What Is a Home Energy Audit?

By Natalie Yerger

A home energy audit, otherwise known as a home energy assessment, is a room-by-room examination of your house by professionals to determine current energy consumption, where your home is losing energy, and which systems are working efficiently. While there’s no obligation to make any of the changes recommended in an audit, if you get the work done, you’ll reduce your carbon footprint, save money on monthly utility bills, feel more comfortable indoors, and potentially qualify for state rebates.

Benefits of a home energy audit

Whether you’re passionate about going green or are induced into a mild panic when you see your monthly energy statement, a home energy audit can help. The audit will identify issues you didn’t know existed, like inefficient attic insulation, single-pane windows, incorrect placement of heating and cooling units, and more. After the audit, you’ll have an actionable checklist of both obvious issues and hidden, subtle problems that, if resolved, can make your home more efficient.

An audit can also indirectly make your home more comfortable. For example, following through with recommendations from the audit could encourage even distribution of air, resulting in more even temperatures throughout your home.

Getting an audit can also increase your home’s resale value. Energy-efficient homes are increasingly attractive to buyers who weigh ongoing costs, like heating and cooling, in purchase decisions.

Types of home energy audits

There are two ways to audit your home for energy: hire a professional or do it yourself. While a professional audit will cost more, the auditor will be experienced, thorough, and can work with you to determine which fixes will have the greatest impact on energy savings.

Try to find an auditor who will provide you with a home energy score. This score will indicate how much energy your home is using per year given its square footage, the climate of where you live, and the number of people living in your home.

Though a professional home energy audit is the ideal way to determine where your home is losing energy, some homeowners prefer to conduct a simple audit on their own. Here’s a checklist when looking for opportunities to save energy:

  • Locate air leaks—Otherwise known as drafts, air leaks are caused by gaps along baseboards and at the intersection of walls and ceilings. Windows, doors, electrical outlets, fireplace dampers, and other fixtures are common sources of leaks. Once you’ve identified these areas, seal leaks with caulk.
  • Identify temperature inconsistenciesIs your bedroom hotter than other living spaces? In the winter, do you notice closets or clothing feeling cold, or even damp, compared to the rest of the house? Inconsistent temperatures are a sign to check your insulation. Heat loss can occur through the ceiling, walls, basement, attic, windows, and chimney, so seal any gaps with expanding foam caulk or a permanent sealant.
  • Inspect heating and cooling equipmentHVAC filters should be replaced every one to two months, and a professional should check and clean your equipment annually. If your unit is particularly old, consider replacing it with a new, more energy-efficient option (Energy Star options are preferred).
  • Switch out light bulbs—Make sure your bulbs are fluorescent or LED. Identify other ways to use less light based on usage and consider installing sensors, dimmers, and timers.

How does a home energy audit work?

Home energy audits can vary drastically in length and level of detail. Some will involve a brief, visual inspection, while others involve a team of professionals, hours of time, and same-day fixes. A thorough, comprehensive home energy audit should take anywhere from one to five hours. 

Typically, a team of technicians will perform an assessment of your home, inspecting every inch from the furnace to the ductwork, insulation, windows, attic, crawlspace, and more. They may use tools, such as a blower door machine or infrared cameras, to measure airflow and identify the source of drafts. Some energy audit companies will install LED light bulbs, weather stripping, and light-flow showerheads, and perform simple tasks like caulking the perimeter of rooms on the same day as the audit.

Once the audit is finished, the company will provide a home performance report and propose estimates for work such as replacing attic insulation or installing a hot water heater. The team you’ve hired should explain why these are problem areas and help you understand which are most essential to act on.

Home energy ratings

The Home Energy Rating System (HERS) is an index that serves as the industry standard by which your home’s energy efficiency is measured. Both new and existing homes can be rated, and home buyers often compare the energy efficiency ratings of homes they’re considering purchasing. 

A HERS rating of 100 represents the energy use of a standard building. Generally, the lower the value the better. For example, a home with a HERS score of 70 is 30% more energy efficient than a standard building. Home energy auditors who are Certified HERS Raters can provide a rating to builders and homeowners. 

How much does a home energy audit cost?

The cost of a home energy audit will vary based on where you live and the size of your home. For example, in New York, audits are priced based on your income. In other states, contractors set their own rates.

Some contractors and utility companies may offer an audit free of charge, but these are usually very basic. A full, comprehensive energy audit that includes diagnostic tests, on-site fixes, and is followed by a tiered proposal with recommendations based on importance will cost several hundred dollars.

While spending a lump sum of money to be told about your home’s issues might not seem worth it, it will pay off in comfort, resale value, and significantly decreased heating and cooling bills over the long term. Of course, you’re not required to make any of the recommended changes but, in some cases, you may be eligible for a rebate or state financing for the fixes. 

How to hire an energy auditor

When hiring an auditor, there are several places to look. Your state government agency or utility company may recommend local auditors and the Residential Energy Services Network also provides a list. 

Acquire and contact references for the auditor you choose or check reviews on the Better Business Bureau website to get a clear understanding of the company’s reputation. Learn about the professional tests and tools each auditor will implement, like blower door tests and thermographic inspections, if you want more than just a simple, visual audit.

Make sure the provider will take a consultative approach after the audit, providing you with options about what work to get done, rather than pushing a sales pitch on you for several thousand dollars of work.

Is a home energy audit worth it?

Whether you find yourself unusually chilly inside your home on a crisp autumn day, want to reduce your footprint, or are hoping to increase the resale value of your home, a home energy audit will provide you with the knowledge you need to decide which fixes and projects are best for your budget, lifestage, and priorities.

Whether you’re deciding on upgrades based on what’s most cost effective, what will have the most impact on the environment, or what will increase the value of your home, an energy audit can get you well on your way to friendlier energy bills, the pride of a smaller carbon footprint, and a more evenly cooled and heated space.

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