Is a Home Energy Audit Worth the Cost?
A home energy audit is designed to assess your home’s energy efficiency. The auditor does a thorough examination to determine where your home is losing energy (and thus, money), then makes recommendations for improving your home’s efficiency.
Professional energy auditors go room by room to assess energy use. They look for air leaks and insulation gaps. They examine the efficiency of equipment such as your furnace and hot water heater, and they analyze your past energy bills. Most audits include a blower door test, which determines a home’s airtightness, and an infrared scan, which uncovers air leaks and insulation gaps invisible to the eye. When the inspection is done, any good inspector will prioritize his or her recommendations in terms of effectiveness and provide you with a written report.
An energy audit is the first step to lowering your energy bills, but it doesn’t do any good if you fail to implement the auditor’s suggestions. The potential energy savings vary based on the size and condition of your home, but the U.S. Department of Energy says that energy efficient upgrades based on an auditor’s recommendations can shave 5 to 30 percent from your monthly energy bills.
The Cost of an Energy Audit
Home energy audits are relatively inexpensive. They usually cost about $300 to $500. The real expense comes in making the recommended improvements. A new furnace might cost you $5,000, while new windows could cost $20,000.
However, the beauty of a home energy audit is that YOU decide which improvements are worth the expense. If you’re on a limited budget, you can choose to address only the No. 1 cause of wasted energy, or you can focus solely on inexpensive and DIY fixes. And in many cases, an auditor can save you money by telling you where not to invest. Think those 20-year-old windows need to be replaced? An auditor might tell you that sealing the windows will result in a better bang for your buck.
Also, keep in mind that any improvements you make may qualify you for a tax credit. Through the end of 2013, homeowners can deduct 10 percent of their expenses on certain energy improvements up to a total of $500. Eligible improvements include new furnaces, water heaters, boilers, insulation, windows and roofs.
Preparing for Your Energy Audit
Some simple preparations on your part will streamline the process and make the audit more effective. Gather your monthly energy bills for the last year (you can often find these online if you no longer have paper copies), and make a list of major concerns such as drafty windows. Be prepared to answer questions about the average thermostat settings in the summer and winter, and which hours of the day your family members are home.
Choosing an Auditor
- Before you pay for an auditor, find out if your local utility company offers free or discounted energy audits. Many of them do.
- If you do need to hire an auditor, consider hiring one that is Energy Star approved. Energy Star also has a list of approved contractors you can consult when you’re ready to have the work done.
- Make sure any auditor you hire performs a blower door test and an infrared scan. Visual inspections alone are not enough to identify all sources of energy inefficiency.
- Always do background research on any auditor you’re thinking of hiring. Check his or her rating with the Better Business Bureau. Ask for references and call all of them – were they satisfied with the service? Find out how long the auditor has been in business.
- Never hire a company or contractor with something to gain to do your energy audit. Window companies sometimes offer free energy audits, but you can guess what they’re going to tell you to do. Find an unbiased professional.