What is an Energy Auditor?

photo courtesy of EnergySmart of Vermont

I am not an energy auditor. I have never worked as an energy auditor, nor do I have enough of the technical knowledge that would allow me to be one if I wanted to. But I have worked for two companies in my illustrious career that employed or trained energy auditors, so I do have an opinion on what an energy auditor is.

The first company was KEMA, and is an international consulting business. Our office in Montana had various contracts with utilities and municipalities helping them run their energy conservation programs. These programs usually consisted of some form of an energy audit, whether it focused just on electricity and water conservation, or ran the whole gamut that included checking insulation levels, carbon monoxide testing, and many other health and safety issues. The energy auditors I knew at KEMA often said that John Krigger, president and founder of Saturn Resource Management, was the first energy auditor to exist. He trained many of my coworkers on building science and energy auditing like the passionate energy conservation preacher he was and still is, always with Residential Energy in hand. Saturn Resource Management where I currently work, publishes field guides and provides online training for the work that energy auditors do. Working at Saturn has given me a new perspective of the research and effort that goes into creating the training, references, and standards that energy auditors use every day.

An energy auditor, to me, is many different things: a conservationist, a mathematician, a teacher, a customer service rep, a diplomat, and now in my case, a boss. The group of auditors I worked with at my old job were on both sides of the political coin and came from many different backgrounds, but all of them worked hard to understand how to make a home more energy efficient. Whether it was increasing insulation, replacing an old, inefficient hot water heater or furnace, or caulking the heck out of plumbing penetrations, energy conservation was their mission.

I saw some amazing drawings on the graph paper that came back to the office with the auditor’s paperwork. The homes were often more than 3000 square feet in size and built in the late 1800’s. Auditors had to take complicated measurements to figure out the square footage and area of gables and turrets, rooms with knee walls and any kind of “nook”. When their calculations correctly hit the mark of the existing square footage, I applauded with amazement. Okay, not all the time, but definitely on days when things in the office were slow. These numbers were also used in the calculations for the blower door test, often thought of as the audit’s grand finale, telling the customer whether their house was “tight” or “leaky”, and sometimes even “just right”.

After this survey of the house, the auditor would explain their findings to the customer, and about what issues might be a problem in heating or cooling the house. The auditor explained that the report would contain all of this information and more, along with recommendations of measures that could be taken to improve the home’s efficiency. The homeowner was informed about all the resources that were available financially, and if they were to have any questions to call our office and we’d be happy to help.

There were many times when the auditor would be greeted by an angry or pessimistic customer who initially didn’t think the service was going to do any good and angry with the power company over the power rates. KEMA was contracted by the local utility to conduct these audits. So even though the energy auditors didn’t technically work for the utility, they represented the utility just the same. After spending a couple of hours serving as a diplomat for the utility, an energy auditor was usually successful in making the customer see the benefits of the service. From the comment cards that came back to the office saying things like “they even took off their shoes!” and “my dog loved them- and he hates everyone”, and the more serious “they found a gas leak- probably saved our lives” we knew they were doing their job and often going above and beyond their duties.

My work at KEMA helped me a lot in my transition to Saturn Resource Management. I believe that now I am in the initial stage of what makes an energy auditor. It’s the education about building science, and working to simplify these more technical terms and processes in order to educate the homeowner on energy efficiency, that makes an energy auditor. This knowledge can be delivered in various formats. It can be learned through an online course, an in-person visit, or from reading Saturn’s books and field guides.

The definition of an energy auditor keeps expanding, but I know from the people I’ve worked with that energy conservation will always be the main focus of what they do, one energy audit, online class, and book at a time.

 

 

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