August, 2017
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Embracing Your Inner Energy Auditor

ASHI STAFF





The modern home energy audit is an impressive combination of exotic testing equipment and complicated data generation. “Blower doors,” “duct blasters,” “combustion analyzers” and other sophisticated devices generate pages of “air-changes-per-hour” figures, “duct-loss-to-the-outside” coefficients and “flue-gas-analysis” graphs.

If you’re the average homeowner, it’s enough to make your head spin.

And that’s kind of the problem: A “full-Monty” home energy analysis from a credentialed energy auditor takes a lot of time (at least a half day), costs a lot of money ($500 on average) and delivers information and guidance that often is hard for non–energy geeks to understand and act on.

Keeping It Simple Is Smart
Full-fledged energy auditors serve a valuable role in the home energy efficiency industry, especially for committed homeowners who are looking to solve specific issues that they have time to carefully consider.

In many cases, however, what’s even more useful is quick, accurate, clearly presented information about a home’s basic energy performance and the best opportunities for improvement. This is especially true at the point of sale, when prospective homebuyers already are burdened by a glut of new information and necessary decisions.

ASHI home inspectors can now offer those buyers a pared-down package of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)–backed information that can open their eyes to this critical part of home ownership. And considering how buyers’ priorities are changing, that’s starting to look like a pretty smart move.


Designed with home inspectors’ broad skill sets and flexible service menus in mind, the Home Energy Score can deliver the most essential parts of a whole-nine-yards energy audit in the shortest amount of time (an extra half hour in the home for experienced assessors) and at minimal expense (most inspectors charge $100-$150 for the service) to clients.

Is There a Home Energy Score Assessment Hiding in Your Inspections?
We’ve established that Home Energy Score Assessors do not conduct the diagnostically intensive energy analyses that their counterparts in the energy-auditing world conduct. But that begs the question: What is entailed in delivering a Home Energy Score?

For starters, assessors collect fewer items of necessary data: specifically, 40 items in the case of the Home Energy Score, as opposed to 100 or more items that commonly are need for an energy audit. Furthermore, the information that assessors need is, in most cases, the same kind of information that they already collect during a standard home inspection.

To illustrate this point, let’s review some key components of an energy audit (in practice and in training) and compare the required processes of an Energy Auditor and a Home Energy Score Assessor.

Air Leakage: The “envelope” or “shell” of the home is a critical factor in energy efficiency and comfort.

  • Energy Auditor: After carefully preparing the home, perform “blower door depressurization test” (using $5,000 worth of equipment), often combined with infrared camera diagnostics. Generate data for the homeowner, documenting “cubic feet per minute overall leakage” or “air changes per hour at 50 pascals pressure.” Time required: 1-2 hours.

  • Home Energy Score Assessor: During a normal home inspection, pay attention to key areas where home air leakage has the greatest impact (for example, penetrations in attics and basements, rim joists, partition walls). Note whether professional air sealing has been done at these sites. Time required: 5 minutes.

Mechanical Systems and Hot Water: These factors account for roughly one-half of the energy usage in an average home, which means that the efficiency levels of these systems have a big impact on monthly energy budgets.

  • Energy Auditor: Determine the air-tightness of the duct system by taping and plugging all vents and using a “duct blaster” to measure air leakage in cubic feet per minute. Record information gathered from inspecting the HVAC system and perform direct testing (for example, total fan air flow, external static pressure, temperature rise). Time required: 1-2 hours.

  • Home Energy Score Assessor: Determine where the duct system is located (that is, in a conditioned or in an unconditioned space), whether it is insulated and if it has been air-sealed. Record the make, model and age of the HVAC system and determine whether it’s been well-maintained. Time required: 10 minutes.

Training and Certification: Necessary for any credible energy evaluation, both professional services described here involve becoming trained in a DOE-approved building science curriculum and passing relevant examinations.

  • Energy Auditor: Find a training center that works with the Building Performance Institute or RESNET and take a course (usually several classroom days, plus days in the field) to become a HERS rater or a Building Analyst or to get some other similar certification. Time and cost: 1 week or more (away from the job), plus approximately $2,000 for tuition.

  • Home Energy Score Assessor: Sign up with the DOE for free, video-game-style, simulated training and complete it at your own pace. Pass the online test, then conduct your first in-field assessment with an in-person or a remote mentor. Time and cost: Time varies, from several hours to several days (but no days away from the job are necessary); average compensation fee for a mentor is $200.

Our partners at DOE are confident that the Home Energy Score is a tool that can be used to provide the right amount of information to homebuyers at the exact time this sort of information will be most useful to them. And as more ASHI members discover that they’re already assessing homes in a similar way to what’s expected, inspectors can build up their inspection businesses and guide clients toward increased energy efficiency in their homes.