Solving energy leaks in homes and buildings can both save owners and tenants thousands of dollars in energy costs, enabling money that would otherwise be spent outside the community stay in local communities, contributing to a community’s economy. If you haven’t had an energy rating yourself, consider the benefit.
As energy costs have consumed more of income, careers have emerged from the efforts of homeowners, commercial property owners, governments, and investors to make homes and commercial buildings more energy efficient. New construction must meet federal and state standards for energy efficiency. This is backed up by tax incentives from the federal and many state governments to spur more energy efficiency for both new and existing homes and buildings. Energy analysts say every one dollar saved in annual energy cost increases a home or building’s value by twenty dollars.
Of course, when an energy company raises its rates, which is increasingly frequent, or someone gets a startling electricity, natural gas, propane, or heating oil bill, people think, “What can I do?”
Many people are turning to professionals to assess their homes and businesses. For about the cost of a home inspection or real estate appraisal, a property owner can learn how he/his can cut their energy use and costs. The professionals who do this go by various names—energy auditors, energy raters, building analysts, and home performance specialists. Building analysts, a.k.a. home performance specialists, take the broadest view of measuring and testing a home with additional technology to ensure energy-saving measures are safe and healthful, which means protecting against such issues as developing mold and radon leakage.
If you have a background in knowing how systems operate such as with computer systems have a ready ability to conceptualize a home or building as a system. For example, Lee O’Neil had been a home inspector for thirteen years when he inspected a brand-new home in a new development. The following winter when O’Neil’s client and his neighbors compared utility bills, the client’s energy bills were running at half those of his neighbors. What was the difference? O’Neil’s thorough home inspection resulted in the client’s home fully complying with the building code. The following November O’Neil acquired his first equipment for performing energy audits, growing a company that is active in a dozen states. Specializing in military base construction has helped Lee grow his business. He is credentialed by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET).
RESNET has agreements with two of the largest home inspection networks raters to offer lower-cost energy efficiency audits as add-ons to standard home inspections. Its raters work on new construction; those with Building Performance Institute (BPI) certification work on existing buildings. If your focus is on new buildings, expect to work the hours that contractors work, but if you want to start on a part-time basis, you can confine your hours to weekends by working with existing homes.
What your customer expects varies—builders need a rating based on Energy Star standards; home and building owners need to know how to reduce their energy bills and/or feel more comfortable. Keep in mind, too, the more equipment you use, the more physically demanding the job becomes. For example, blower door units, which are used to test air flow and identify energy leaks, weigh thirty-five to forty pounds.
BPI recognizes specializations in mechanical (heating and cooling), envelope (detecting air leakage and thermal defects in a building’s outer shell), building analysis (involving measurement and testing), multifamily buildings, and manufactured housing. Building analysts use more types of technologies and hence require several more weeks of training, and either a background or training (or both) is needed for specialization.
The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies estimates at least 70 percent of America’s over 100 million existing homes are below modern code. As energy costs spiral upward, owners are seeking ways to save, which begins with an audit. Auditing of commercial buildings is on the rise too. Auditing commercial buildings is often done to satisfy investors in the property or the business. Audits are done in varying degrees of thoroughness, from simple or walk-through audits to comprehensive or investment-grade audits. In-between levels are referred to as general or mini-audits. The more detailed audits involve analyzing utility bills, metering energy-using equipment, and projecting potential savings in terms of return on investment.
While jobs are available with established energy rating and building performance firms, and some cities are hiring energy auditors to go door-to-door, opportunity abounds for people wishing to have their own business. If you enter the field as an employee of a firm, the firm will probably pay the cost of training and provide you with needed equipment. If you become self-employed, you will need to handle these costs yourself, plus marketing your service and obtaining professional insurance. You will also need to decide between the types of certification that are available—to become an energy rater through RESNET or a building analyst through BPI.
While construction, home inspection, and weatherization are useful fits for transitioning into this field, people who are passionate about doing something about our growing energy and environmental problems can learn the skills needed from scratch through the many training programs that are available.
- The Association of Energy Engineers
- Building Performance Institute
- The Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) is a comprehensive source of information on state, federal, local, and utility incentives and policies for energy efficiency
- Residential Energy Services Network
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