inefficient furnaces and water heaters, poor or no insulation in the attic and other places, “phantom” or “vampire” electronics, or a lot of other things. In most cases, fixing just these things can save thousands of dollars and pay for themselves in a short period of time. Another value is that the home can be made safer and more comfortable. It can be thought of as an investment - spending some money to get money back in the form of lower utility bills. Then you can “invest” the savings to produce additional savings.

Measuring SuccessMeasuring Success

The Home Energy Saver™ (HES)empowers homeowners and renters to save money, live better, and help the earth by reducing energy use in their homes. HES recommends energy-saving upgrades that are appropriate to the home and make sense for the home's climate and local energy prices. HES also estimates the home's carbon footprint and shows how much it can be reduced.”

Montgomery County, Maryland provides a page on their sitewhich lists the long term benefits of having a home energy audit and improving the home’s energy use. 

The Energy Star website provides the Home Energy Yardstick. The “EPA's Home Energy Yardstick provides a simple assessment of your home's annual energy use compared to similar homes. By answering a few basic questions about your home, you can get:

  1. Your home's Home Energy Yardstick score (on a scale of 1 to 10);
  2. Insights into how much of your home's energy use is related to heating and cooling versus other everyday uses like appliances, lighting, and hot water;
  3. Links to guidance from ENERGY STAR on how to increase your home's score, improve comfort, and lower utility bills; and
  4. An estimate of your home's annual carbon emissions.”

There are many ways to measure success concerning a home energy audit. First, just like when you have your own physical, is the peace of mind that there is nothing serious wrong with your home. Second, if there is something wrong, that you caught it before there was trouble. Also, as noted above, you can actually measure the reduction in your utility bills. If you think of that as an investment, you can be less concerned when you see the cost of energy rising because you did something about it. Put your old bills into a spreadsheet, and then put the new numbers in as they come in. You will be able to see the improvements and how much they add up.

Discover MoreDiscover More

The Building Performance Institute, Inc. provides a guide to Home Energy Auditing Standards.

Energy.gov publishes personal accounts of successful home audits. In the article“Home Energy Audits: Making Homes More Energy Efficient and Comfortable”, they highlight a Philadelphia family who got an audit, their motivations, and their savings. Similarly, the article “Small Changes Help Long Island Homeowner Save Big on Energy Costs”describes how a Long Island, New York woman made partial changes suggested by her audit, which changes those were, and what her savings turned out to be.

Energy.gov also publishes a guide to home energy auditingincluding how to prepare, find and select an auditor. It also provides a link to the “Residential Energy Services Network(which) provides a directory of certified energy raters and auditors near you.” There are also additional links with further education.

Most homeowners know a lot more about their television or their car than they do about their home. Many good websites exist to help learn, but an audit is the right place to start. The US Department of Energy has a number of good sites to visit and learn from. These include the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) website, Energy Star and the main site itself http://energy.gov/public-services/homes/home-weatherization/home-energy-audits