Decide whether an audit will empower you or simply waste your energy
If you've learned to accept your drafty home and eye-popping heating bills, it may be time to call in a second opinion. A home energy audit puts your home under a microscope to find out where it's using more heating, cooling, and electrical power than it should be. But with service costs ranging between $200 and $700, there are some pros and cons of energy audits you should know.
What is a Home Energy Audit?
Home energy auditors are certified and highly trained pros that know how to spot how, where, and when a building uses and loses energy. When you hire a local energy audit company, they will assess the many ways your home uses fuel and where you can make cost-saving and carbon-lowering renovations. This may include analyzing:
Door and window insulation seals
Wall, floor, and ceiling insulation
Basement and crawl space insulation
HVAC energy ratings
Wiring and lighting equipment
Appliance energy ratings
You can also choose the extent of your audit depending on your needs and budget. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) sets three levels of home energy audits used for commercial and residential buildings.
Level one: A baseline walkthrough audit that costs between $150 and $200.
Level two: A detailed survey of your home's energy usage for around $200 to $650.
Level three: A highly in-depth audit that provides updated technology and renovation recommendations for around $650 to $900.
An audit at any level is a great investment, but let's go over some perks and downsides before calling in the pros.
Pro: Actionable Home Energy Advice
Conducting a DIY home energy audit is not out of the question, but you could end up performing unnecessary or misdirected renovations to your home that don't actually improve energy usage. A certified home energy auditor will pinpoint exactly where your insulation may be lacking, which appliances need upgrades, and whether it's time to install better attic ventilation.
Con: The Audit Alone Will Not Lower Costs
However, let’s clarify one important detail: the audit itself does not lower your energy bills. After paying for the audit, you’ll still need to perform the changes to your home. Whether the investment is worth the cost comes down to how much energy you'll save in the long run, how long you plan to live in your home, and how much it will improve the overall comfort level of your living space.
Pro: A Healthier, Safer Home
Updating your appliances, insulation, and HVAC is not just about keeping your home at the right temperature. An auditor will also assess your space for "backdrafts," which Energy.gov describes as "when the various combustion appliances and exhaust fans in the home compete for fresh air."
DIY ventilation renovations should always take backdrafting into account to encourage proper fresh airflow and avoid a buildup of carbon monoxide. For this reason, it's often best to call in a professional insulation team to keep these delicate pressure changes in your home in mind.
Con: You'll Need Another Audit in a Few Years
Ventilation, HVAC, and light bulbs improve every few years; even the Energy Star standards move their markers as technology advances. So, an energy audit this year will not likely provide the same advice in three years, especially regarding appliance upgrades.
Consider the timing of your energy audit. If you're about to make major home renovations or you just moved into an older, drafty home, hire an energy auditor before embarking on your reno plans and again a few years after all the changes are complete. If you're simply curious about energy usage and don't intend to make the suggested changes for a few years, it may be better to hold off.
Pro: Increased Home Value
The renovations suggested under a home energy audit can make your home look even more desirable on the housing market. Modern upgrades that cut down a home's carbon footprint or utility costs are enticing to buyers. Desirable cost-saving changes may include:
An energy-efficient steel front door
Attic fans and ventwork
New HVAC vents
Window and door insulation
Con: Some Auditors May Try To Upsell
Professional auditors use some impressive tech to analyze insulation and energy usage in your home. They may conduct a blower door test to check air flow or use infrared cameras to detect heat loss in the winter.
However, occasionally you'll come across professionals linked to specific insulation products or appliances masquerading as traditional auditors. These swayed auditors will provide advice that pushes their specific project. Beware of salespeople doing more than simply suggesting trusted local companies.
When hiring a great auditor, be sure to contact at least three potential pros for their rates, credentials, and auditing process. The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) is a great place to start when finding a certified auditor.
Do You Need a Home Energy Audit?
Home energy audits are an excellent tool if you detect a serious issue with the size of your utility bills—especially if they fluctuate without reason or warning. Audits can help you narrow down the most energy-saving renovations on your list instead of playing the guessing game.