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One just has to love JB (editor’s note: haWell!) and how he gets so many guest articles. And even as we have gone past “Tagged”, to…

You are doing energy audits, correct? Hope you don’t mind if I ask, but what are you charging for them? Personal not for print… I am just trying to help {fellow blogger x}. She got a quote of $500 for assessment. And I thought that was high.

Truthfully, I don’t know.

BG&E our local energy does a free audit and I guess I was wondering if they are all the same.

Yes, I did edit for readability. And, of course, we protect the innocent.

TVA Energy Audit KitIn answer to the pricing question, not only did I point him to our pricing page, but explained that $500 might be reasonable depending on what it includes. So how about those free audits, $50 audits, or… are they bad? No, not necessarily as I know a few auditors that work for some utilities that subsidize the cost (i.e. you pay $50 & the electric company pays an additional $250), and are actually worth a lot more than they charge.  Along the same lines, I know plenty of people who have overpaid. Many, in fact, get taken with a “free” audit.

While there are hundreds if not thousands of variations of “audits” performed daily, it essentially boils down to two types; survey style & diagnostic.

The survey style is completed online or via a checklist (by the homeowner). A professional essentially does that same thing. The diagnostic version is when equipment is brought in to actually get passed what can be seen to test the actual performance of the house &/or specific items.

Survey Style (Web Based – Homeowner):

LBL’s Home Energy Saver (HES) is one of the most popular & is the basis from which many of other existing programs out there are built from. Many utilities like the TVA offer them for free (and occasionally include a give-away package with them) as an inducement to see if a real audit or if performing any upgrades would be worthwhile. The issue with many of these programs is that they use “simplified” inputs. Required to be within 25% of actual use for 70% of the homes. Personally, if you wish to use one (and don’t care about the gimmick give-away), I would recommend the HES version as it is constantly being improved.

Survey Style (The Walk-Through):

A walk through survey is popular with some utilities, salesmen, etc… and in essence is almost worthless.  In many cases, the auditor will provide you with a written or computer-generated report (suggestions, just like the type above).  Per DOE, RESNET, and other professional organizations though – Energy savings estimates and advice should only be generalized and presented with the qualification that a Diagnostic Audit is needed.  In many cases, a homeowner who keeps up with their home’s maintenance and checks for a few obvious issues, won’t gain much from this type of audit except for a sales pitch.

Diagnostic Audits:

A diagnostic audit in many cases will involve a blower door & maybe one or more pieces of equipment to actually help one not only put a number to any issues, but to help locate hidden issues.  One of the most popular sayings in this arena goes – “If you are not testing, you are just guessing.”

I was at a house just last week that absolutely blew my mind.  Although everything looked well-maintained, it wasn’t. I couldn’t believe just how bad it was. The upstairs duct leakage was over 30%, which one couldn’t have guessed with the insulation on them.  The downstairs was at least at 70% or more due to a hidden disconnected duct. The whole house leakage was dramatically higher than it should have been just due to those issues.  Of course there were other issues too, the big three – 2 fireplaces, attic stairs (not bad there, as it was weather-stripped), and a whole house fan.

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Depending on the tests done, this can dramatically affect the time and actual cost of an audit. IMO, there are two tests that should be mandatory, namely the Blower Door Test (preferably tied in with an Infrared scan) and the Duct Leakage Test. These tests required by newer codes (for both new or remodeled homes). They also find the two largest trouble spots for many consumers’ health, safety, comfort, and energy issues.

Not to name names, like BPI, but many programs skew duct testing. Inflated costs and issues caused by improperly designed systems neutralize their effectiveness. Unfortunately as mentioned in a recent article on duct sealing, it doesn’t take much to turn a high efficient 5-ton system into an inefficient 2.5-ton system. As for the issues with coils freezing up, the specialist working on sealing the ducts a simple static pressure test.

A special word about salesmen audits & claims:

While I have met a few that will give it to you straight, most (salesmen) auditors are there to sell you their product. From attic vents to radiant barriers, from ceramic paints to windows, there are enough snake oil salesmen to give everyone a bad name. Being informed and forewarned will not only help you save money on energy, but hopefully give you a much more comfortable & healthy house.

In closing:

In the end energy audit cost comes down to — the knowledge & abilities of the person doing the audit, what is included or tested, and if you are actually taking action on the suggestions/report.  Contrary to many ads I have seen, just having an audit doesn’t save you money. I would also highly recommend you consider having one done before you replace your HVAC equipment or before doing any major remodeling work. Nothing beats coming in after a siding replacement and spotting insulation problems. Issues potentially taken care of for next to nothing, either when the walls were open or when adding to exterior. Helps eliminate those hot rooms issues.

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Note from the hosts:  First, love the Sean and lots of good info. Thanks for posting it with us. 

Update: Sean Lintow has since become a regular contributor. Read all of his contributions, here.

I think I’ll leave it just like this, but I’ll add for the record, and true story, I advised “fellow blogger x” to try to determine exactly what was (and/or was not) included in her $500 estimate, she did not fall within BG&E‘s service area, I had no success trying to get in touch with a guy I knew that was more local to her, and . . . yep, I did in fact turn to Sean for advice on this matter.  I guess we’re like that.

Thanks for reading and happy weekend all. ~jb