What is a Home Energy Audit and Why Should I Get One Done?

Ranch style home -energy audit

A home is a complicated system that can hold a number of surprises. Whether it’s air leakages, backdrafts or poor insulation, every home is going to have something that can be fixed or improved upon. A home energy audit (also known as an energy audit, energy assessment or energy evaluation) is a process that a home occupant can take to assess a home’s energy efficiency and how to improve that efficiency and save money. And it isn’t just energy and money that can be saved. Following the recommendations of an energy audit can also improve the health and safety of a home.

Types of energy audits

An energy audit can be classified according to how they are done (either by a professional or DIY) and when they’re done (pre- or post-retrofit).

Professional energy audit – Hiring an energy professional will provide more detailed and accurate results than going the DIY route but will cost you some cash. In an energy audit done by a professional the whole home is thoroughly assessed by visual inspection and by using specialized tools to record the home’s energy efficiency. Some of the things the auditor will do is measure your insulation, record the efficiency of your heating and air conditioning and water fixtures. It generally takes a couple of hours to complete and you’ll receive a report that assesses your house’s efficiency, where utilities and money can be saved and what rebates you could qualify for (if applicable in your area). One typical concern of hiring a professional auditor is that they may be trying to sell you something. Avoid this by hiring an independent third-party energy auditor and one that’s not related to your energy provider.

DIY energy audit – If doing it yourself you likely won’t have all the nifty gadgets to assess your home to the same degree and you won’t have all the knowledge and experience that the professional auditor can impart to you. But it does make for a good first step that will point out some problems that you can remedy on your own like caulking windows and door frames.

Pre-retrofit audit – Since audits are often done in conjunction with applying for rebates, to qualify for a rebate a professional auditor has to establish how much energy a home was using before the retrofit. That is the primary purpose of a pre-retrofit audit, though the home will also be assessed for other factors, like health and safety.

Post-retrofit audit – This audit is performed after a retrofit has been done to ensure that the retrofits have actually saved the particular amount of energy the home needs to save in order to qualify for the rebate.

Why should I perform a home energy audit?

Save energy – The average home leaks enough air to add up to the equivalent of a two-foot square hole, which is like leaving a medium-sized window open 24 hours a day. While it may seem far-fetched that your cozy abode has that much air leakage, that factoid from the Department of Energy is no joke—which is why air sealing is such a big deal. Just by fixing air leakage and insulation you can save up to 30 percent on your energy bills, according to DCSEU. Though doing these two things together is the most cost effective way to save both energy, the energy audit will make other suggestions for saving energy, such as changing old appliances.

Save money – If you take the required steps that an energy audit suggests (i.e. air sealing the home, adding insulation and replacing old appliances) you can save on your utility bills. How much you save depends on what kind of upgrades you make to your home.

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions – In addition to saving money, another effect of saving energy is reducing greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. from using less natural gas for heating and less electricity for air conditioning).

Improve health and safety – In energy audits a home is inspected for health and safety. An example is inspecting the electrical system to ensure the wiring is done properly and will not lead to electrical fires. If you’re burning fuel in your home for heating it’s essential that the appliance has adequate air supply. During an energy audit the home can be tested for proper air supply to avoid this. An audit can also reveal unhealthy indoor air pollution and dangerous backdrafts from combustion appliances.

image: Foter.com (Creative Commons BY-SA)

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