You’ve heard it before: Turning off the lights, closing the windows, and not taking 40-minute showers are all little ways to save energy in your home. But what if there was a way to determine which energy-saving solutions will pay off based on the configuration of your house? Say hello to the energy audit, a home assessment that can help you go green and lower your energy bills by potentially thousands of dollars. So what’s an energy audit, really? It tells you how energy-efficient your house is and offers home improvement recommendations to take your efficiency to the next level.
How a home energy audit can help buyers
While energy audit information is typically not included on home listings alongside the number of bedrooms and square footage, it can often be found in the multiple listing service, which has more specific details. Only licensed real estate agents can view the MLS, so you’ll want to ask your agent (or the seller’s) if an energy audit was performed. If not, you can request one during the home inspection.
The energy audit information will offer more insight into your home’s true energy potential than a review of past utility bills. That’s because the energy audit will tell you how the home is built, not how the home is used. Someone who perpetually cranks up the heat or leaves the lights on might have a high energy bill, even if the house itself is relatively energy-efficient.
“For owners and sellers, having an energy assessment done can be a powerful selling tool—or a wake-up call if it comes back low,” says Welmoed Sisson, a home inspector with Inspections by Bob in Boyds, MD.
The Home Energy Score
Home energy audits can be provided by various institutions (e.g., local utility companies) and go by different names. However, the one rating that is gaining the most traction is the Department of Energy’s Home Energy Score. It’s important to note that not all energy audits will give you an HES.
The HES measurements provide a standardized process for calculating a home’s efficiency, thus allowing two homes to be compared side by side, even if they are different ages or styles, or in different locations. All assessments take into account the local climate, too.
“The HES was developed to give buyers an easy measurement they can think of, like a car’s mpg rating,” says Sisson. “It’s a way to objectively compare a home’s energy use with others, knowing that the same standards were used to assess all the properties that have been scored.”
Other types of energy audits
The efficiency audits offered by other sources (e.g., utility companies) typically don’t involve specific measurements. Instead, they rely on visual inspections to see whether windows are double-glazed or if energy-efficient lightbulbs are in use, for example. The recommendations they offer are more general.
How much does an energy audit cost?
Depending on the size of the home, an energy audit can cost between $150 and $250, although some assessors may charge less if it’s included as part of a regular home inspection. Many home inspectors offer the service. If you want to get your home’s HES from someone who has been certified by the DOE, consult this database.
What the energy auditor looks for
An energy audit takes about one to two hours.
Using a tape measure, the assessor will measure the windows, floor space, and insulation. The assessor also records the type and age of heating or cooling appliances and water heaters, and notes the condition of the ductwork. These findings are then entered into a database to calculate the overall score for the home.
Homeowners will receive a report with a score on a 1-to-10 scale—with 10 representing a home among the top 10% in energy efficiency; 5 representing the performance of the average home; and 1 indicating a home that consumes more energy than 85% of U.S. homes.
The report also includes a set of recommendations tailored to the home, starting with the least expensive improvements that will yield the most return.
“Spoiler alert,” says Sisson. “It’s almost always ‘add more insulation.’”
The report offers an estimate of the savings you’ll enjoy after completing all the recommended improvements. For example, if you moved your home’s score from a 3 to a 7, you could save about $575 a year. On the recommendations page, the savings are broken out by improvement. While some pay off within a year or two, the DOE says that all recommended energy improvements will generally pay you back in 10 years or less. Score!