Energy auditor Rob Ernst
Getting audited gets a bad rap when it comes to taxes, but home inspector and energy auditor Rob Ernst says that a home energy audit is a good way to find out how to save energy and save money.
“A lot of people want to do something about the state of the environment,” says Ernst. “But conservation starts in the home. Solar panels are great, but they take a lot of glass and other materials, and require energy to be manufactured. We have to reduce consumption first. Retrofitting homes is a necessary step to helping the environment. It doesn’t help to drive energy efficient cars, and then going home to a house that pollutes the environment. So I usually ask people, ‘What have you done to your house to make it less wasteful?’”
According to Ernst, homeowners should think about preventing energy waste before implementing alternative sources. Homes should abide by the home energy rating standard (HERS) set by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), but many don’t.
“I usually tell homeowners, ‘Let’s start with getting houses up to standard,’” Ernst says. “A perfect score is 100. I see some under 100, but most are over 100, and some over 200.” The higher the score, the less energy efficient a home is.
When conducting a house audit, Ernst will look at every aspect of the house—windows, insulation, furnaces, lighting, water and more. He’ll climb up into attics and down underneath homes to find heat or coolness escaping. He uses modeling software to compare homes with the HERS model, and he’ll also work with weatherization contractors. Then, he’ll give recommendations on what to fix or replace.
“People think it is going to be expensive to retrofit,” says Ernst. “But most houses are in need of something. Some people think they need new windows, so they’ll be raising the air conditioning if it’s not working. But they should focus on air sealing and insulation. It’s like a person wearing a knit sweater in the winter. That won’t keep you warm by itself. Neither will a windbreaker. But if you cover that knit sweater with a windbreaker, it will block air, retaining heat.”
Ernst recommends that homebuyers consider getting an energy efficiency mortgage to factor in retrofitting costs into a new home purchase. There are also some low interest loans that can help homeowners cover the costs of improvement.
“When possible, it’s best to leave what’s there there,” he says. “Repurposing is preferable to throwing things away. We want to add to it, not just throw it out.”
And while apartment dwellers don’t always have control over the infrastructure of their homes, cosmetic changes can help keep energy bills low—closing blinds and curtains on hot days to keep apartments cool, changing light fixtures, and installing a programmable thermostat are some of Ernst’s tips.
“I just want to get people to think about what they can already do, and to be more conscious of it,” he says. “People will install solar panels or something, but not change anything else, and are upset when they still don’t see results in their power bills. But those investments only work if everything else is fixed first. And it’s a good way to get focused on ways to make a difference.”