How to Save on Energy Audits

Posted by Steve Graham | Aug 24, 2010
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Pepco electricity customers in Maryland recently became eligible for $100 energy audits through Greener Home, a local energy efficiency company. The Center for Housing Policy estimates that full-scale energy audits typically cost $250 to $600. But you don’t have to live in Maryland to score a better deal on an energy audit. There are other attractive offers and opportunities for savings.

An energy audit is an analysis of energy usage and waste in your home. Many utility companies offer free basic energy audits. They typically send a consultant through your house to check the status of your appliances, windows, insulation and more, then create a list of recommended upgrades.

A thorough paid audit also includes building diagnosis — typically infrared imaging analysis and a blower door test. Infrared cameras take thermal images showing “hot” red areas where heat transfers easily through walls or windows. The blower door is essentially a huge fan attached to your front door that sucks air out of your house and creates a miniature low-pressure system. Auditors then use a match or smoke stick to find areas where air is leaking into the house. The smoke should just rise steadily when the stick is placed next to a well-sealed wall. A draft will make the smoke drift.

For older homes in particular, energy audits can offer a quick return on investment. Audits can pinpoint inexpensive opportunities for substantial energy savings and reduced power bills. Aside from the new Pepco deal, here are a few cheap energy audit offers:

  • NorthWestern Energy offers one free audit per customer in older homes in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. The company also offers free water heater wraps, low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators.
  • The District of Columbia Department of the Environment offers free audits for D.C. homes covering less than 4,000 square feet (or did at the time of publishing this article).
  • The Natural Resources Council of Maine offers $75 energy audits for members.

There are also other tricks for saving on energy audits:

  • Do it yourself: Of course, there is no reason not to get the free basic audit if available in your area. If you can’t afford the additional building diagnostics, you can probably use a match to detect some leaks without a blower-door test. I have a poorly hung exterior door that was sorely in need of weather-stripping. I was able to feel the winter air blowing in just by putting my hand against the door jamb.
  • Use a green real estate agent: I hired the Green Team here in northern Colorado to help me find my house. The company, like some other green real estate experts, offers a free energy audit with every home purchase.
  • Limit the audit: Most companies charge for audits by the square foot. If you have a comfortable new addition attached to a drafty old home, you may be able to narrow the audit to the older portion of the home.

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