After a long day of decoding energy audits, I feel the need for a controlled rant.
The whole green building craze is still relatively new, at least the LEED era is. The past 2-3 years have gone “environment” crazy to the point where almost every commercial on t.v. has a strange focus on it—I am waiting for a pharmeceautical commercial that brings America a pill that will relieve our carbon footprint guilt. But, in the same way that existing products are trying to figure out how they can market themselves as green, energy audit reports are also still as awkward as a newborn calf trying to find their way in the Green Wild West.
I am not trying to rip on the industry as a whole—in fact, I completely believe in this industry, strongly recommend that homeowners get an energy audit, and will soon be doing these myself. But it needs to be better. The format of every audit report I have seen to date is different. This is because despite using the same basic software, the energy rater (the person who performs the audit) leaves his/her own stamp on their report by giving different weight to certain items and lay the report out in different ways. Some have images woven into the reports, others do not, some have a “Work Order” in them that gives measures to achieve a certain goal, others do not. Some raters consistently spec certain items because they believe them to be most effective, while others could disagree. The list of differences goes on.
Honestly, some audits are just plain better at organizing the information and making it clear than others. Bottom line: if we are asking homeowners to pay anywhere from $500-800 for a diagnosis of their home, they should be able to read the thing and actually reap some benefits. This, of course, in addition to having the rater explain some things to them, or even send them basic info on energy saving measures along with their report—which I suspect doesn’t often happen.
Which brings me to my next point: we really, really need to educate these homeowners…the HERS index can’t measure a person/family’s habits, which are so, so crucial to saving energy. In an earlier post, I complained about the fact that raters always spec out a total replacement of incandescants to cfl bulbs, which is unrealistic. But I actually don’t think this needs to be an unrealistic goal—it is obviously the lowest hanging fruit out there. It is simply unrealistic to think that you can change people’s habits by showing them a report without further educating them. Sometimes—and I know this seems crazy—sometimes, seeing a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper isn’t enough to motivate a person to do something differently than the way they have become accustomed to doing something for the past 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years. I get that raters need to make a living and can’t hold a seminar for every person they audit, but I think that a few extra minutes or some creative planning can greatly improve the chances of a homeowner getting what they believed they were paying for. And actually recouping the cost of the audit pretty quickly.
So, all the info is there, it’s just not always accessible in my opinion. The field as we’re coming to know it is relatively new, but there really needs to be some kind of standardization and readability or it won’t take off as it should. As things are, reports need to be tightened up both for homeowners and for funders(!) who want to use the data to find the most cost-effective measures for homeowners. Considering how much work will likely come up in the future via a million green grants and climate initiatives, there’s no time like the present!
And PRESERVATIONISTS: start paying attention to these–we need a system that does a better job evaluating existing homes. A good audit can be a huge boost for preservation as it will show just how inexpensive it can be to make your old home considerably more efficient and give us a whole lot of data to back it up. We need this. We really need this.