“Energy Efficiency Reports” from Home Inspectors

If you are a home seller who has accepted a bid from a potential buyer for the purchase of your home,  there is likely to be included in your agreement a contingency for a “home inspection” to be conducted by a person of the bidder/buyer’s choice.

A home inspection is conducted in accordance with a “standard of practice” published by a state licensing board or home inspection association that defines what is and what is not included as a part of the inspector’s observations and reports.

Presently, in an attempt to “upsell” and increase profits from their home inspections (or as a marketing incentive used to promote inspectors who need the business) some home inspectors are offering an add-on service for potential buyer’s that they call “Energy Efficiency Reports”.

Unlike the home inspection that is performed in accordance with a set standard of practice, energy efficiency reports are generally subjective, performed by inspectors with little or no training or certification and are calculated from basic calculators known to be broad and limited in scope.  These reports are mere guesses as to how efficient the home might utilize energy in the future if the buyer decided to purchase it.

Inspectors usually provide this service through the use of simple generic calculators (already available to the public, for free)  to publish “instant” energy efficiency reports based upon a few general observations.  Unlike legitimate energy audits performed by trained and certified energy professionals, these efficiency reports provide unreliable results that are based upon inconsistent and extremely limited observations.

Home sellers who are opening their homes to home inspectors for the purpose of complying with their contractual agreement to allow inspections of the property for the buyer’s use in the real estate transaction are almost always unaware that the inspector can also be using his time in their home to provide potential buyers with an “energy efficiency report” that can potentially interfere with the sale and/or sales price of their home.

Whether they are real or not, reported conditions that would reflect poorly upon the home’s projected ability to perform in an energy efficient manner are not necessarily “defects” but can easily be perceived as such by hesitant home buyers.  Likewise, home buyers relying upon this type of report are equally at risk if using the information it contains to determine affordability or projected energy costs.

Homes that are properly priced and presented for sale could be misrepresented as being worth less to prospective buyers due to such reports – reports provided without the input, knowledge or permission of the owner of the home.

Home sellers and the real estate salespeople who represent them should take extra measures to ensure that the inspector that they allow into their home is not performing any additional inspections or providing any additional information that is not included in the scope of the contractually agreed home inspection.

When the home inspector has stepped across the contractual boundaries … and the information that he reports outside of the scope of the contractually agreed home inspection has damaged the home seller’s attempt to sell his home … the seller should seek competent legal advice to see how these damages can be recovered from the inspector and from any real estate professional that referred or otherwise promoted the unauthorized inspection and report.

The unprofessional and objective views of an untrained person producing “energy efficiency reports” do not necessarily contain accurate information and should not be used to negotiate a real estate transaction.  Home sellers should take the extra step to inform their real estate agents that their permission for a home inspection does NOT include permission for “energy efficiency reports”.

Energy Efficiency and Your Water Heater (Part Two)

Conventional gas water heaters present an additional challenge to the home owner improving the energy efficiency of their water heater.  In addition to the energy loss through demand, standby and distribution (as previously discussed), the conventional gas water heater will waste a greater percentage of energy than electrical water heaters due to the design of the burner and ventilation system.

The wasted energy specific to gas and oil water heaters are:  excess air, dilution air and off-cycle air circulation.

Excess Air

Approximately 15 cubic feet of air is required to efficiently burn one cubic foot of gas.  Wasted heat and combustion by-products are carried by air through the chimney and are not heating water.  Some of this waste cannot be avoided, but the more excess air that flows through the burner the more energy is wasted.

Dilution Air

Dilution air is air from within the room that enters the flue at the draft diverter during combustion to assist in providing the draft needed to carry the dangerous combustion by-products to the outdoors.  Some or all of this dilution air is air that has been heated or cooled from the home.

Off-Cycle Air Circulation

Surrounding indoor air circulates through the burner and flue, carrying the heat away from the water (and conditioned air away from the home) and up the chimney.

There are improved gas and oil water heaters that reduce these losses that are directly related to ventilation by restricting the air that flows through the flue and chimney.  Some designes have eliminated the draft diverter.

By restricting the air flow through the flue and chimney, air circulation carrying the heat away from the tank has been reduced.

None of these are modifications that the home owner should do on their own since proper drafting through the flue and chimney are necessary to ensure that the dangerous by-products and gases produced during the combustion process are safely vented to the outdoors.

Since gas is a less expensive energy resource than electricity, many home owners will want to find the way to efficiently use it as opposed to replacing their gas appliances with those using more costly electricity.  The professional who conducts the diagnostic home performance evaluation will assist the home owner in locating a qualified contractor who can safely affect these changes.

How To Be a Smart Consumer in the Energy Efficiency Marketplace

Home owners wanting a complete, accurate and unbiased report on the current performance of their home’s energy systems … and a comprehensive report on all of the opportunities available to them to improve the comfort, health and efficiency of their homes … must ensure that the source of their information is reliable and unbiased.

Here is a list of services to avoid if you are looking for the best results with the greatest returns on any investment you make.

1.  Say “no” to the energy audit when it is to be performed by someone representing the sale of a product or service that is likely to be “recommended” in the report.

How unlikely is it that this so-called “energy audit” would result in a recommendation for something other than what the company performing it is in the business of selling?  When the “XXX” salesman does your “energy audit”, you already know that you will need to buy hundreds of dollars worth of  his “XXX” to improve your home’s energy efficiency.  How surprising is that? 

2.  Say “no” to the people who want to charge you for quick energy “scores” or “surveys”.

There are free energy surveys available to anyone with internet access.   Paying someone to come to your home and provide you with the same basic information may not be a good thing to do.  Government promoted in-home “scores” and “surveys” utilize computer software funded with money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act  — a program designed to motivate spending and create jobs — produce reports advising home owners to pump their money into the economy and replace their appliances with newer “EnergyStar” models.  If any part of your goal is to reduce your overall energy use and associated costs, it may be counter-productive to use a program designed to increase consumer spending and create jobs to accomplish that goal.

I will add that none of these “scores” or “surveys” require air leakage measurements which could reduce up to 40% of energy wasted in heating and cooling your home.  Is it because you may not have to purchase more than a few tubes of caulk, which leads us to …

3.  Say “no” to any energy audit that does not include a measurement of air leakage with  the proper test equipment.

Air leaking in and out of your home can result in up to 40% of waste in the cost of cooling and heating your home … and is often the least expensive energy issue to fix.  Addressing air leakage may not “create jobs” or put a whole lot of your dollars into the economy, but it has the potential of cutting your heating and cooling bills, significantly.  Reducing air leakage provides the greatest return on your investment and should be done before spending money on any additional insulation or heating/cooling equipment upgrades.

4.  Say “no” to being motivated or led by “rebates” or “discounts”. 

Many of these “rebates” are designed to direct home owners to spend their money in particular areas without actual regard for energy efficiency.  Consider, for example, the rebate offered to pay you to change your water heater from electric to gas offered by the Gas Company … and then the rebate to change your water heater back from gas to electric by the Electric Company.

The following are four things that you can do to be a smart consumer in the energy efficiency market place:

DO … keep your focus on your goals … be they to increase your level of comfort, improve the indoor air quality of your home and/or to improve the energy efficiency of your home.  (Keep on target and don’t “stimulate the economy” or create any more jobs than you have to.)

DO … seek the unbiased and qualified advice of an energy professional who does NOT anticipate any additional purchase from you to cover his expenses for providing you with the “free” energy audit.

DO … find out ALL of your options and learn also what the least expensive measures might be to achieve the greatest results toward improving the comfort and/or energy efficiency of your home.

DO … take the steps to improve the comfort and efficiency of your home by calling an independent professional energy auditor, today.

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