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Disappointing energy audit: please comment

Carol Oblas | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

I received the results of an energy audit done January 18, 2012, along with a proposal for work to be done, which I reviewed in greater detail after the auditor left. I emailed him with my questions, but he hasn’t responded. I’d appreciate anyone’s thoughts on how good an audit this is. Most of the proposal makes sense, but one concern is the reference to air sealing “around the flue for DHW /furnace with aluminum flashing and fire caulk.” I have electric baseboard heat (yes, I’m the one). Also, the auditor said the potential yearly savings (for the $4,110 attic project) is $669. One reason I question this is because it shows a reduction in cooling costs, but I don’t have air conditioning. I also wonder about adding cellulose to R-50 (to restore it to what it was originally, which is fine) and installing a hatch to the currently inaccessible attic with the top of it insulated with 3” foamboard, as proposed. Wouldn’t that create a weak area in the middle of the R-50 attic? Additionally, the auditor used his 1644 s.f. measurement of the ceiling area to be insulated in his calculations, but this house is a split level, so there’s another heated area below half of the rooms where the ceiling would have insulation added. He refused to do an infrared scan of the ceilings, which was the main reason I had the audit done in the first place. Snow on the roof doesn’t melt in the winter (I live in central New York State), so I figured the insulation was doing its job, but there were icicles last year that caught my attention. He made it clear that he was only interested in addressing the big jobs. Any comments?

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Replies

  1. Torsten Hansen | | #1

    Carol,
    You are asking us to evaluate a report that we haven't seen on a house that we know nothing about. That is hardly fair, to you or the auditor. But you do bring up an interesting point - should auditors perform the remedial work or be independent third parties?

  2. Kent Mitchell | | #2

    It seems you have already identified some weaknesses in his "audit" & given your side of the story they sounds as though they may have blown through this just to make a buck. Here in SW Washington State a $4100 attic project sounds a bit excessive but it is a possibility it could cost that much?
    Given the lack of response from them justifies looking elsewhere for service...

    Icicles may or may not be a sign of inadequate insulation but something is causing the melting.... Having access to an attic is important (most all building & fire codes require them) but as you point out - it is also important to have consistent R-value if possible so it makes sense to have some type of hatch or cover that is close to the R-50 you say is there now. Foam boards have R-4 to R-7 per inch so a cover made of 7" to 12" of foam board should do the trick. Good luck!

  3. Stan Kuhn | | #3

    It sounds as though the guy did a poor "copy and paste" job to produce your report. The ROI doesn't seem too bad, with about a 6-year payback, but I would question how it was derived if you didn't get the results of an energy model being performed on your home. You didn't say how much you paid for the audit, but some folks fall for the "FREE" audit, in which one typically gets what they pay for. In a very short period of time the term "Energy Audit" has come to mean a myriad of things, many of which are simply selling whatever the guy has to offer. My belief is that an independent auditor, who does not sell improvements, is the only sure way to get an unbiased audit. I would look for another auditor, and check references prior to contracting them.

  4. Doug McEvers | | #4

    Carol,

    The biggest complaint I have with energy auditors is the lack of a detailed report after the audit. A quality energy audit should be a document for the homeowner to use in making decisions on how to improve the comfort, durability and energy efficiency of the building. A good energy audit should in my opinion include thermal scans of all exterior surfaces.

    I have notebooks full of lists as to what constitutes a good and thorough building evaluation. It starts with energy bills for the previous 12 month period. An elemental breakdown of the building envelope is in order, wall and ceiling R-value and insulation type, windows and doors, foundation above and below grade. A blower door test is essential as part of the building energy audit, excessive infiltration is often the most glaring deficiency. The square footage and volume of the building must be known to apportion energy usage for each element.

    This is a start, I would say your auditor is a bum from what you have told us. I would not know who governs auditors but a call to the BBB or attorney general may be in order. An auditor should be independent and not offer or provide remedial services. I believe home inspectors in MN at least can only inspect and not recommend or do work.

  5. Carol Oblas | | #5

    Thank you all for your comments. I agree with the conflict of interest concern and am considering hiring an independent building inspector to do an unbiased assessment. The audit was done by a "Home Performance contractor accredited by the Building Performance Institute" who was on the approved list provided by NYSERDA (and is paid by them for the audit). I imagine the contractor notifies NYSERDA that the audit was done, so they can be paid, but I don't know if NYSERDA does any followup with the homeowner. I may initiate that myself. The melting last year may have been a fluke, since there was so much freezing and thawing in this area that problems were commonplace. A blower door test was done, although not simultaneously with an infrared scan, which I understand doesn't give as much information. I appreciate your confirmation of suspicions. Thank you again for your input.

  6. David Meiland | | #6

    It doesn't sound like you got a good audit. Does the auditor work for a company that also does the work? Some companies use auditing as a sales tool, and if their motives are not solid it can be a problem. There are lots of people out there calling themselves energy this-and-that without much training or experience.

    For what it's worth, I don't agree with the position that the auditor must be entirely separate from the company doing the work. That's not really a model we see in other areas of work. Doctors, auto mechanics, contractors, and many others routinely diagnose the problem and then fix it.

    Scanning ceilings is not important if the attic is accessible. If you have one that is not accessible, an opening needs to be cut.

    Finally, I would take "projected savings" with a grain of salt. Lots of assumptions go into making those projections, and the auditor has to rely on software, much of which has been shown to be inaccurate at least some of the time.

  7. Carol Oblas | | #7

    I provided the auditor with my energy usage and cost for the past 2 years. He made a point of mentioning that he had to convert btu's to kWhs for his report. I got the info. needed to do that in 3 seconds via an online search. 90% of the report was unusable to me. He also didn't know of any other work done for someone with all electric that I could talk to, but said he'd check. With the information I have, I certainly won't hire him and, since he didn't reply to my email, I assume he knows that.

  8. David Meiland | | #8

    What was the cost of this audit? If you have it in PDF format, are you willing to email it to me?

  9. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #9

    The audit was free and you have electric heat. I better lay low. Good luck.

  10. Carol Oblas | | #10

    I scanned it into my computer so the audit is in PDF format now. Would you like me to include it here as an attachment, David?

  11. David Meiland | | #11

    Looks like you can upload a PDF up to 2 MB in size. I'd like to see it.

  12. Carol Oblas | | #12

    I'm not a techie, but I'll do my best. By the way, the audit includes a proposal to insulate the rim joists in the basement. I've decided to do that myself a little at a time using rigid foam.

    I got an error message saying that the file exceeds the maximum size. I can't tell which pages went through (there are 7), so I'll send this along for now.

  13. Carol Oblas | | #13

    My apologies. I think I attached the first 3 pages here.

  14. Carol Oblas | | #14

    The last page is just another pointless pie chart and line graph discussing cooling loads.

  15. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #15

    Personally, I think for the price, you received an excellent audit.

    As to the AC costs being included, you are being given savings costs as if you had AC or were to add it in the future. Many homes have AC. The Energy auditing business is for all homes not just yours. There was no harm done at all by including the AC info. Just as you are doing, ignore it.

    At this point you can take your audit and get 3 prices to do updating insulation work. Or not.

    I really think you were handed a great report for what you paid for it.

  16. Carol Oblas | | #16

    I had to crop this page because the file was too large, but this is all there is.

  17. David Meiland | | #17

    AJ, how do you know what she paid for it?

  18. John Brooks | | #18

    Carol:"The audit was done by a "Home Performance contractor accredited by the Building Performance Institute" who was on the approved list provided by NYSERDA (and is paid by them for the audit). "

  19. David Meiland | | #19

    Right, but what did she pay NYSERDA? Is this a free-to-the-consumer program?

  20. Carol Oblas | | #20

    I would feel better about the value of the audit if the lower heated area I mentioned in my original question was factored in. The auditor effectively omitted 1/3 of the volume being heated. AC is, of course, out of the question with all electric. Seems to me the infrared pictures of the ceilings from the outside would have been helpful for analyzing the effectiveness of the insulation there.

  21. Carol Oblas | | #21

    I paid nothing to NYSERDA. This is part of a weatherization program they are offering.

  22. David Meiland | | #22

    Carol, several thoughts. First, if this cost nothing, you lost nothing but perhaps some time.

    The audit report pages you posted here really only have one paragraph of information that I find useful, which is the proposal to air-seal and insulate the attic and the rim joist. Hard to tell whether those area good prices without knowing the local market, but I just did $3000 in an attic that included sealing and insulating a large chunk of ductwork, so $4000 is not out of the question especially if you have a mess up there to contend with.

    There's a lot of non-consumer-friendly mumbo-jumbo in there... all those figures for heating and cooling loads, latent vs. sensible, etc... but I bet it's what their software spits out and the auditor has no control. The blower door test was not at all clearly shown, although it does appear that he is showing ACHn before improvements and a target for afterwards. He is estimating at least a few things like wall insulation and glass performance.

    I find the financing figures you are being offered quite attractive... I would jump at 2.9% fixed/10 years for energy work on my own home (I am doing some and it is costing me more than that for any part I choose to borrow).

    Bottom line, he is recommending attic work, which I recommend to virtually everyone with an older attic (they often have R-11 and tons of leaks). He is recommending rim joist, which is also totally standard. Not sure why there is no commentary on your heating equipment. Heat pumps are an automatic recommendation out here for anyone without one. Since he doesn't list your cost per unit of electric and gas, I have no way of knowing whether he should be recommending a fuel switch.

    What you might want to do is get 2-3 further prices for a total overhaul of the attic... remove existing, air-seal, baffles, re-insulate, and don't stop at R-50 if you could go a bit higher. Same people could also price out the rim joist work.

  23. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #23

    Carol, IMO get with NYSERDA and or the gent that did your audit. We are close to going in several circles here... the audit-gone-wrong dog chasing it's tail.

    Air sealing, shutting down some rooms of your home, adding a roommate, adding insulation, adding a pellet stove, moving south, lots of ways to skin your auditor's cat, and prep it for dat hungry dog O yours...

    Also... I agree with David's advise. Run with it.

  24. John Blouch | | #24

    As a BPI certified contractor participating in the NYSERDA programs in NY I'd like to weigh in with a few comments. First, for those who don't know about the NY program, the audits are free to the homeowner and paid for by NYSERDA (so they aren't quite a "you get what you pay for" marketing gimmic by the company). NYSERDA is supposed to provide quality assurance along with BPI. The contractors aren't really reimbursed enough to justify an audit as thorough as I would like to do, but it is a really good way to get people to look at the energy use of their homes (since is is so hard to get most people to spend money on an audit). Homeowners who go through the program are then eligible for a number of good incentives (the low interest loan mentioned, a 10/50% rebate depending on income, etc). One down side is that NYSERDA requires the auditing company to covert 30% of their audits into work (that the company does in-house or subs) to stay in the program. So, to get any incentives, you can't use an impartial auditor.

    I did notice a couple of things about the report. First, including the cooling savings is sloppy (although maybe their software requires it). You have to useat least a SEER rating and how do you do that when nothing is there? Second, if that is the entire report, there is something very fishy going on. The "after" part includes better wall insulation (and most of the savings are from reduced losses through the walls) even though changes to the walls are not in the work scope. The attic insulation part will also not pass NYSERDA's requirements for the 10% incentive that is included in the analysis. Going to the more subjective, it also seems to me that other possible improvements shoudl have been at least mentioned (more efficient appliances, lighting, heat pump option) at least for consideration and comparision to the proposed work. That is the whole point of a "Comprehensive" Home Assessment. Finally, it is hard to judge prices from a distance and there is a lot of variation in a given area, but it does seem steep for an 800SF footprint. I'd be happy to come out from Albany for less than that!

    You can contact NYSERDA (or CSG their "implementer") to request a reinspection by a person who works for them rather than a contractor.

  25. Carol Oblas | | #25

    I'm really glad to get such thorough input from a contractor in NYS who's aware of the NYSERDA program. I attached all 7 pages of the auditor's report and it appears that my original concerns about it are justified. I definitely will contact NYSERDA.

  26. David Meiland | | #26

    Why did this thread pop up again? Who edited the OP's post?

  27. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #27

    David,
    I did. The corrections were made as part of routine testing of our search engine function -- and correction of spelling errors to improve our search function results.

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