Dear Angie: I want to invest in energy-efficient improvements. How do I find an energy auditor who won't just try to sell me his or her own products? — Debra B., Portland, Ore.
Answer: An audit can be a great first step toward reducing energy costs, provided you don't end up paying for unnecessary options.
Also called a home energy assessment, an energy audit is a room-by-room review of how efficiently your home uses energy. You can do a rudimentary assessment yourself simply by going through your house on a cold, windy day. Also, some utility companies or local energy offices might offer reduced-price energy assessments.
A professional auditor, who generally charges $75 to $200, uses a variety of methods, including sophisticated tools, to pinpoint specific ways to reduce energy use.
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To find reputable, reliable professionals, consider this advice from my consumer-services research team:
Many energy auditors are certified in that field and have no financial interest in whether you buy insulation, HVAC systems or other services and products. Other companies that provide energy reviews also might sell and install materials or equipment. If you check companies' references and reviews on a trusted online site, you can determine whether other homeowners found them trustworthy.
Also, ask prospective companies to describe the process and techniques they would use to assess your home's energy efficiency. A thorough audit typically will make use of a blower door test, in which a doorway seal and fan measure a home's air exchange rate to detect leaks. A thermographic scan makes infrared energy visible and reveals over- or under- insulated areas.
If your state or city considers an energy audit to be a home inspection, your auditor might be required to hold a home inspector's license. But although most states and localities don't require that energy auditors be trade-licensed, it's a good idea to look for companies that have accreditations or certifications through an organization such as the Building Performance Institute or Residential Energy Services Network.
Before you hire an energy auditor, or contractors to act on audit recommendations, take time to seek multiple bids, ensure the company is appropriately insured and bonded, and get everything about the project in writing. Doing your pre-hiring homework is always energy well spent.