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Monday, October 18, 2021

Energy Audit: Benefit or Baloney?

By Judy Zimola

Think of your home as a giant Thermos®.  Now, the red plaid exterior might not work with the neighborhood, but your home is intended to function like the bottle carried in any lunch box, by keeping its contents toasty warm or cool and fresh.  An energy audit is the first step in evaluating energy efficiency, and the best method of determining ways to keep energy (and money) from seeping away.  

A few options in conducting a home audit include filling out a quick set of questions online or hiring a professional to complete a thorough onsite evaluation.  The word “audit” may cause people to cringe and think expense, but it’s important to keep in mind that some energy-efficient upgrades may be eligible for federal rebates.  An energy audit is considered a proactive method of going green.  It’s also very attractive to potential homebuyers.  

“Sellers can get ahead of the game by doing their own energy audits, and use that as a selling point when they list the home,” Chris Wass of Firefly Living realtors said.  “It’s a way for sellers to differentiate themselves from tens of thousands of listings. We’re also seeing people pay more of a premium for homes that have green improvements.”

A cursory online audit can be done by logging on to APS.com/analyzer.  There are two versions of this program that can used to examine energy usage.  One version requires the user to log in to a secure site and use their home’s usage information and previous bills to help perform the analysis.  The second is an overall evaluation of usage depending on a few factors, including the home’s age and square footage.  According to Gavin Hasting, Sr. Program Coordinator at APS, all information entered on the APS website is secure.  He warns, however, “If people choose to use another website’s online audit, they should be cautious of how much information they’re asked to input.  If account numbers are part of the questionnaire, back away from the computer.”  

Non-APS customers can go to energystar.gov, and click on “Assess Your Home,” under the “Home Improvements” tab.  Hastings is passionate about educating consumers about home energy audits and all the benefits people can receive as part of the evaluation.  

“People can learn so much from a home audit,” Hastings said.  The online tool may be the first step, but for $99 an APS contractor can perform an on-site home evaluation. “They’ll use diagnostic equipment to determine air leaks, leaks in ducts, performance of your insulation, HVAC equipment and water heater.”  After the evaluation, homeowners will receive an assessment report and a list of suggested improvements.   

Those taking charge of their energy usage not only help green the environment, they add extra green to their bank accounts.  The return on a basic APS evaluation can yield a 5 to 30 percent savings, depending on the results of the findings. 

The next step to increasing home energy usage is scheduling a comprehensive home energy audit.  Hastings and Wass stressed the importance of these procedures as part of a home buying or selling check list.  “It should definitely become a standard part of the process,” Wass said.  “I highly recommend getting an audit done at point of sale.”  Both professionals stressed the importance to buyers and sellers to investigate “green” rebate and incentive offers.

A step up from the APS inspection is a professional home energy audit that involves a top-to-bottom examination of a home’s efficiency.  When looking for an energy auditor, check for credentials and ask for references. 

During an audit, professionals will poke and prod at every potential leaking point.  They use infrared cameras to detect air infiltration and missing insulation, blower doors to measure leaks in the building’s envelope, peer into lighting cans and poke into ductwork from attic to basement.  Homeowners are included in this audit, as well determining usage habits and finding solutions.

Where to start?

ENERGY STAR.  A program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the EPA that encourages a whole-house approach to diagnostics and retrofitting.  Their website, energystar.gov, includes a state-by-state list of professionals trained and certified to perform home energy audits. 

RESNET®, or Residential Energy Services Network, is another good source for finding qualified and specialized energy-trained contractors, resnet.org. 

• The Better Business Bureau and local references are also good resources for checking out a reputable contractor.

Upon completion, the homeowner will receive a detailed list of findings and solutions prioritized by areas of concern, along with general recommendations.  Some of the improvements may be pricey, but even the smallest improvements can make a home more efficient.  “The first couple thousand dollars you spend on green improvements are the most effective,” Wass said.  “Sealing up duct leaks, looking for insulation leaks, making sure windows and doors are tight will show quick returns on your money.” However, Wass advised that strategically planting trees to shade the house is one of the most effective ways to improve a home’s value.  “It’s not immediate, but has big returns,” Wass said.  “And it looks great.” 

Wass suggests planting only on the east, west and south sides of the house.  Make sure the trees are indigenous species, and shade any windows. 

No matter how simple or extensive, performing a home energy audit can improve the comfort of any home, increase energy savings and enhance market value.  Once the neighbors understand how efficiently an audited home can operate, they just might want a thermos plaid paint scheme of their own.

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