Home Energy Audits

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By Energy Circle Staff - August 18th, 2009

START HERE to learn about Audits... because this is the very beginning of home energy efficiency. Home Energy Auditors measure the energy usage in your home, inspect and test existing appliances and systems, and provide a report that will help you start smart.

I. Overview. This is where the Home Energy Efficiency Story Begins!

Your utility bill may be shocking, but it offers you fewer useful facts than a teenager stumbling home late from a party. Utility bills don’t tell you when your energy use peaks. They don't explain how best to reduce power consumption. They don't tell you how your home is spending your money.

We think it’s worth finding out. A home energy audit is one of the first steps to understanding your home's power usage, air flow and overall level of health and functioning. A whole house energy audit by a certified professional is an essential first step toward whipping your house into shape. If you are like most of us, you know very little about the energy usage, air leakage, moisture and air quality issues in your house.

That’s the point of an energy audit. Using a combination of high tech tests and common sense evaluations, a good auditor provides homeowners with a list of energy and money saving steps. An auditor explains how and why your house is costing you money, then prioritizes steps to take to knock down those costs over the long haul. After assessing the work involved and the likely ROI (return on investment), you decide if improvements should be tackled immediately or over time.

II: The Basics: What to expect during a Professional Home Energy Audit

A typical audit is comprised of several parts.

(1) The auditor will conduct a visual inspection, which entails poking around every crevice of the house inside and out that can be safely investigated. In older houses in particular, evidence of moisture build up can be obvious at a glance.

(2) An insulation check will reveal weaknesses in the insulation barrier in key locations, and, in some cases, the lack of insulation. Good auditors will use infrared technology, and may have to resort to cutting a tiny hole in an unobtrusive section of drywall to investigate further. Insulation in kneewalls and around recessed lighting fixtures may garner particular attention, as they tend to be trouble spots.  Visit our article, "Getting Started: Insulation" for more information on the basics of insulation, and Insulation II for tips on the best type of insulation for your home.

(3) The auditor will conduct an air leakage test to determine how well your house resists air infiltration. This is a central element of the audit likely to result in some quick DIY caulking assignments, as well as some larger air sealing projects, all with a remarkably high ROI. The Blower Door Test process is described more fully in how to prepare for an audit.

(4) The auditor's concern is not limited to reducing energy waste. Healthy houses have appropriate ventilation. The auditor will test ventilation systems to ensure that they conform to safety standards.

(5) All visible gas lines, the gas stove, and gas powered water heater will be examined to insure that there are no leaks.

(6) The auditor will evaluate if your central heating system needs cleaning or a tune-up in order to perform efficiently.

(7) Finally, expect a few suspect appliances, including old driers or refrigerators to be tested by electricity meter. There are times when one terrifically inefficient appliance throws an entire house's energy use out of whack.

III: Taking it on - Getting a Home Energy Audit done at your house.

Consult our guide to the different energy auditor certifications and organizations to help you identify a certified and competent auditor in your area.

In order to get the most out of your audit, prepare in advance. And, as the auditor makes the rounds of your house, take notes in your own words (ideally in a form that will make sense to you when you look them over several days or weeks later), and ask questions.

We believe that whole house energy audits by certified professionals are worth every penny, so long as you act on what the audit turns up. Bear in mind that what turns up might surprise you. The auditor who visited one Energy Circle team member's house told us that air was leaking in and out so easily, “It’s the equivalent of having a two-foot square hole cut into the middle of your roof, year round.” Ouch. But better to know? Absolutely.


An energy audit should also include a Combustion Appliance Safety Test that evaluates the negative pressure your boiler/furnace/water heater (combustion appliance) is operating under. 15% of the houses I have tested failed or were on the verge of failing this test. That means any air sealing done in these houses runs the risk of back-drafting the combustion appliance into the living space. This is a health and safety issue that cannot be overlooked! Posted by David Semon on Apr 7, 2009 7:43am
This is approach to explaining audits seems, simply; too simple!!!... I see no discussion of the POINT of collecting data...is it to allow the auditor to simply opine on what he/she sees, or, is it to collect data sufficient for energy modeling? Is it for the purpose of simply looking at how the house uses and how to conventionally address use issues, or is the auditor taking a sustainable approach and trying to find a way to get every house, by trued model, as close to near net zero as is possible by also examining home and occupant relationships with sun, wind,precipitation, vegetation, context of home, and topography? Is the au Posted by Sean Crane on Apr 24, 2011 1:32pm


Thanks for the comment. I don't disagree. One of our challenges on Energy Circle is balancing the level of depth of information for folks new to the Energy Audit concept with the needs of those taking a deeper approach to sustainability. This particular article is our highest level summary. We hope the "going deeper" subarticles on types of auditors, what the certifications mean, how to prepare, etc, start to address some of your comments, but we're always listening for how to improve our information. 

I do believe we're in wild agreement, however, on the importance of communicating the distinction between different approaches to energy auditing. Sadly, we as an industry have not policed this well, so there's massive confusion amongst typical homeowners on the difference between a utility clipboard review and the kind of in-depth sustainability/energy modeling approach you evidently practice. It's a big issue, and one I talk frequently about.

My question back at you is how have you successfully communicated the distinction?

Posted by Peter Troast on Apr 25, 2011 9:34am
That! my friend is the essence of our client intake software module! Clearly, your site crosses boundaries between professional users and home owners looking for info and so it is hard for you to delineate what is out there really well without losing a novice. Our website does offer a three year old version of what we saw as the market then. Our market has changed and thus, we are rewriting content and assigning a content person full time best to all at Energy Circle! Posted by Sean Crane on Apr 25, 2011 9:53am

Thanks Sean, 

For others following this topic, Sean's company is HomeTown Green in Southeastern PA. Good information there and more coming.

Posted by Peter Troast on Apr 25, 2011 10:00am

David--thanks for the comment. Completely agree that Combustion Appliance Safety Test is a key element of a whole house energy audit. The back drafting potential is a critical health and safety issue. During our audit, we identified elevated CO levels from our propane cook stove--not something I think we would have ever figured out otherwise.

Posted by Peter Troast on Apr 7, 2009 11:02am
googd posting Posted by ben on Aug 17, 2009 3:14pm
I am the Real Estate Broker/Owner, of Keystone Property Connections currently serving the Philadelphia Metro Region.I am also a 35+ year Environmental/Civil Engineer.The Company/Brokerage, operational for 10 months, is poised to become the Philadelphia Areas Consumer (Residential) and Business (Commercial) go to Company for Integrated Energy Management & Real Estate Brokerage Services under ONE Roof !! Keystone's 5 Year Plan calls for Office Locations in all major population centers throughout the Commonwealth (ie, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, State College, Erie). Posted by tomseverino on Dec 3, 2009 6:53am
Did you succeed in establishing a combined energy audit/ real estate brokerage company in Philly and do you know if there is something similiar in Asheville North Carolina? Posted by Marjorie McGuirk on Mar 7, 2011 8:39am
Tom--Congratulations. This is the new real estate model. Kudos to you and Keystone for leading. Posted by energycircle on Dec 3, 2009 7:05am
I think the introduction of Smart Meters will have the biggest impact on consumers. When you can see how much your central heating is actually using you are more likely to turn it down. Posted by Chris Cooper on Dec 15, 2009 12:24am
Chris--I fully agree that consumer awareness in real time will have a major impact. It certainly has in our household. That said, I'm less convinced that utility Smart Meters will provide this. Early examples in the US--in PG&E and Toronto Hydro regions for example--are not providing consumers with real time data access. Smart Meters have been brilliantly branded, but so far the "smart" part is missing. PT Posted by energycircle on Dec 15, 2009 7:15am
Can you refer me to someone here in SE Michigan to get started in becoming licensed to do Energy Audits... is there online classes or strictly hands on face to face training... I am just finishing Renewable Energy classes at Macomb Community College and I really enjoy this field. Thanks for your great website... GT Posted by G Taylor on Mar 26, 2010 11:55am

Hey GT -- thanks for the kind words. We generally recommend going with either BPI (Building Performance Institute) or RESNET (Residential Energy Services Network) certification for energy audits, as they're the most nationally recognized certifying organizations. Generally, you need to be hands on / face-to-face for at least the exam part of the certification; and although you can study on your own, it's generally a good idea to take a course either online or in person. 

Not sure how far it is from you, but up in Sparta there's a new school called the Building Science Academy that offers a bunch of courses -- it looks like there's a Building Analyst class next month, which is the certification you'd probably want to go for. You can also check out Saturn Online if you're interested in online training. 

Best of luck, and let us know how it goes! It's an exciting field. 

Posted by Will on Apr 25, 2011 10:30am
GT I STRONGLY recommend that you go to work for a home performance crew before auditing,even if you have to volunteer. By understanding methods used out there to deal with energy issues you can better understand what to look for and how to prescribe changes. I also STRONGLY recommend that you use energy modeling software like REMRATE or TREAT for your first 100 -200 audits. By building an energy model repeatedly, when you go to your audits you actually begin to break the house down in your head the same way the software does allowing you to more effectively "see" the house. The real benefit to repeated modeling is that you eventually learn what the computer will find as high payout so that even if you slip into doing unmodeled audits (which we will not do)you will have an informed knowledge base upon which to draw conclusions. Right now, most non RESNET, BPI only practitioners are simply flying blind when it comes to knowing what will kick kilowatts, CCFs, and gallons in the butt. Lastly I STRONGLY recommend mentoring whether or not you take your course work on line. There is a skill to house whispering and reading available sign in a home. Mentoring may accelerate your acquisition of that skill. Posted by Sean Crane on Apr 25, 2011 12:10pm
All this talk about Energy Audits and no one actually says who does the work? Why should I fork out $400 for an audit to tell me that my home built in 1927 is drafty (I already know that) -- what I want is a contractor specializing in whole-house air sealing. There are numerous companies in the USA advertising Energy Audits & Whole-House Sealing -- but all we have in Canada is a bunch of companies advertising only the Audits. The Canadian Gov't is useless as they won't be seen to be endorsing any particular company. All they say is: Typically, professional whole-house air sealing can cost from $500 to $2,000 depending on the size and complexity of the house and work required. The contract should specify each area to be sealed and the materials to be used. Someone please give some concrete advise on finding qualified contractors to have the retrofit done? Thank you. Posted by Anonymous on Jan 20, 2012 12:59pm
Dear Anonymous Canadian. Find a BPI accredited Contractor. Posted by Sean on Jan 20, 2012 6:33pm
Building Performance Institute (BPI) is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited developer of American National Standards and the nation's premier credentialing body in the energy efficiency retrofit industry. Certifications are now represented in all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Australia, South Korea and in three Canadian provinces. I personally couldn't find any BPI accredited contractors in Toronto. I did find: http://www.zerodrafttoronto.ca/zd/air.html Posted by Anonymous on Jan 23, 2012 1:31pm

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