Energy Audit Process, Software, and Reporting
For the past 2 years, I have been manually collecting data and generating reports in Word. I offer a short report (4-7 pages) which covers the basic BPI requirements and red flags any hazards, and a much more robust report (over 20 pages) which serves as a long term guide towards sustainability. The larger report features many graphs, pictures, and site specific images.
While my clients think the large report is fantastic, it takes an inordinate amount of time to create. I have been looking for the “silver bullet” software solution that makes the auditing process, reporting, retrofit scope of work, and sales much more efficient. Last spring, I participated in a webinar for Recurve and I had hoped that Recurve would be that “silver bullet”, but I have no idea if or when it will ever be released.
A homeowner hired me to retrofit their house after they had an audit by a large company with locations in 3 states. Their report was atrocious. They erroneously overestimated the square footage by 1500 sq.ft. and therefore all their conclusions were WAY OFF. While they had 5 pages of IR images depicting air leakage, they offered no solutions. Even with the evidence of so much air leakage, the auditor declared them OK because the error in house size threw off all of his air leakage conclusions. The only concrete solution this company offered was to change light bulbs and buy a solar attic fan; which they happen to sell. The home in question had mostly cathedral ceilings and an attic fan would have only exaserbated the stack effect due to inadequate passive roof ventilation. Clearly, this company’s system did not work. This type of shoddy reporting will give us all a BAD name. Maybe a better software and system would have helped this inexperienced auditor produce an accurate and helpful report. But clearly this company has much larger issues too.
1) How do you pre-qualify a homeowner before the audit?
2) How are you auditors collecting data, generating reports, and selling retrofits?
3) What software, if any do you use?
4) How do you handle images?
GBA Detail Library
A collection of one thousand construction details organized by climate and house part
I'm surprised BPI doesn't offer software.
But energy auditors shouldn't be doing retrofits - that's a conflict of interest (just like the ones who recommended the product that they happen to sell).
Robert P., here are some general thoughts.
1) In many cases, you need to provide a brief inspection and then chat with the homeowner about what you think the likely scope of work will be, and what their budget is. I do this at for no charge most of the time, as long as a few things are in place. Anyone who can't tell me their budget for the type of improvements they want raises a red flag. Most people have little to no idea about what construction costs, so selling them an audit without talking about total cost is not an approach I take.
2) I perform whatever parts of the BPI audit protocol apply, and often include some inspection items that are not part of BPI. It depends entirely on the house. I collect data on a clipboard. I generate a report in Microsoft Word that includes visible light and/or IR images if I think they are important. Like you I have seen many reports from others that are heavy on IR images of air leakage, and rely on the gruesome nature of those images to sell work. Not appropriate and not necessary if the owner is according you the correct professional respect.
3) Microsoft Word, REM/Rate in rare cases.
4) Images are easy to paste into Word docs. Maybe I am misunderstanding your question?
Robert R., in response to your comment, I'm a contractor and an auditor both. On most of my projects I determine what needs to be done and then do it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, assuming the practitioner has integrity, just like practically any area of business.
Sorry, David, but that's an inherent conflict of interest. Professional building inspectors don't also do home renovation, and professional energy auditors should not be in the business of performing energy improvements.
If my truck needs service, should I take it to one mechanic to diagnose it and another to do the work?
If you were smart, you would. That's why second opinions are necessary in any profession in which there is a potential conflict of interest, including that most holy of professions sworn to "do no harm".
The National Association of Home Inspectors code of ethics includes:
"An Inspector shall not, directly or indirectly and for compensation, perform repairs on or recommend contractors to perform repairs on any component or system included in the inspection."
David and Robert,
Thanks for your responses. My question was not clear. It should have been "What is the most comprehensive software or system out there that facilitates the auditing process and findings, reporting, and generating scopes of work and estimating thereof.
To Robert's concern:
If this residential energy market were robust, I would suspect that a clear division between auditors and retrofit contractors would be possible. The current reality is that this niche is in it's infancy during a recession. I know several fine auditors. Not one can make a living doing audits alone.
We have HVAC and insulation companies offering free audits. Clearly this is mainly a sales tool, for these are product driven companies. The HVAC guys solve problems mechanically and the insulation guys tend to focus on the shell, and do not even offer mechanical solutions.
As an auditor, I do not know 1 retrofit company I would feel comfortable referring to a client. In fact, there are only a few within 30 miles. I feel that I have a good awareness of who's out there because I am fairly well plugged into my community. I speak to groups often on many topics relating to building and remodeling with a "house-as-a-system"approach, and have met most of the folks in this market segment.
From a practical standpoint, when we air-seal, we run the blower door to guide us and quantify results. This, and the test-out, assure quality and keep me involved through ever step. I'm not sure how this would work if another company was doing this.
I only provide a proposal for the work if invited by the client and I tell them they are free to get competitive bids. The trouble is, not one client in 2 years of retrofits has found a company who is prepared to bid on the multi-faceted retrofit work in my area. They must be out there, but they have not made themselves easy to find. The client would have to either find a BPI or equal GC, or GC the job themselves.
Over the past 20 plus years, I have never had a client question my ethics. Trust is the first thing I try to establish. I believe my clients sense this early and are put at ease.
Notice I did not disagree with you , Robert.
I like the fact that you run the blower door while air sealing. Is there an inspection required by the local building authorities for this type of retrofit. Is there a permitting process to adhere to or are these jobs just performed by contract alone?
Where I live, one does not need permits for auditing or basic retrofit work. However, jobs requiring, for example, rewiring before adding insulation because of the presence knob & tube, re-roofing or siding to better insulate, solar thermal or photovoltaics, plumbing work related to HVAC or HWH, etc... These jobs are subject to permits as you might expect. Our municipalities are not yet concerned with regulating audits, air-tightness, ventilation, insulation, in regards to the majority of retrofits.
On the conflict of interest question, I used to have the same opinion as Robert Riversong, but I have changed my mind over the years, and my current position aligns with the position of David Meiland.
Researchers looking into the issue have noted a fundamental flaw in the home energy audit industry: most homeowners who receive audit reports do not take the next step of contracting for any retrofit measures. This has been true since the 1980s. The data on this question informed the designers of the Home Performance With Energy Star program, who concluded that homeowners want one-stop-shopping, not a two- or three-step process involving an energy auditor who prepares a report, and then tells you, "Here's a phone book. If you look in the Yellow Pages under 'contractors,' you should be able to find someone who can help you get this work done."
Robert, many of your answers point out that systems that assume the possibility that people are honest often work well. When it comes to home performance contractors, an honest contractor can perform an audit and also perform retrofit measures -- and because the auditor knows the house well before the work starts, such a contractor will do a better job than a separate contractor who tries to figure out what to do by reading a multi-page Microsoft Word document.
Finally, it should be noted that even if you want to avoid a conflict of interest by hiring two companies -- one to perform the audit, and another to perform the retrofit measures -- there's no guarantee you'll get good work, unfortunately.
Am I to understand that there is a flaw in the National Association of Home Inspectors Code of Ethics, and that since the work performed has no requirement of inspection pretty much anything can go?
Back to Robert Post's question about software.
One thing that I know some auditors do, often because it's what's required, is to use REM to produce a comparison report showing the existing vs. proposed (improved) house. Programs like Efficiency Kansas will allow a homeowner to borrow an amount of money for improvements based on acceptable payoff periods, using predicted heating and cooling loads and the resulting energy bills as the data.
If you were doing this, I would think that a tablet computer with a bluetooth-enabled laser measurer would be your best friend, because you'd be measuring houses in great detail every day and inputting all the data to REM (or whatever package you use).
The issue with this IMO is that you are predicting future energy bills, and there are some serious pitfalls. For one, people tend to turn up the heat a little higher once the house is a little tighter. If they were spending $300/mo to heat the house to 63, and you tighten it, they might now spend the same $300 to heat it to 67.
Speaking as a homeowner in the middle of energy retrofits, I have had the dubious pleasure of meeting both independent inspectors (not affiliated with any retrofit company) with useless semi-automatically-generated reports (as well as another one with a useless terse manually-generated report) as well as several retrofit companies pushing audits and whatever their product was. While I see merits to both Robert's and David's positions, at the end of the day the most important thing is the integrity and knowledge of the person doing the work, whether it's inspection or retrofitting.
In Canada, we had a retrofit government program which required an audit before and after retrofit work, with the audit required to be completed by a licensed energy inspector. Vancouver, where I live, is a reasonably large metropolitan centre, so you'd think with this population base there'd be a reasonable chance of getting someone decent, right? Neither inspector was particularly helpful or knowledgeable, either on-site or in their reports. One inspector had a great-looking report filled with boiler-plate language ("... may apply to your house.") but, other than a composite score at the end, a few flashy graphs, and a recommendation to replace the 30 year-old boiler, fairly little in the way of substantive recommendations. In fact, most of the recommendations given at the time (install electrical socket foam plugs, caulk around windows), I've since discovered and learned were not even particularly useful. About the only thing both inspectors seemed to know was how to set up the blower door. I could only wish to have someone like Mr. Post in my neighbourhood.
On the other side, the only time I've had a contractor throw himself out of my house in the middle of the interview, it was a sales guy from a company which does both "energy consultations" as well as retrofitting.
Regarding Robert Post's original question, I can only speak as someone whose company makes software in a completely different field, one of whose functions is to generate automated human-understandable reports based on measured data. Such reports are a real pain in the micta to write software for if you want the reports to be personal, meaningful, and automatic. Personally, I find myself skipping the boiler-plate explanations in such auto-generated reports and going right to the numbers, graphs, and conclusions, but I realize I may be atypical.
In Canada, the NRC maintains a piece of software for R-2000 auditors called HOT2000 (http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/residential/personal/new-homes/r-2000/standard/hot2000.cfm?attr=4) which does something similar to the Recurve software, though on a much more limited scope.
William, some questions:
1) Sounds like you have had two or more audits on your home. Is this correct? Did either/any of these benefit you, and if so, how? How did you go about identifying and choosing auditors?
2) Were these audits free, subsidized by government or utilities, done as sales tools, or done privately at market rate?
3) What are the energy upgrades that you are having done? How did you decide that they were worthwhile?
4) In general, is your home one that can easily be improved to a significant extent, or does your home have issues that will be very costly to improve (example: 100% cathedral ceilings that are poorly insulated) ?
5) Did anyone perform heating load calcs on your house, and if so how?
6) What information in a report would be useful to you?
1) I had 2 audits -- one at the beginning of the previous phase of energy upgrades (to access ecoEnergy program), one at the end. Both of these were mandated by the government program. I ended up with 2 different auditors as I found the first one (with a nice yet useless report) quite useless, and switched to a second one on closing to see if the experience would in any way be different. The list of allowed auditors is prescribed by the program (http://www.oee.nrcan.gc.ca/residential/personal/new-home-improvement/contact-advisors.cfm). In hindsight, one of the other auditors on the list of 11 seems like they might've been better, but I was 0 for 2 so far.
2) The audits were all paid-for, $150 each, with one of the audits reimbursed by the government if I carried through with the entire program for energy upgrades. Both auditors had a pretty extensive list of references, but I'll readily admit I was significantly more naive about energy usage and construction at the start of the retrofits. The audits from these companies appeared to be part of their standard offering, including blower door testing, rough window count/measure (more former than latter), and some other basics. No IR camera work included at this level (another $$$ required; I'll probably indulge in such services after my current phase of retrofits). As I stated, neither audit company does retrofitting work.
3) I started off replacing the boiler and DHW with a 95% AFUE combi-boiler plus a solar thermal system for the first round. I did what in naive retrospect turned out to be rather ineffectual draft-proofing. (or should that be finger-in-diking?) Currently, using 100% self-funding, I'm getting the windows replaced (low SHGC in the south, low U everywhere else) and crawling around sealing up the actual big holes in the envelope. (attic, fireplaces, etc) And, of course, the obligatory light/appliance replacements were done.
The disappointment with the auditors was that, armed with some additional reading from here and elsewhere, I was able to detect a fair number of actual big leaks using the turn-on-all-exhaust-fans method. None of the big leaks were pointed at when I did the house walk-through with either auditor. To Martin's point elsewhere, envelope improvements are usually the biggest bang for the buck. I was instead pointed at things like foam gaskets on plugs.
The company I mentioned whose sales guy left the building never got the chance to try their hand at auditing my house, once he led off with attic insulation and outlet gaskets.
Modeling using a succession of techniques (homebrew Excel, HOT2000, RESFEN) led me to tackle windows and air infiltration this year. The other big slices of the energy loss pie chart, the walls and the foundation, look like they are even more work and $$$$$. I'm not sure if I'll tackle these.
4) The house itself is a fairly simple 2-level, 2700 sq ft conditioned space Vancouver Special-style (vaguely ranch, vaguely neo-eclectic simple rectangular box) dating from the 1980s, built slab-on-grade. Built to code of the time, so not overly shabby, but not exactly R2000 material, let alone PassivHaus. Vented unconditioned attic space, flat ceilings, about R30 worth of blown cellulose. Currently aluminum-frame windows (being changed), and 2x4 16 OC walls with mostly vinyl siding and some annoying brick veneer.
So far, simply replacing the boiler and DHW system has reduced my natural gas usage by about 40-50% over previous years. Keeping my family in the cold this past half year or so (simulating a bit what would happen when the envelope improves) has shown that there ought to be more room yet for improvement.
5) As mentioned above, I've performed a few heating load calculations on my house. This topic has never even been mentioned by any of the folks coming through.
Interestingly enough, the window company I ended up with had barely heard of the practice of differential SHGC for south vs. other directions. Their first inclination was to just put low SHGC, low-U everywhere. But then again, none of the other 5 companies I interviewed had any idea either.
6) The main guidance I found useful so far is a pie chart or table listing the relative contribution of different aspects of the house to the energy consumption, along with a number stating the energy consumption. This was useful to me when I used it in combination with trying out different parameters. (eg, different window coatings giving different U-factor/SHGC, etc) It was also instrumental in my decision to not try to blow any more attic insulation in at this time, given what the model said was the relative contribution of an addition x inches of attic insulation.
Decision-wise, I guess you could say that my thinking process has been:
1) Where are the biggest energy hogs?
2) If I do X to it, what is the effect on energy consumption / comfort / etc?
3) If I do X from (2), what would it cost me? (obviously this is more in the renovation contractor's bailiwick, not so much the audit report)
To that end, most of Recurve appears fairly good; however, some of the graphs seem more slanted towards driving the homeowner to buy a service as opposed to presenting information. I guess it's personal taste, as I suppose an argument could be made that the $$$ saved for a given upgrade is part of the homeowner's buying decision.
Secondarily, it is useful to have things like IR images or human recommendations to give me some guidance as to what X to do.
I'm still learning about this field, and am happy to be able to draw on experts from this forum to help.
Too bad you dismissed the auditors' recommendations out of hand. The biggest improvement for the least investment is almost always outlet gaskets, caulk and weatherstripping. After that, it's additional attic insulation (because it's so easy and inexpensive to do).
Then you move toward the big ticket items, such as envelope improvements, window replacement, and HVAC upgrades.
Sounds like they were all giving you sound advice.
William, thanks for the detailed response.
A lot of questions come to mind, but let me just throw a few out there. You weren't given load calcs as part of either audit, so presumably neither one gave you before/after energy bill information. I don't know why they would count windows at all--in my experience you either measure them and enter them into a modeling program, or you don't, but counting them doesn't make sense to me. Anyway, one approach to audits is to model the house and determine what the lowest reasonably-attainable energy usage is. I think that's a hard nut to crack, but many programs do it.
So, without using the modeling approach, you default to belt-and-suspenders. You look at the easy targets--air leakage, attic insulation, inefficient equipment, etc.--and start shooting. It does not take an energy model to look at an attic with poor R-13 fiberglass and know that it ought to be R-60 cellulose, at least in this climate. It's also easy to run the blower door, find out that you have 10 ACHn, and select some areas for air sealing, while the door is still running. And, if the refrigerator is from 1978, you might replace it.
It's not clear which approach your auditors were using. In a government program I would expect some ROI numbers to be required, based on modeling. Lacking that, they should have found all the big air leaks for you with the blower door, and either listed the repairs or given you IR images of them if you stated you were doing the work yourself. They should have given you guidelines as to how far to seal, and possibly set a follow-up to re-test after the work was done. They should have recommended moving the attic insulation out in order to air seal, and then probably augmenting it to a higher level. They should have inspected the crawl space and attic for a whole list of issues. There are possibly other things like pipe insulation, weatherstripping, etc., that could have been on a detailed list of work items to be performed--and since the auditors you saw know that they're not doing the work, the list should have been good enough for someone else to perform easily without reinspecting much at all.
Last thing -- $150 is not much for an audit. In fact it's not nearly enough for an audit. It takes all day and then some to perform a complete inspection including IR, BD, and ducts, develop a lighting and appliance audit, model the house, and deliver a prioritized work scope to you. It's a lot of work. Are those guys getting more money from the program, or is $150 all they get?
Robert, re: gaskets. I did put in gaskets on all the plugs, and caulked all the windows and replaced all weatherstripping. Yes, it was cheap. The net effect was measured at a whopping 5% net improvement of my ach50 figure, before vs. after. Much afterwards, I came across articles such as http://www.finehomebuilding.com/how-to/articles/fixing-a-cold-drafty-house-by-sealing-the-attic.aspx?nterms=61678 and Guertin and Harley's writings indicating that such efforts produce the least gains when dealing with air infiltration. Indeed, when I looked based on their advice I found much bigger holes in the envelope (eg, plumbing penetrations), and I've been slowly working on sealing those up as time permits from real life. Air infiltration mediation is best bang for the buck, with 15% of energy losses at my house going out through the cracks and holes, but the gaskets are only part of the complete breakfast.
Attic insulation is on my list, but somewhere after I finish sealing the attic. It is also not high on the list as the $$$ - $$$$ I'd spend blowing another several inches up there to get it up to R60 doesn't net me quite as much in terms of absolute energy savings and, more importantly at this point, comfort.
My current mini-project is ripping open chases and insulating hydronic pipes where possible, especially where they were passing uninsulated inside a chase through the unconditioned garage. Way more bang for the buck.
I wasn't originally going to do the windows at this point, but the radiant cold from the windows plus condensation on the uncoated glass and aluminum frames really tipped me over.
David, AFAIK, $150 is all they get, so I did not have very high expectations, at least the second time around. Total time on site was about an hour. I did not expect detailed modeling or IR images, though some rough calculations were provided by auditor#1. I did expect that as we walked around the house with the blower door on that the auditors would at least say something meaningful (eg, "that's a B-vent gas fireplace, you can feel the draft coming back down through it.") or at least not misdirect. ("put foam gaskets around all outlets", heard from each auditor and quoted out of the government brochure)
Auditor #1 poked his head up into the attic and measured the insulation there. As I mentioned earlier, I have around R30 (it's been disturbed by the solar guys and myself; I really need to go back up and rake it flat before blowing more in). While I wouldn't expect either guy to have actually crawled up into the attic to personally inspect for gaps around the chimney, etc, I would've expected at least some quoting from Harley et al on the possibility. No comments were made at all about things like sealing around ceiling fixtures, or anything to do with sealing the upper ceiling.
In the end, I ended up embarking on a process of self-education and modeling the house myself in order to figure out what to do next and what I should or should not have done earlier. The HVAC upgrade I justified to my wife partly because the boiler was on its last legs, but mostly because of the government money, which seemed to be biased heavily in favor of such capital upgrades and with relatively few dollars allocated to envelope improvement.
What seemed to be happening was that the auditors were echoing the government line, though given that some of the government dollars were based on improving the house energy score (which included a few $$$ for ach50 improvement), I would've thought they should've handed out better advice on how to do so.
Oh well, as is the case, TANSTAAFL -- you get what you pay for. I'm sure I'll be spending more on the next auditor, after I've completed the current round of retrofits based on stuff I've found by inspection, and assuming I find someone who sounds as competent as you.
David, regarding the window-counting thing -- there were 2 purposes, neither of which I thought were very good reasons. One was to go into a quick-and-dirty model which assumed a standard window size (ie, so the auditor could avoid having to measure the windows individually). The second had to do with the part of the government program to do with window replacement. (which I didn't take advantage of, as the $$ per window was just not worth the $$$$$ capital expense of replacing the windows at the same time I was spending $$$$$ on HVAC).
Draw your own conclusions. ;>
David's comment about inspecting ductwork reminded me of a funny, real, but slightly OT phone exchange I had with a sales guy from xxx Carpet & Furnace Cleaning company recently.
Sales: Hi, this is Bob from xxx Carpet & Furnace Cleaning. We're offering a special on duct cleaning this month.
Me: Sorry, don't need it.
Sales: But, if you don't clean your ducts regularly, (blah blah blah about dangers of dust buildup).
Me: Sorry, don't need it.
Sales: May I ask why?
Me: Sorry, don't have ducts. We have hydronic baseboard heating.
Sales: Oh, well... in that case, how about a service of your boiler?
Me: Sorry, I get the guys who installed it to service it, as they're a licensed installer for Viessmann. Besides, it just got its 1-year maintenance a couple of months ago.
Sales: Oh, well... in that case, how about cleaning your carpets?
Me: Sorry, we don't have carpets. I put in hardwood floors a couple of years back. Bye.
I guess I was just a tough crowd.
(had to break this up; not sure what the spam filter was twigging off of...)
That was a bizarre posting experience, and I apologize for that. Apparently the spam filter lets me say "cleaning your carpets" but not "carpet xxx cleaning". (xxx inserted to allow this post)
Great post! (The long one describing your experience with auditors and your decisions on retrofit measures.)
Thanks for sharing your story of your ups and downs.
Having learned more about your experience, I believe you received good value for the $150. These guys need to be doing 3-4 of these a day to make a living. Just a blower door test, combustion testing, and broad recommendations cost more than this on the open market. I consider myself pretty efficient, and I can only do 4 blower door tests with recommendations a day, in suburbia- and that it MOVING!. This is only part of an audit. A full audit on a 2500-3500 sq. ft. home with one heating system will take me about 5-7 hours on site and 2 hours on the report. I then return for a walk and talk review of the report with the client. This can take another 1-2 hours, depending on the homeowner's desire and capacity to understand. Based on your posts, We would have spent a lot of time post-audit, discussing the issues and remedies. They start at $550 and go up from there depending on house size and complexity. The most costly one was $1300: large contemporary with 3 separate attics and heating systems.
I've never performed an audit where air-sealing was not the #1 priority in terms of energy savings. Outlet gaskets are a small part of this as are caulking baseboards & casings, sealing exhaust fans and recessed lights, sealing all penetrations into the conditioned spaces like forced air ducts, etc.... However, the attic and basement are always the worst offenders in terms of CFM's of air leakage.
A homeowner can gain much understanding of their home's energy scenario through research. On great tool to start with is the Energy yardstick- https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=home_energy_yardstick.showGetStarted. Simply input basic utility bill data and it tells you on a scale of 1-10 where you stand compared to others in your area and current standards. As an auditor, I get a utility bill from a potential client and run it through the yardstick. It takes 10 minutes and lets me know how much opportunity exists and whether they will benefit from an audit.
An auditor really brings value when he:
-identifies bypasses in the thermal & air-pressure boundary that are not apparent or intuitive
-establishes combustion appliance efficiencies and safety status
-reveals energy issues unique to your home such as orientation effects, insulation levels everywhere, duct work leaks or problems
-discusses balancing issues or limitations of HVAC distribution system
-determines basic IAQ status through Co & gas leak testing
-interprets and quantifies blower door data in a way that is easily understood
-performs zonal pressure testing to tease out air-sealing goals and forced air balancing needs
-red flags any other issues observed such as water infiltration, wood rot, radon systems not working, roofing-flashing issues, lack of spot ventilation, fire hazards, electrical code violations, etc...
-provides a clearly written and easily understood report documenting findings and solutions
-MOST IMPORTANT: bringing effective solutions to the table for all issues in a prioritized list of safety first, ROI second.
On Monday, I just finished a retrofit where the homeowner and I decided against a preliminary audit. He is very knowledgeable about home energy, and I wrote the contract in a way that clearly outlined the potential for ventilation requirements after the shell was dealt with. The scope of work included air-sealing the basement, Fan Tech bathroom exhausts, kitchen exhaust, and CCSF under vented roof deck. The job went well, but the test out revealed the furnace and HWH in the basement were not venting well. Not having a baseline, having exclusions in the contract, and having discussed this potential prior to the work made it easy to address this with a change order. We provided controlled combustion air and the units are working well and SAFE now. He plans to upgrade these appliances in the next few years.
My point is that while I prefer to start with an audit, it is not always necessary.
This all goes back to my original quest for efficiency. A thorough, professional audit requires focused time, and a very good understanding of building dynamics, products and techniques. I hear about free audits from HVAC companies on our local radio stations and fear that schemes like this will "dumb down" home energy analysis to what William described. What value is there in that, when you can read energystar.gov and learn all of that in 20 minutes?
Thanks for all the posts!
Having interviewed a number of the auditors in the local area (maybe I didn't find the right ones), the bulk of the crowd here seems to be split between those who want to work on medium- to large-scale commercial audits ("Residential? Sure, but you probably can't afford or need our services.") and those who seem to do nothing but these $150 ecoEnergy audits. Finding folks like Robert Post or David Meiland seems to be more difficult than it ought to be, but I guess that's a reflection of the toughness of the real underlying market for this type of service. I suspect the market will shake out a bit now that the government money is on a trajectory for winding down.
To Robert's comment about value for money, I'm satisfied with essentially paying $150 for a single whole-house blower door test, but disappointed that it was dressed up as an "audit" rather than what it actually was. I suppose the main educational value of the "audits" was that they motivated me to learn more about this area.
Thank you all for your comments, and sorry about having hijacked the thread a bit.
We can only hope that IRS audits are as "thorough" as these energy audits.
William, fantastic first hand posting of what this auditing future is starting out like.
This gets to the heart of it. The person who can afford a comprehensive energy retrofit on their house is generally the same person who can afford to continue using a lot of energy, and they don't necessarily want a bunch of contractors crawling around their home unless maybe they're getting a nice new kitchen. The person who is sweating their monthly energy bill can't always afford the chunk of dough it takes to fix things up. As energy costs rise, we may see people re-prioritizing their disposable money and doing what they have to do to get heating costs down. Fewer giant plasma screens, more insulation.
Robert R.- I actually hope the IRS does not become as thorough. I locked horns with them once over an unfounded $1200 tax bill and lost. What a PIA. They are unmovable. IRS should be a 4 letter word. Generally, I'm not against paying taxes, but the massive agency is a DINOSAUR.
David- you're right. I talk to folks early in the process to determine where their values are. I take a casual approach and explain how my wife and I were considering a room addition, and after much discussion, decided to put our resources into energy reduction and improving the durability and comfort of our home. Either they look at me like a deer in the headlights or the get it. If they get it, I become their sustainability sherpa for the foreseeable future. If not, I let them know that I am here to help if the want to make improvements later.
We have an efficient wood stove instead of a plasma TV. Most importantly, it is the gathering place for our family (we are all here right now) and incidentally it heats our home. ;-)
William- I really appreciate your posts. It is true that demand for audits is very LOW. Many devoted auditors are moving to the commercial sector because that is where the jobs are. I am a residential guy, practically from birth, and I really enjoy the personal interactions with my clients. I could never move to the commercial sector.
Well said, David. Realistically, given the low energy rates here in Vancouver, nothing I'm doing in terms of energy efficiency has a payback period less than a decade or two, and that's just the HVAC and air infiltration (if I disregard my labor input for the latter, as I'm doing most of it myself, and factor in the government $$$$ for the HVAC). Everything else I might do -- solar PV, walls, windows, floor/foundation, has incremental payback on the order of a few decades. For those for whom the bills are the only thing, there's still not enough incentive to do the energy retrofits.
To me, the value of the auditor is as Robert Post has stated, essentially to help me as a non-trades homeowner find things which I didn't already know about my house.
David Meiland good post.. I agree fully.. One thing about all of us with tight budgets... first thing we do is turn down the heat and close off rooms. Next i do see lots of the plastic saran wrap window insulating packages flying off the shelves. Last thing someone does is call for an audit that does nothing directly to save money. Tough business for sure. Yaa need a large populace to make it work I bet. We have too many trees here and not many people. So we burn trees and audit not.
That's funny. Who's got disposable money? Perhaps when QE2 floods the economy with greenbacks so that they become about as valuable as toilet paper...
Sorry to hear about your run-in with the IRS, but if they're a dinosaur it's because they are about as slow and clumsy as one. Back when I was still paying taxes, in 1972, I was audited because I had disproportionate deductions for a very small income (I even wrote off my dog's medical bills). I was told that if you challenge the audit and demand to meet with a supervisor, they'll relent - and that's exactly what happened because they simply don't have the resources to do the job they're given. I haven't paid federal income taxes since 1979, and the IRS has abandoned even their most feeble attempts to snare me. They're actually a paper tiger, contrary to the mythology about death and taxes.
Yep, it is easy to be a cheat or deadbeat if you don't have attachable assets. But if you want to run a business with actual money in the bank or save for your family or self then you have to play by the rules and pay your fair share.
Allan, I don't think "cheat" or "deadbeat" are good words to describe Robert, if that was your intention. I'm pretty sure he's a man who's sticking to his principles, rather than not paying taxes so he can keep them money for himself. I know many cheats and deadbeats, and some of them are operating fairly large businesses in my market.
From various news media:
More Americans are fudging their taxes and an increasing number of people are scared of being audited, a survey from the IRS Oversight Board shows.
Thirteen percent of those surveyed said cheating is acceptable, according to an annual poll conducted for the Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board. Four percent of Americans said they cheat on their taxes "as much as possible" (these are the numbers who admit this to the IRS survey).
When asked if the fear of an audit plays a role in whether or not a taxpayer reports his or her taxes "honestly," 77% of Americans said yes, according to the poll, even though the chance of being audited is about 1% (though half of those who are have individual incomes of $25,000 or less).
The IRS says unreported income costs the U.S. Treasury $250 billion or more a year in lost taxes.
This much is known: Most people in the United States can't cheat much because their employers report their incomes to the government.
So the big cheats are more likely to be people who have other sources of income, such as from businesses they own, rental properties or investments. Most of the cheating occurs in these areas, says David Cay Johnston, who covers tax policy for The New York Times and spoke about it in 2007 on NPR's Talk of the Nation. Some $11 billion to $30 billion of revenue in this realm goes unreported, according to differing estimates.
Johnston also points out another common type of cheating: Business owners have contractors do work at their homes but have them bill the company, where it's then counted as a deductible expense.
A Pew Research Center poll in 2006 found that 79 percent of us think it's morally wrong to not report all income for taxes purposes. That means a whopping 21 percent think it is either morally OK or it's not a moral issue.
(Reuters) - Most U.S. and foreign corporations doing business in the United States avoid paying any federal income taxes, despite trillions of dollars worth of sales.
The Government Accountability Office said 72 percent of all foreign corporations and about 57 percent of U.S. companies doing business in the United States paid no federal income taxes for at least one year between 1998 and 2005. During that time corporate sales in the United States totaled $2.5 trillion. More than half of foreign companies and about 42 percent of U.S. companies paid no U.S. income taxes for two or more years in that period, the report said.
I wonder which category Allan Edwards, who skims the cream off the greenwashed building industry, falls into.
My guess is that Allan pays a huge amount of Federal income tax. And since he's an active owner I don't see any way call his work "skimming". That's what my redneck neighbor is doing with his fraudulent lifetime disability pension from the state.
Motion to return to topic. ----Any seconds?
...must...resist...urge...to go... OT...
Back to the topic, I have a question for David M and Robert P. It just occurred to me as a consumer of auditing services that posting sample reports on your own respective web sites would probably induce me to pick your services over, say, one of the other auditors who have web sites filled with generic lurid "Save $$$$$ if you add attic insulation!!!!" slogans. The level of detail in the actual deliverable would, for me, at least, be a good gauge of the thoroughness and knowledge level of a given auditor. This would be far more informative than some of the sites I've seen which provide testimonials like:
What say you? Is there some reason you might be inclined to not do so? I guess it'd be easy for another auditor to copy the format, but the know-how is still yours as the consultant.
William, I've been meaning to post a sample for quite a while. Unfortunately my site isn't so easy to add to. Most home inspectors have sample reports on their sites, and I've come across a few on energy auditor sites as well.
David & Robert,
What do you think of this one: http://filelibrary.myaasite.com/Content/42/42224/31103243.pdf
Not impressive. To start with, an English teacher or copy editor would have a field day. Aside from that, for starters, the description of the pressure & thermal boundaries is needless and will cause the layperson's eyes to glaze over immediately. Under air leakage, it appears to give CFM50 but doesn't say so explicitly, which it should. It does not give ACHn, which it should. It should say in plain terms that "the house has excess air leakage and we need to reduce that". It refers to energy use calcs but gives none, which it should, and it should have a quick breakdown of 12 months of utility bills. The scope of work has several errors in it, at least from my perspective... for instance I would call for removing the existing insulation, doing the air sealing, and then installing cellulose. You can't dense pack an attic. One inch of foam on the attic door is nowhere near enough. Etc. etc.
In general, I think the writer understands the issues to an extent, and if you gave the report to a decent contractor, some of the work would be done correctly. But, it's not necessary to give that report to a decent contractor. A person qualified to make the improvements would know most of what needed doing after making their own inspection. If the owner hires the right contractor, the report will basically go unused.
The report states that a 20-28% savings can be achieved, but gives no evidence.
The IR images probably do a decent job of showing the owner where to seal if they choose to do it themselves, but most owners don't know HOW to do it.
Bottom line to me, a report like that is unnecessary. A good contractor could come in with their own blower door and IR and set the work scope, then execute it. Most owners don't want to read about it first.
But it's got lots of pretty pictures.
William- Same as David. I do not manage my site. I probably should. I would need to protect it somehow.
Robert R.- That report was fair for the shell, but limited. We (BPI) cover so much more: combustion, IAQ, Lighting & appliances, water conservation, etc............. This report had good explanations of concepts.
"1. Seal with a spray foam along the entire garage ceiling perimeter and seal any evident
openings in the ceiling and walls to the basement."
This is very important for IAQ and should be stressed and explained some more for the homeowner.
"5. Blow in and dense pack attic ceiling flat with cellulose insulation."
I'd air-seal first.
Benefit of the doubt: I guess he's talking about cathedrals when he states dense pack, but they probably already have fiberglass. If he is talking about the flats, good luck dense packing.
"6. Air seal in basement. Spray foam around windows, vertical pipe penetrations."
What about band joists and duct work?- maybe it's all finished.
"8. Remove the baseboard trim around the tile floor and caulk/seal where the sheet
rock meets the tile flooring."
just caulk the floor-baseboard and wall-baseboard joints, less invasive.
The test out after air-sealing is critical in order to evaluate the combustion appliance safety. THIS SHOULD BE EXPLAINED AND PROVIDED REGARDLESS OF WHO DOES THE WORK.
The IR is great, but only to compliment a comprehensive approach to auditing. BPI does not require IR because it is not needed to do a thorough audit. It aids in finding infiltration given the right delta t, but sloppy or missing insulation behind sheetrock is very expensive to fix unless part of a larger scope.
I do like to use IR, it speeds things along. It's also great for a quick look at the breaker box for overloads, finding water leaks, insect infestation, or to take my kids temperature.
A true Energy Audit focuses on three things. Health, Safety, and Saving Energy. The first two take precidence over the last. You can't just go in with a blower door and say do this, this and that. Part of an Audit is making sure the combustable appliance are operating safely and not releasing harmful gases into the living space. Thats why there is a test in and test out. Pressure differences can change after a retrofit that can adversally effect a CAT I appliance. This is the heart of the audit.
If you insulate the walls effectively, you don't need outlet gaskets. Caulking is secondary to airsealing a house.
A simple equation is used to calculate the BTUs saved based on the amount of CFMs reduced after air sealing.
The house in the photo on that report looked new enough that it might have direct vent appliances. A lot of homes I work on have no atmospheric draft appliances, they are either direct vent or electric.
Might still need mechanical ventilation regardless of the presence of atmospheric units- Just for IAQ if able to get tight enough.
That report is a great example of someone who purchased a camera and blower door and took a one day...well maybe half day class on building science. One of the worst I've seen but it is a "Certified" Energy Audit Report so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.
I hope for the customer's sake that was a freebie through their utility company. They better watch out for that stack Affect.
People like this will give the audit industry a bad name.
It was probably a home inspector who expanded into IR in the hopes of jumping on the bandwagon.
Good call Robert - he was pretty good at putting arrows on those pictures.
Maybe Daniel can start a comic relief section where we can upload reports from home inspectors/auditors and we can discuss them. Maybe give awards out at the end of the year.
and that since the work performed has no requirement of inspection pretty much anything can go?
Answered by ROY HARMON
Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 10:24
Leads me back to this question asked in post #10. Can anyone purchase equipment and be in the energy audit buisness~ without regulation?
Yeah but if they just follow their simplistic recommendations, they can go back with the ir camera and see that it didn't fix much. The customer won't be happy
Coordinated programs usually have test-outs and quality assurance measures. Generally, the audit is reviewed but more importantly the actual work is inspected and the home tested out.
These programs usually require some or all of the work to be done in order for the Homeowner to qualify for grants or attractive financing and the oversight. If the homeowner chooses to self perform, all bets are off. They would need to hire an auditor to test out.
My experience In the private sector: an auditor is hired to perform either a preliminary audit only, a preliminary audit and return for test-out, or preliminary audit, the work, and test-out. 3 scenarios.
About 80% of my audits convert to contracts for the work. Obviously, blower door guided air sealing and test-out are included when they convert.
Anyone can buy equipment and offer services provided the have the required licensing in their jurisdiction. Pretty much like anything else. Like contractors, auto mechanics, hair stylists etc... The main difference is that auditors only evaluate, they do not perform the work. It is incumbent upon anyone tightening up a house to ensure the systems still work afterwards.
If your concern is quality, inspections and regulation rarely have a significant effect on quality.
If your concern is safety of building occupants and IAQ, well that is a concern. Interestingly, however, I have not seen many reports of homeowners becoming ill from this. I think I read 2 in the past 2 years and only 1 followed air sealing work.
Is anyone aware of other stories of serious problems after energy retrofits?
I was just in a house today. Natural draft boiler and water heater in a closet with louvered doors in a downstairs finished room. the problem arose when they turned on the whole house fan. Granted, CO level was about 12ppm , however the potential for a dangerous situation is there. you begin to think about things differently when it is people's lives at stake.