June, 2019
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

It’s Not All About the Energy


Inspectors across the country who offer the Home Energy Score (HES) have been using, for the most part, a sales pitch similar to what the Department of Energy (DOE) envisioned when they developed this tool for the home inspection industry: 

  • The Score tells homebuyers how much they can expect to spend toward utility costs, a factor often overlooked by buyers when they’re figuring monthly budgets for a new home.
  • The HES report details the specific items that homeowners should address to improve their home’s performance and in what order, which is a huge help during the first couple years of new homeownership, when homeowners typically do most of their improvement projects.
  • New easy-to-understand checklists from the DOE help homeowners know which contractors to hire and how to make sure that jobs are done correctly—a major hurdle finally addressed.
  • Getting a new, higher Score for an improved home is easy and it grants the owner the full value of a home’s energy features upon resale because Home Energy Scores are being integrated into multiple listing services (MLS) across the country.

Not surprisingly, these features tend to be enough to leave homebuyers feeling pleased about using an inspector who can deliver a Score, whether it’s an up-sold ancillary service or a quick inclusion into a basic inspection package. In addition to customer satisfaction, inspectors are finding that their status as a Certified Assessor™ regularly leads to conversations with homebuyers about other aspects of the home, most notably issues of health and comfort. 

The DOE tells us that these two issues—health and comfort—are usually even more important to homeowners than saving money on their utility bills. Here are some connection points between the Home Energy Score and priorities that often hit “closer to home” for owners, priorities that can lead to satisfied clients when inspectors are prepared to address them. 

Is an Efficient Home a Healthy Home? 

It’s well established that the “Is this home going to be a healthy living space?” conversation is a dicey one and inspectors are wise not to overpromise in this regard. Still, inspectors who include a Home Energy Score are bringing to light some factors that truly can affect the health factor of the home and they have a built-in prompt to make this point when it applies. 

High-efficiency furnaces, for example, are “sealed combustion” units that isolate any potential harmful gasses from the living space and many high-end gas water heaters are the same. All-electric homes with modern heat pumps are both energy-efficient and totally free of combustion, a scenario that is becoming more desirable to homeowners with every new study that comes out about healthy living.

Similarly, most homes are “leaky” in the extreme—both to outside air entering the home and to duct systems located in areas (attics and crawlspaces, especially) where air quality tends to be problematic at best. Air-sealed homes and supertight duct systems are hallmarks of both energy-efficient homes and healthy homes, and both of these items are key parts of the Home Energy Score.

Obviously, there are two different conversations that proceed from these items—one celebrates the beneficial energy efficiency and health features when these items are present, and one alerts homebuyers to potential issues when they are not. HES inspectors can wade as far into these conversations as seems appropriate, with the added benefit of being able to fall back on the DOE to serve as a third-party authority; Home Improvement Expert documents are easy to link to or hand out, and they are available to any Assessor who sees value in engaging their customers in these valuable conversations.

Outside the Comfort Zone

Anyone who has ever owned a home knows that a high level of comfort throughout the house is anything but guaranteed. Draftiness, humidity variations, frustrating temperature differentials between rooms—these are the longstanding complaints of homeowners in every climate and at every price point. Although the connection between energy efficiency and comfort levels isn’t perfect in every case, the DOE tells us that the correlation between the two is strong for homeowners across the country.  

Inspectors who offer the Score can feel confident in making the connection, for example, between high levels of insulation and more uniformly comfortable living spaces because the temperature of surfaces in the building—chiefly, walls and ceilings—are closer to the temperature of the air, which is one of the most important factors affecting personal comfort. 

The exact same principle applies to double-paned windows. Air sealing makes another appearance as a critical component of both energy efficiency and observed comfort levels because a drafty home can ruin both a quiet night at home and a monthly power bill.

All told, inspectors who deliver a Home Energy Score can feel good about delivering either a reasonable assurance of comfort levels in a home if certain energy-related items are found or a clear pathway toward achieving that goal if they aren’t.