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Understanding Home Energy Audits: What You Need to Know

Daren Wang
January 12, 2024

Are your energy bills too high? A home energy audit can save you money, help keep your home comfortable, and make your life more climate-friendly.

Many people start the new year with a renewed commitment to do their best for the environment. There might be a new composter in the backyard, new recycling bins in the kitchen, or even a new Electric Vehicle in the garage. But, in the end, the greenest energy is the energy you don’t use. And one of the best ways to reduce our energy use is to ensure that our homes are running as efficiently as possible.

For many homeowners, there is always a sneaking suspicion that our homes could be running more efficiently. There’s a mystery draft when we walk through the living room, there’s a chill emanating from the windows in the bedroom, or the closet with the hot water heater is too warm. But are these real problems? And what can you do about it?

A home energy audit, also known as a home energy assessment, is a step-by-step examination performed by a trained professional to evaluate a home's energy efficiency. The process includes identifying potential areas for improvement by inspecting insulation, checking for air leaks, and examining heating and cooling systems. The ultimate goal is to create a detailed report with recommendations to enhance a home's overall energy efficiency.

During a home energy audit, the consultant will use high-tech tools to examine many aspects of your home, including insulation, windows, doors, heating and cooling systems, lighting, appliances, potential air leaks, and even previous energy bills. The findings are then compiled into a comprehensive report, often including a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) rating  and will also detail suggested improvements to make the home more energy-efficient. Your assessment will help you know exactly what improvements to make and will improve your home’s performance 24/7/365.

Home Energy Assessment Cost Breakdown

The cost of a home energy audit can vary based on different factors. The average cost ranges from $0.08 to $0.15 per square foot, but it can go up to $0.50 per square foot, depending on factors like the local cost of living and the complexity of the home's systems. Additionally, the audit cost may vary based on the ASHRAE audit level (Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3), the type of energy audit test conducted (blower door test, duct test, infrared imaging test), and the geographic location of the home.

What Is a HERS Energy Rating

A HERS energy rating evaluates a home's energy efficiency in comparison to other homes locally and nationally. The baseline HERS Index for a typical new, code-built home in the United States is 100. The lower the HERS index, the more energy-efficient the home is considered. This rating becomes valuable when selling a home, helping potential buyers assess its energy efficiency and influencing its resale value.

Energy Audit vs. HERS Rating Cost

While a HERS rating typically costs between $250 and $800, energy audits have an average cost of $425, ranging up to $2,000. Both assessments involve similar procedures and equipment, but a HERS rating is primarily focused on enhancing a home's resale value, whereas a regular energy audit is intended to guide homeowners in making improvements to energy efficiency.

Energy Efficiency Upgrades

When a homeowner looks at improving their home’s energy efficiency, knowing the best way to invest their budget can be a challenge. Window replacement, front door replacement, water heater upgrade, home insulation replacement, or even changing HVAC system technology to a heat pump system are all possible improvements. With a home energy audit in hand, understanding where a home’s biggest inefficiencies is easy, allowing the owner to make changes based on which improvements are going to solve the biggest problems and which can be deferred to a later time.

How to Save Money on a Home Energy Audit

Homeowners can explore cost-saving options, including free audits offered by energy service and utility companies, taking advantage of rebates and tax credits, and comparison shopping for the best prices from licensed contractors or retailers. You can also get a tax credit of up to $150 for your assessment, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, for example.

Benefits of an Energy Efficiency Assessment

Energy efficiency assessments offer several benefits, including cost savings on energy bills, improved home comfort, increased resale value, and a reduced environmental impact by lowering the home's carbon footprint. A home energy audit can be particularly useful when evaluating the cost-effectiveness of a home improvement project. A consultant can help you understand how much energy you are losing through poorly insulated windows and how much can be saved with new, high-efficiency replacements. With that kind of detail, you can understand how long before the investment pays for itself and how much that improvement might affect the eventual resale price of a home.

Is a Home Energy Audit Worth It?

Despite the upfront cost, a home energy audit often results in long-term energy bill savings, making it a worthwhile investment. Homes with consistently high energy bills or comfort issues stand to benefit the most from a professional energy audit.

How to Hire an Energy Auditor Near You

Finding a qualified energy auditor involves researching online, checking reviews, and seeking recommendations. The selection process should include interviews or consultations with potential auditors to assess their credentials, pricing, and methods. We recommend that you compare at least 2-3 providers against one another before choosing one, because you want this money to be well spent.

DIY vs. Professional Energy Audit

While DIY home energy audits are cost-effective for identifying apparent issues, professional audits using advanced tools often uncover hidden problems and provide tailored solutions. The higher cost of professional audits is justified by the potential for more substantial energy savings and improved home efficiency.

A home energy audit is a valuable tool for homeowners looking to enhance their home's energy efficiency. By understanding the cost breakdown, benefits, and available upgrades, homeowners can make informed decisions to create a more comfortable, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly living space. Whether opting for a DIY approach or hiring a professional, the investment in energy efficiency can pay off in the long run.

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