Home energy audits flawed

Home energy audits flawed TheStar.com - News - Home energy audits flawed
July 21, 2007
**Catherine Porter
**Environment Reporter

The federal government’s new program to evaluate the energy efficiency of Canadian homes and recommend upgrades has major flaws that will take months to fix, a *Star *investigation has learned.
After auditing the same Toronto house, four companies came up with four different energy ratings – ranging from 37 to 46 out of 100 – and called for renovations ranging from $3,000 to $25,000.
And while they all said replacing the old, wheezing furnace with a smaller high-efficiency model was a priority, as well as patching cracks that leak heat, other recommendations varied, from upgrading the fireplace to replacing three exterior doors. One auditor incorrectly stated the basement lacked insulation.
That means homeowners could spend big money on ill-advised retrofits and waste as much as $10,000 in grant money from the federal and provincial governments.
A year after scrapping the national EnerGuide for Homes program, the federal government relaunched it under a new name as part of the climate change plan. Under the $300 million ecoENERGY Retrofit program, run by Natural Resources Canada and due to end in 2011, homeowners can receive up to $5,000 in grants for doing things such as insulating walls or installing a solar water heater. Last month, the province announced it would match the federal grants.
To keep up, the number of companies offering home energy audits across the country has more than doubled to 70 since April. Most are scrambling to hire more auditors.
In the push to get certified auditors into the field, the government hired experienced people, but Suzanne Deschênes, manager of the ecoENERGY program, said perhaps they needed more training. And the government hasn’t had time to check their work.
“That’s what we’ll be doing over the next six to eight months,” she said. The aim was for all advisers in the province to be tested at least once a year, but after the Star audits, she plans to bump that up.
“We do not want a buyer-beware situation,” she said. “All the people are certified by Natural Resources Canada and we want to be sure that certification means something.”
To be certified, auditors must take a week-long course from a trainer brought in by the company. They must score at least 75 per cent on a Natural Resources test and then do six to eight practice audits, which are reviewed.
The *Star *hired Greensaver, a non-profit organization lauded by environmentalists, to do an energy audit of a reporter’s home, a typical, detached two-storey brick house built 75 years ago, when bulky sweaters, not insulation, were in vogue. The report raised red flags. Most of the recommendations called for massive renovations – drilling holes in walls and the flat roof to inject insulation and gutting the basement, including removing the ducts. The auditor said there was no insulation down there.
For a second opinion, the Star called EnWise, a new company offering one-stop shopping for homeowners. It conducts the audit free, offers recommendations, and hires contractors for the homeowner.
Their auditor determined the basement was, in fact, insulated. And while insulating the other walls would make a big difference, it only made sense if the family planned to stay forever, he said.
While Greensaver gave the house a 37, EnWise pegged it a 46.
Peter Love, Ontario’s chief energy conservation officer, said he’d never heard of such a big disparity. “That concerns me,” he said.
“Holy kit, Batman!” Deschênes said when she heard the numbers. “We would expect a discrepancy of one or two points …”
To get to bottom of it, she commissioned a third audit from Pro Home & Building Inspections Inc., which found an EnerGuide rating of 45. The *Star *hired HomePerformance Energy Advisors. Its rating? 43.
The energy adviser examines the house’s innards, poking into the attic and unscrewing electrical outlets to look for insulation. A giant fan depressurizes the house so air will rush in from the outside and the auditor can search for leaks.

Two auditors recommended replacing the door that opens to the backyard. Another advised insulating the laundry room with Styrofoam. But one missed it entirely. He said the laundry wasn’t officially part of the house’s footprint.
That was just one of many discrepancies. Two auditors suggested the owner push a return-air duct up to the second floor. The others didn’t mention it.
Only one advised replacing the toilets with low-flush models.
“To be honest with you, some mention of that should be made in all them,” said Deschênes.
Deschênes was concerned that only two auditors mentioned that the fireplace opening be plugged when not in use. “That kind of thing, we’ll need to pay attention to and do quality assurance on. When I look at the picture of your house, the fireplace and furnace are two things I know should be up there. I would have said to you, `If you only do two things, these are them.’”
If all proposed improvements were made, the estimated energy ratings from the four companies was between 64 and 81 out of 100.
“Whoever gave you an 81 must have been living on another planet,” said Deschênes, pegging it at 65.
The ecoENERGY program awards rebates for quantifiable improvements documented by certified auditors. Homeowners have 18 months to make changes.
A high-efficiency gas furnace nets a $1,000 rebate. And increasing basement insulation can mean anything from $200 to $2,000, depending on how much is added.
Deschênes said her department regularly does quality assurance tests, ranging from customer satisfaction surveys to detailed report reviews. The department also sends a second energy adviser to watch some inspections.
If you’ve commissioned an audit and it concerns you, call the service provider to address specific issues. Then, call Natural Resources Canada at 1-800-387-2000, which will review the audit and, if necessary, send another auditor.

Just like in the home inspection business any other industry, their will always be a variance on the skill level of those you hire. It is important to hire someone experianced and compentant.

I would agree the ecoEnergy program has had a very sloppy and often confussing launch. This was mainly due to political reasons and absolutely nothing to due with the building science.

Yes, and “rules” for operating are less stringent than it was with the EnerGuide program. As a result, some companies (not all) I have talked to are using the program in a way that, in my opinon, is not in the homeowners best inertest.

In all fairness there was some pretty inexperienced auditors (putting it mildly) on the last program as well.

Looks like it is still badly flawed. Saturdays Toronto Star


Energy audit rebates delayed nearly a year TheStar.com - Ontario - Energy audit rebates delayed nearly a year
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Star reporter Catherine Porter installs energy efficient light bulbs as conservation official Chris Winter looks on.

Province announced cash for conservation checks, but `privacy issues’ prevented issuing of cheques

January 05, 2008
**Catherine Porter
**Environment Reporter
Nine months after the provincial government announced it would give homeowners up to $150 to conduct energy audits on their homes, not a single cheque has been issued.
Government officials say the backlog resulted from “privacy issues” between the federally run program and the province, and the thousands of homeowners who completed audits should get their money by the end of February – almost a year after the province announced the program last spring.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t issue the cheques until the (homeowner’s personal) information could be shared between the federal and provincial governments. It took a while for that agreement to be negotiated,” said Sylvia Kovesfalvi, spokesperson for Ontario’s energy ministry, adding the deal was signed last month.
The lag shows the two governments are not really committed to fighting climate change, critics say.
“Where there is political will to do these things, these problems can be overcome. It’s as simple as that,” said Mark Winfield, a York University assistant professor of environmental studies and environmental activist. “It’s disappointing.”
“If we’re going to tackle climate change, we need some leadership. And it’s not there,” agreed Peter Smith, an accountant who hired a company to do an energy audit on his Sudbury home last May.

As a nod to its upcoming green plan, the Liberal government promised homeowners who signed up for a federally run ecoENERGY Retrofit program audit up to $150 as a carrot to get more Ontarians to address their leaky homes. Energy audits can cost as much as $400.
To further sweeten the pot, the Liberals said last June they’d match the federal grants to homeowners who acted on those audits, making their homes more energy efficient by adding insulation or installing high-efficiency furnaces. For a homeowner who made the maximum number of changes, that could add up to $5,000. To date, none of those cheques have been cut by the province either.
Almost 24,000 Ontarians commissioned energy audits on their homes since the federal program started last spring. Of those, about 3,000 have made retrofits and applied for the government grants.
Six other provinces and territories have similar homeowner rebate plans – which predate the federal program – which have not been delayed, said Suzanne Deschênes, who oversees the federal program for the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Peter Love, Ontario’s chief energy efficiency conservation officer, said the long delay isn’t a reflection of the province’s commitment to conservation.

Hey Roy, In the picture, any idea as to why she disconnected the fixture from the electrical box just to change a socket bulb?

Marcel :slight_smile:

I guess they are trying to stop an air leak into the attic Using a gasket or more insulation.
Paul might be able to add more info as he is involved with this program I think.


Hi, It has to do with Air-Sealing advice. If the client inproves air sealing the house by 20% then they get a bonus of 150 from the fed program and 150 from the Provincal program.

Usually advisors suggest adding gaskets to the Switches and outlets on exterior walls and any light fixtures that penetrate into the attic as well as weather stripping the doors and attic access.

If this is done and the second report shows the air tightness has been improved they get the 300$ this basically pays for the Audit.

Yes, In about 2-3 weeks I will be one. I am on course next week and then exam to get my license.


P.S. Any questions let me know.

Hi Steven,

What S.O. are you signing up with?

"Just like in the home inspection business any other industry, their will always be a variance on the skill level of those you hire. It is important to hire someone experianced and compentant."

Too true Paul! Yet more proof ( as if more was needed) that a national certification does not guarantee a good job by a professional. There is no substitute for experience.

The Toronto Star publishes stories the are often slanted in such a way as to cast dispersions upon any Conservative government, Federal or Provincial.

The one sided story Roy quoted is just another example.

Lets consider three home inspectors doing inspections on the same home in a resale situation. I’m sure all three inspectors would come up with different observations and recommendations. I’m sure everyone would agree.

The Eco evaluator makes observations and educated guesses regarding things not clearly visible, such as header insulation, insulation coverage and R value on finished basement walls, R value of insulation on main walls and attic space.

Evaluators record observations and the data is entered into a report software program. The resulting report information is generated by the data submitted, modified by certain assumptions made by the software, such as year of construction, methods of construction at the time, geographical location and many other variables.

The home owner should review the recommendations, evaluate the potential cost savings associated with a specific upgrade, determine the cost of the upgrade and decide if that upgrade is economically prudent.
Common sense (or as I like to think uncommon sense) must prevail when considering recommended upgrades

For example: It would be foolhardy for a home owner to strip the drywall/plaster from main walls, Upgrade insulation from say R8 to R24, The cost to perform the upgrade would, IMO, far outweigh the savings in energy costs derived unless the home owner was intending to live there for a VERY long time.

On the other hand an upgrade to a high efficiency furnace and A/C would pay back relatively quickly.

The evaluator can make recommendations but the home owner is NEVER REQUIRED to act on any specific recommendation. The Star article does not make that clear.

There are always differences in opinion when humans enter into the equation.

The assertion by the Star reporter that the process is flawed is like all other assumptions. No assumption, including this one, is always correct.

Correct. The evaluation merly shows the homeowner what the potental energy saving could be for different upgrades.