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Home Energy Audits FAQ

December 7, 2013 | Posted by Mitt Jones
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Home energy projects often begin with a home energy assessment, and for good reason: Before you set out on any journey, it helps to know not only where you’re going but also how to get there and what obstacles you might encounter. Read on for answers to questions we frequently receive about home energy audits.

What is a home energy audit?

Home-energy-audits-FAQ.jpgA home energy audit is the first step in developing a plan for what energy-related work you want to complete on your house and in what order.

At its most basic, a home energy audit is a site inspection that focuses on how well a house uses and retains energy.

For a home performance contractor, this assessment includes an additional focus on occupant health and safety.

Along with extensive visual inspection, the home energy audit usually includes diagnostic testing that helps the auditor gain a more complete understanding of how the house performs.

Why should I start with a home energy audit if I already know I need insulation?

There are several compelling reasons to start with a home energy audit. Please refer to our recent blog post on this topic for a more comprehensive answer.

What is included in a home energy audit?

It’s always smart to ask what’s included in an energy audit before you commit to a given program or company. The free home energy audits offered by some window installers and HVAC companies often comprise only a light survey of insulation levels followed by an energetic sales pitch.

When performed by a home performance contractor, a full home energy audit generally includes these components:

  • Visual inspection inside and outside house
  • Thermal infrared scan of walls and ceiling
  • Blower-door testing
  • Duct-leakage testing
  • Combustion safety testing
  • Gas leak testing
  • Home performance report with findings and recommendations

What kind of report will I receive?

This is another great question to ask as you decide which company will perform your home energy assessment.

The scope and depth of your report depends on the type of audit and who performs it. Even among home performance companies, reports may range from a one-page summary to a 10-page report with detailed recommendations.

Here’s what we think: When you hire a company to conduct a Home Perfornance with ENERGY STAR assessment, your home performance report should give you enough information to understand how your home uses (and loses) energy. It should also provide guidance about how to solve those problems.

We recommend choosing a company that will provide at least these elements in your report:

  • Summary of test results
  • Summary of observed conditions and insulation levels in all relevant areas
  • Recommendations for how to achieve your goals for the house
  • Recommendations regarding any health and safety issues
  • Estimated energy savings for recommended measures

Your audit and report may also include some sort of energy rating, such as the Energy Performance Score (EPS) developed by Energy Trust of Oregon. 

What is a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR assessment?

In a nutshell, this is a home energy audit that includes diagnostic testing such as a blower door test as well as combustion safety testing.

Home Performance with ENERGY STAR is a national program that encourages the house-as-a-system approach when diagnosing and solving home energy problems. The program is run by the U.S. Department of Energy in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. .

In Portland and other areas of the country with strong Home Performance with ENERGY STAR programs, comprehensive home energy audits may be referred to as Home Performance with ENERGY STAR assessments.

Who should perform a home energy audit?

This one’s easy: We recommend insisting on a home performance professional with certifications from the Building Performance Institute, or BPI.

This usually means choosing a home performance company, though some specialty contractors such as HVAC companies also employ BPI-certified auditors.

One qualifier: Where you live makes a difference. Here in the Portland area and in many other areas with strong energy efficiency programs, the community of home energy efficiency programs and companies focusing on existing homes is based on BPI specifications.

In some areas a competing approach developed by an organization called the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) may be available. In those areas, a certified RESNET HERS Rater may be a good choice.

How much does a home energy audit cost?

Home energy audit fees depend on the type of audit, market conditions, and available incentive programs in your area.

In the Portland area, home performance assessments typically run $300 to $500.

Nationwide, prices range much wider, though most areas probably fall within the $300 to $800 range.

How long does a home energy audit take?

Walkthrough audits offered for free by utility companies, window installers, and HVAC companies generally take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.

A more-thorough home performance review typically requires about two hours to complete. 

A thorough Home Performance with ENERGY STAR assessment performed by a two-person team commonly takes from three to five hours.

How should I prepare for a home energy audit?

If you have chosen a full Home Performance with ENERGY STAR assessment, it’s important to ensure that no fires have been burning in wood-burning fireplaces in your home for at least 12 hours before your audit. This ensures that we can safely run the blower door test, which will likely pull air in through your chimney and fireplace.

It also helps to clean ash from your fireplace before we arrive (unless there are glass doors on the fireplace). If ashes remain, we’ll need to remove them or cover them with wet newspaper before we run the blower door.

It's also important provide clear access to all areas of the house during the audit, including crawlspaces and attics.

Finally, if practical, have a copy of your utility bills ready to review, especially if you’ve lived in the house for at least a year.

Is the house safe for our children during a home energy audit?

Children are typically welcome during home energy audits. Toddlers should be supervised during the blower door test to ensure that they do not stick fingers into the grille of the blower door fan.

A watchful eye also helps ensure that children don’t decide to join the auditor to explore the attic and crawlspace.

If asbestos or mold is present in a home, potentially harmful fibers or particles could be pulled through the house during a blower door test. Home performance professionals are trained to check for these risks beforehand and to refrain from running the blower door when they are present.

Is the house safe for our pets during a home energy audit?

Pets do just fine a home energy audit. Cats typically hide or remain asleep. Dogs eventually get bored. For pets that can’t resist an adventure or open door, keeping them secure when we inspect an attic or crawlspace is a good idea.

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