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Everything you need to know about hiring an energy auditor

When you’re hiring an energy auditor, you’ll want to make sure your time and money are well spent. So, it’s important to know the key factors that increase your chances of getting a high-quality energy audit. The thing is, everybody thinks they can do an energy audit. It’s easy enough for anyone to buy the necessary tools and create a report but it doesn’t mean the audit will be accurate or valuable.

Too many energy audits end up as failed reports collecting dust on a shelf. No matter why you decided to do an energy audit, whether it be to save money, meet carbon reduction goals or just to satisfy a local ordinance requirement, you’ll want one that inspires and enables action. A good audit will provide you a custom plan for saving energy and money, while maintaining or improving your building’s comfort, reliability and value.

What to expect from an energy audit

So, you’ve decided to buy an energy audit, but you might not know what to expect. Here’s what and energy auditor will do:

  • Review your facility, your energy use and occupancy
  • Match best practices to your building’s needs
  • Develop savings/costs estimates to guide decisions and justify action


The result will be a report that will provide the beginnings of your Energy Action Plan (EAP).
 

Keep the building type in mind

Commercial ≠ Home ≠ Industrial

These are all distinct and very different audit arenas.

For commercial buildings, up until this summer there was no energy audit standard. The industry was guided by an ASHRAE publication called “Procedures for Commercial Building Energy Audits” known as the green book. This summer ASHRAE published Standard 211. It goes a step further by outlining the minimum scope for a level 1, 2 or 3 audit. To learn more about it and the scope of work involved for each level, check out our previous post.
 

Select a QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED auditor

It’s important to realize that when you’re contracting for an audit, it means you’re hiring an auditor to provide professional services. So, you want to take similar steps as when you’re hiring any professional.

Step 1: Find qualified auditors and auditing firms

As you might do when seeking a tax specialist or contractor, it’s best to start by asking for referrals from people you know and trust. Another option is to ask your utility. Many utilities offer complimentary services such as energy audits and can get you started with one of their qualified consultants.

Step 2. Prepare and issue an RFQ

Trying to prepare an Request for Quotation (RFQ) can be a daunting and unproductive task if you don’t know what to ask and what to look for. Some valuable questions to ask are:

  • How many audits have you done on buildings like mine?
  • What percentage of your audits resulted in implemented energy efficiency measures and energy savings?

Certifications

When reviewing resumes, look for certifications of staff. While certifications are not a guarantee of enough experience or expertise, any qualified energy auditor will have some level of certification as standard practice.

Though not a comprehensive list, some professional certifications that indicate a knowledge of energy-using systems and building operations are:

    • P.E. (Professional Engineer)
    • BEAP (ASHRAE Building Energy Assessment Professional)
    • CEM (AEE Certified Energy Manager)
    • EBCP, CBCP (AEE Existing/Certified Building Commissioning Professionals), but
    • not BPI or HERS, which are for residential audits only and not applicable.

 

Capabilities

When reviewing the services offered by a firm, look at its full capabilities. Auditing is a focus of energy efficiency. When done right, it is not a side-bar, or project-generator. Energy auditing requires multi-disciplinary knowledge of systems and components such as lighting, HVAC, controls, plug loads and building envelope. It also entails experience with occupant behavior and the type of building being audited since different building types operate very differently.

Characteristics

A good auditor has many different qualities. They will:

  • be familiar with the latest best practices, including newer technologies, but will not try to push them
  • have experience turning audits into real projects that result in savings on your bill,
  • perform project implementation,
  • offer commissioning,
  • not try to sell you equipment,
  • be vendor-neutral and solution-neutral,
  • and only works for your best interest.

 

Step 3. Do your homework

Once you have your short list of preferred audits, the real work begins. It’s important to verify whoever you pick can do the audit, be professional and provide value. Your homework before hiring your auditor is to:

  • call references,
  • get sample reports, and
  • check resumes.

 

Call References

When you call references, you need to ask relevant questions that inform different areas such as:

  • Results. Did the audit report lead to implementation of projects saving energy?
  • Expertise. Did the auditor know building systems in and out? Current technologies?
  • Partnering. Did the auditor:
    • Collaborate well with you and your team?
    • Understand and respond to your needs?
  • Action-oriented. Did the audit report guide you on exactly what to do to achieve savings?
  • Accuracy and Transparency. Did you have confidence in the report numbers? (project savings, costs, returns). Was it internally consistent?
  • Independence. Was the auditor unbiased and objective?
  • Data acquisition. Did the auditor take measurements and obtain data for your building?
  • Guidance. Did the audit provide guidance to more resources and next steps?

 

Evaluate Sample Audits

One of the best ways to evaluate the quality of an energy auditor is to look at previous work. When doing so, it becomes abundantly clear if an auditor really has the chops to deliver a quality audit report. When looking at a previous audit, look at the following.

Detailed Measure Recommendations

An energy efficiency measure is a term that auditors use to describe an energy saving action or project. It should include:

  • Observations. This section should describe the current systems, controls or condition of the involved building components.
  • Recommendations. This section should describe the proposed energy saving solution with enough detail that you know what to do next. They should be explicit and actionable. For example:
    • A bad recommendation would be: “Replace air filters with high capacity filters.”
    • Whereas a good one would be:
      “We recommend installing higher-capacity filters such as the Purolator Defiant Mark 80-D. These high capacity filters have 84% greater dust holding capacity (media area) while being only approximately 40% more expensive. They have a slightly better initial pressure drop (0.26” vs. 0.30”w.c.), but more importantly, with their much higher dust holding capacity, their pressure drop will increase much more slowly through their service life. This saves fan energy. Please see the complete filter data sheets in Appendix B.”
  • Implementation Notes. Any important notes that the customer should be aware of to see the project through completion are made here. These can include specific equipment changes or specific control setpoints or algorithms.
  • Basis of Savings. These are the calculations and any assumptions the auditor makes to determine the amount of expected energy savings. These should compare the amount of energy being used currently to what the recommended actions will result in.
  • Costs and Incentives. This section should note the expected cost of the energy saving solution and the source of these values. Available utility incentives are included here.
  • Method and Assumptions. A good auditor will list the methods and assumptions used to calculate the savings.
  • Photos. Photos gathered on-site will help clarify opportunities for your review and save you time.

 

Check resumes

To gain the best insights on your perspective auditing team consider:

  • Are these the resumes of people who will actually work on or oversee your audit? Sometimes firms provide senior-level staff resumes but send inexperienced staff with no senior oversight to perform an audit. That approach results in a sub-par product.
  • Is energy auditing a core experience among staff or just a new side-bar for the company?
  • Do they have the analytical skills and tools to prepare trustworthy numbers?
  • Do they have experience with implementation of energy projects too? How about commissioning?

Other keys to audit success

 

Get the most from an audit

Energy audits aren’t cheap so it’s wise to maximize your chances of getting the most “bang for your buck”. Energy engineers know a lot about buildings and ways to save energy. They are energy geeks who really want to help you cut your bill, so make the most of their expertise:

  • Direct them to any particular ideas or building problems or areas of interest to you,
  • Provide them with access to staff who know your building’s equipment, occupancy, and controls,
  • Ask questions and learn!

Provide feedback

Energy auditing is a process. One of the first steps after a site visit before an engineer dives deep into energy analysis is making an Initial Measures List (IML). This is a list of potential savings opportunities categorizing savings potential as high, medium, or low. One you receive your IML, review it with the site team shortly after the visit and prioritize each recommendation.

 

Build a Balanced Team

If you’re hiring an auditor, chances are your intention is to implement some or all of the energy saving solutions proposed in the audit. Since a successful project only arises when everyone is on board, team building is key to audit and implementation success. Make sure you involve key players at your site. A good auditor will work with your team – it’s not their job to make folks look bad. Involve your team and let them do what they’re good at so they are empowered and motivated. When critical stages are complete, ensure site staff have the knowledge to follow through.

If any trouble arises during the audit process, don’t believe everything you hear. On-site, audit inspections with staff can be misleading. Sometimes site staff may feel threatened by auditor questions. A good energy auditor never judges the condition of the building or assigns blame, but only seeks to document current operational conditions in hopes to identify a more energy efficient solution.

A good auditing team consists of:

  • committed management,
  • engaged financial staff who understand risks and rewards,
  • trained building engineers,
  • trusted contractors and vendors,
  • utility account representatives,
  • engaged and informed building occupants, and
  • a trained and experienced energy auditor.

“Typical” Costs

Energy audits vary A LOT in terms of cost. Read our previous post to learn about how cost impacts the quality of an audit. Audit costs depend on:

  • The level of audit required,
  • Accuracy of savings & costs numbers,
  • The number, variety and complexity of energy-using systems to investigate,
  • Ease of information collection,
  • Availability and organization of building documentation such as:
    • As-built drawings (mechanical, lighting ceiling plans);
    • Control sequences and trend logs;
    • Past audits or RCx studies;
    • TAB reports
  • Availability & knowledge of building engineers,
  • Whether the auditor is ‘eating’ some or all audit cost to get future work, or sell you equipment.

 

Experienced auditors can cost less

Experience can actually lower the price tag of a good audit. Experienced auditors have the tools and experience to work quickly. These include analytical tools, templates, and computer models. They can also quickly assess technical and economic feasibility since they have data from previous audits. Be mindful that they may charge more per hour, but in the end,  they’ll spend less time on your audit, and cost you less out of pocket.

Find your Auditor

With these tips you’re now ready to go. Remember to always take in the full picture of the firm/individual providing a quote and understand exactly what expertise and experience they have. When you do your homework, chances are you will make a wise and well-informed decision that will set you on the path to energy savings. This road leads to less dollars spent on utility bills, a more comfortable building, and a smaller carbon footprint. It’ a choice you can feel good about.

If you’re in need of an energy audit, contact us anytime.

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