April 23, 2024

Home Energy Audit: Why it's Important and How to Get One


Are you struggling with high utility bills? Taking steps to make your home more energy efficient can help reduce your electricity and gas usage.

This story is part of “CNET Zero,” a series that chronicles the impacts of climate change and explores what's being done about the problem.

But beyond turning off lights when you leave a room, unplugging appliances you rarely use, and buying Energy Star-certified appliances, it can be hard to know where to start.

That's where a home energy audit can help. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, getting an audit, also called a home energy assessment, and implementing the recommendations can save you 5% to 30% on your utility bills. Making energy-efficient upgrades based on a home energy audit can also help create a safer, more comfortable home environment while reducing your carbon footprint.

What is a Home Energy Audit?

A home energy audit measures how much energy your home is using and identifies opportunities to make your home more energy efficient. If you're interested in building a more energy efficient home, getting an audit is the first step.

You or a professional auditor will identify factors in your home that affect your energy use and recommend repairs, adjustments, or upgrades to increase efficiency. A home energy audit includes examining your utility bills and energy usage data for anomalies and evaluating the building envelope (the parts of your home that separate the indoor air from the outdoor air, such as walls, floors, windows, and roof). This includes checking insulation, identifying air leaks, and evaluating equipment such as HVAC systems. It may also include evaluating indoor air quality and ventilation.

“There are three key elements to energy efficiency: airtightness, insulation and heating and cooling systems in your home,” said Joel Rosenberg, special projects program manager for the electrification nonprofit Rewiring America.

The most basic energy audit is done without an auditor entering your home. This process, called a remote energy audit, virtual energy audit, or quick energy audit, involves answering basic questions about your utility bills and different parts of your home, like the age of your fireplace or the condition of your windows. This type of home energy audit can be completed with a quick online questionnaire or with an auditor present over video conference.

A more thorough energy audit might involve an in-person visit by a professional auditor to visually inspect and physically test different areas of your home, paying particular attention to areas prone to air leaks, like doors and windows, attics and basements, floorboards and basement floors. Depending on the type of audit you get and the auditor, an in-person home energy audit may include:

Blower door tests to identify leaks and cracks throughout the home Insulation checks for attics and basements Evaluating appliances such as fireplaces, air conditioners, and water heaters Infrared camera tests to identify leaks in windows and doors Lighting inspections Analysis of recent utility bills Discussion of home energy usage and comfort issues

An in-person audit can take one to three hours and cost several hundred dollars, but your utility company may offer free or low-cost home energy audits, and some states even offer in-person energy audits at no charge.

The most comprehensive home energy audits will also assess and make recommendations on safety factors related to energy efficiency measures. These safety checks may include radon testing, inspection of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, indoor air quality assessments, and inspection of gas appliances for leaks and other malfunctions that could affect the health and safety of occupants if improvements are made to the building envelope.

“A lot of people recommend airtightness, which is a really good thing for energy,” said Mike Bursick, technical director at SouthFace, a sustainable building nonprofit in Atlanta. “If you're not careful, you can create a dangerous situation.”

To prepare for a home energy audit, it's a good idea to review your recent utility bills and have them on hand for the auditor to review. Prepare a list of questions and problem areas (such as leaky windows or uninsulated mudrooms) to discuss with the auditor.

On the day of the audit, before the auditor arrives, close all windows and exterior doors in preparation for a blower door test. During the test, a special device called a blower door uses powerful fans to blow air out of your home, reducing the pressure inside and allowing outside air to flow in through any cracks or leaks. Also, because the blower door test can kick up ash, make sure you clean out any wood stoves or fireplaces and that they're not in use before the audit.

Benefits of a Home Energy Audit

A comprehensive home energy audit typically has an upfront cost, but the savings on your energy bills and improved home comfort far outweigh the cost. Getting a home energy audit is only the first step in the process; you'll need to make the upgrades and adjustments the auditor recommends to realize the benefits.

“An energy audit is a great first step. It's like going to the doctor for a checkup, but the doctor gives you a prescription for what to do next,” Rosenberg said.

Savings on energy bills

The most obvious benefit of a home energy audit is reduced energy bills. As you might imagine, an energy-efficient home uses less energy, which translates into lower energy costs for gas and/or electricity. “When less air leaks out of your home for heating and cooling, you waste less money,” says Rosenberg.

A more comfortable home

If your home is sweltering hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, the energy efficiency upgrades your auditor recommends could make you and your family's home more comfortable. “The more control you can have over the air inside, both in terms of air quality and temperature, the more comfortable your home will be,” says Rosenberg.

Sealing leaky doors and windows, adding insulation where needed, and upgrading your HVAC system will reduce the loss of heating in the winter and cooling in the summer, improving indoor temperature control year-round.

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions

Energy-efficient home appliances don't have to work as hard or use as much fuel to perform their functions. This applies to HVAC systems, lighting, and even ceiling fans. By using less energy, you burn less fossil fuels, which in turn reduces your carbon footprint.

Tax Credit for Home Energy Audits

The Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit, part of the Inflation Control Act, provides a 30% tax credit, up to $150, to taxpayers who have a home energy audit performed by a qualified professional auditor. Many states and local governments also offer incentives for home energy audits, ranging from tax refunds to discounts to free assessments. For example, Massachusetts homeowners, landlords, and renters can receive a free energy efficiency assessment through the state's Mass Save program.

How to Find an Energy Auditor

If you want to take advantage of the IRA tax credit, keep in mind that only audits performed by auditors accredited by organizations on the Department of Energy's list of certification programs are eligible. These accrediting organizations include the Building Performance Institute, the Association of Energy Engineers, ASHRAE, and the Residential Energy Services Network.

Bursick recommends looking for a home energy auditor who is certified by BPI or Home Energy Raters, the latter of which is offered through RESNET. “The highest level of home audit is to have a full audit by a HERS auditor,” he says. “Someone who has one or both of those certifications usually knows what to do.”

Rosenberg recommends searching the BPI or RESNET websites to find certified home energy auditors in your area, as well as checking with your utility company, who may have their own list of auditors who qualify for state- or utility-level incentives. Once you've narrowed down your list, check the online reviews of those companies and choose a highly-rated auditor that fits your budget.

Do-it-yourself home energy audit

A professional home energy audit will provide the most comprehensive information about a home's energy use and ways to make it more energy efficient, but there are some ways homeowners can identify and improve on their own.

Look for any areas where you can see or feel air gaps, such as doors and windows, floorboards, baseboards, and where walls and ceilings join. You can also identify these areas by purchasing or renting an infrared camera or smartphone attachment that visually shows hot or cold air getting in. Seal any gaps with an appropriate material, such as caulk or weatherstripping.

Check your attic insulation, especially around the attic hatch (if your home has one). If your home has a fireplace, make sure the damper is closed. You can also insulate exposed hot water pipes yourself if you have access to them. If you have combustion appliances like gas or oil-burning furnaces, gas fireplaces, or gas stoves, check with a professional before sealing them to make sure you have enough ventilation for the appliances to operate safely.

If you haven't hired a professional auditor to assess your energy-hungry appliances, Rosenberg recommends determining the age of your equipment yourself. “An auditor can come in and look at your equipment and tell you how old it is, but you can also do it yourself,” he says. “Look at the nameplate on the appliance; it's often near the serial number. It'll tell you when it was manufactured, and that's a pretty good indication of the age of the appliance.”

HVAC systems like furnaces, boilers, and air conditioners have a lifespan of around 15 to 20 years with proper care and maintenance, while water heaters typically only last around 10. If your equipment is nearing the end of its life, upgrading to a newer, more efficient model or electrifying your system can result in significant energy savings and reduced utility bills.

Finally, one very simple energy efficiency strategy that almost any homeowner can implement without a DIY assessment is to switch from incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs to LED light bulbs.

“There's absolutely no downside to upgrading to 100% LED lighting,” Bursick says. “Why wait until your bulbs burn out? It's more economical to replace them now.” If the bulbs you're replacing are fluorescent, he notes, make sure to recycle them at an appropriate facility rather than tossing them in the trash.


Can a home energy audit help reduce your energy bills?

Yes, making upgrades recommended in a home energy audit can save you 5-30% on your energy bills.

How much does a home energy audit cost?

A home energy audit can cost anything from $100 to $600 on average for a virtual, remote, or subsidized assessment, to $100 to $600 for a more comprehensive in-person assessment. Tax credits, rebates, and other incentives offered by the federal and state governments, or your local utility, can reduce that cost.


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