5 steps to hire an energy auditor

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, commercial buildings waste an average of 20 percent of the energy they pay for. Over a year, these costs can add up to thousands of dollars.

paper currency coming from traditional lightbulbAn energy audit can quickly identify inefficiencies and calculate the cost of wasted energy for your business, provide options and costs for upgrading energy performance and help you make informed and effective energy decisions. However, not all audits or auditors provide the same services, and selecting the right one requires some basic knowledge. The following five steps can help you choose the right type of energy audit and auditor for your business.

  1. Determine what type of audit you need. 
    Energy assessment. A number of technical assistance providers, including many utility companies, can review your utility bills and compare your building, equipment and energy use using a standardized assessment tool. Sometimes called a “clipboard audit,” these assessments are no- or low-cost, but that doesn’t mean they are not valuable. An energy assessment can pinpoint common and basic savings opportunities and identify areas for further investigation. Check out Kansas City Power and Light’s Energy Analyzer or see if your local utility has a similar tool.

    Contractor audit. A contracted auditor should provide a more in-depth audit, including analysis of two to five years of utility bills. Monitoring equipment, such as data loggers and submetering, might be used to measure energy consumption or to observe use patterns for equipment suspected of contributing to high energy use or peak demand loads. The auditor will also examine your building envelope and roof and crawl spaces and will probably use blower doors and thermal imaging cameras to identify energy loss throughout the building. If a contractor performs a lighting audit, they should not just recommend replacing lighting fixtures with more energy efficient ones but first use light meters to determine actual lighting needs. Any lighting upgrade should also comply with lighting levels recommended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

  2. Verify credentials. As with any professional service, it’s a good idea to shop and compare. Confirm an auditor is certified through a professional organization, such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) or the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE). The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has also compiled a comprehensive list of Qualified Energy Auditing Firms (PDF). Check that the auditor’s certification is current, too. An expired certification could signify that the auditor may not be up to date in this rapidly evolving field.

    Finally, ask for documentation to verify that the contractor is licensed and insured (including worker’s compensation insurance) and that their work conforms to state and local regulations. You might even consider calling the contractor’s insurance company to check that their policy is current.

  3. Check references. Ask the contractor for multiple, recent references. Then contact these references and ask specific questions: What type of audit did the contractor perform? Was the contractor prompt? Were they satisfied with the report? Were the anticipated cost savings achieved?

    Obtaining first-hand reviews from past clients may be the best way to assess whether the auditor is right for your business. An unwillingness to provide references could signal questionable work habits and raise a red flag.

  4. Choose the right pricing method. There are three main ways energy auditors charge for their services:
    • Square footage. A detailed audit can range from $0.12 to $0.50 per square foot.
    • Time spent. These charges will fluctuate according to the complexity of your facility, availability of detailed building or mechanical drawings and your own requests.
    • Percentage savings method, in which the contractor typically does the audit, installs the new equipment then gets paid from a percentage of the savings realized from the upgrades. For these services, expect the contractor to provide a comprehensive contract outlining the details of the agreement.
  5. Get a contract. Any energy audit contract should include a scope of work with detailed tasks, a list of deliverables and a project timeline. The contract should describe where the audit will be performed, what type of report will be available upon completion (assessment of efficient lighting options, analysis of motor efficiency, examination of building envelope and so on) and the completion date. Pricing methods and payment terms should also be specified. The contract should state how you are being charged (per square foot, hourly, percentage of savings) and how and when payment is expected.

    Payment is generally expected upon delivery of the final report. However, if the contractor is also installing equipment and paying for labor, there may be an up-front partial payment, another percentage of payment after the first milestone is met and the final payment when the work is completed to your satisfaction.
    The contract should also contain a description of damages for breach of contract; otherwise you will be unable to collect if the contractor does not deliver on time or at all. Professional auditors should have no problem including a clause in the contract that covers your risk as well as theirs.

Following these steps will help ensure smooth sailing through the energy audit process and result in energy savings for your business.

For more information on utility rebates and related energy efficiency topics, visit the Environmental Assistance Center’s Energy Efficiency webpage.