Energy Auditors: Helping People Go Green The Buzz


If you want your home or business to be as energy efficient as possible, you need expert advice. That's where energy auditors come in.

An energy auditor tells you how to reduce the energy you use. They write reports with specific recommendations. Some recommended changes might be small and cheap, while others might be very large and expensive.

Some energy auditors specialize in home audits. Others do commercial or industrial audits.

People get energy audits for various reasons. Some get an energy audit simply out of concern for the environment. Others hope to save money on their energy costs. And sometimes the government requires audits to be done.

Various organizations offer energy auditor training. Where you go will depend on the type of auditing you want to do.

If you want to do commercial or industrial audits, you'll need post-secondary education. Commercial and industrial auditors are often mechanical engineers and often get a certification from the Association of Energy Engineers.

Home energy auditors usually have a background in home construction, repairs and renovations. Home audits are often an extra service offered by general contractors.

Mark Bashista was a general contractor for a number of years before becoming a home energy auditor.

"I kind of switched," says Bashista. "I was renovating historic houses, then the market got iffy and a bit risky to do that, so then I started mixing in audits... and as my auditing and weatherization got busier, I moved to that. Now I strictly do audits and weatherization work."

You don't have to have building experience to be a home energy auditor. But Bashista says it's a good idea.

"Some just do the audits, but if you don't have a lot of building experience then you're probably missing some things," he says. Bashista therefore recommends that aspiring home energy auditors get building experience.

"Construction experience helps a lot," says Bashista. "[You learn] how it's all put together. When I'm hiring people, the more construction experience they have, the better. Anybody can be trained to do the work and audits, but at least for weatherization the more you've used tools, the more houses you've been in or seen, it just helps a lot."

Home energy auditors also come from other backgrounds.

"I think it's all over the place, especially now because a lot of people are looking to switch careers," says Bashista. "Some I know have been realtors, some people have been contractors, and some... work specifically in a certain area like plumbing, electrical, heating and air, and then some people are just completely new."

People often get into home energy auditing by taking courses offered at colleges and training centers. BPI (Business Performance Institute) training is a common choice.

"Some of the community colleges are doing BPI training, so that's helpful," says Bashista. "The regular costs are usually $1,000 to $1,500 (USD) for the training, but you can do it for under $500 including the testing at a community college."

Yigit Guctas is an energy engineer. He does energy audits for almost any kind of building except for small homes. For example, he does large residential buildings, commercial buildings and industrial buildings.

Guctas says the energy conservation field is still very new and has been growing steadily for at least the past decade. He says for home energy auditors, it's probably enough to have building experience, perhaps an associate's degree in a related field, and energy auditor courses (such as BPI).

"But, if you're going for anything larger, you're going to need more of an educational background," says Guctas. "Because you'll be doing a lot more technical calculations, you'll be looking at drawings, you'll have to design things, you'll have to be reconfiguring different parts of the building if need be."

A bachelor's degree in engineering can lead to a long-term, well-paid career in energy auditing.

"The best bet for someone who's hoping to be in this field for a lifetime is to become a mechanical engineer," says Guctas. "Then they can actually become an energy engineer... and then they can actually play all of the roles in the industry -- they can audit all different kinds of buildings, they can do all kinds of design work.

"If they want to do something simpler, then they can have an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in a technical field," Guctas adds. "They need some basic math skills and computer literacy if they want to be in a simple part of the field."

Commercial and industrial auditors such as Guctas often have certification from the Association of Energy Engineers. The AEE offers CEA certification (Certified Energy Auditor). It also offers a higher-level certification called CEM (Certified Energy Manager), which is what Guctas has.

You'll find a lot of companies on the Internet offering energy auditor training. But many are not worth your time and money. Energy auditing is a new and quickly developing field, so training standards are still being sorted out.

"There's always a group of people trying to take advantage of a flourishing, growing industry, and that's something we can't really keep our eyes on all the time, and people should have caution," says Guctas. "The best thing they can do is they can ask someone in the field... They can ask about the legitimacy of that specific [program] they're looking at and if it's a widely recognized [program], those people will know immediately."

It's hard to say what you can earn as a commercial or industrial energy auditor.

"It will change dramatically depending on where you are in the country and what kind of position that you're looking for," says Guctas. "But I think it's safe to say that if you're technically apt and if you have good computer skills and if you show enough enthusiasm about the field, you should be able to start at about $50,000 to $60,000 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering."

This can easily become a six-figure income within a few years, Guctas adds, especially for those with a professional engineering designation.

It's even harder to estimate salary levels for home energy auditors, since they are often self-employed. They can charge a few hundred dollars for a typical energy audit, but how much they earn depends on the number of clients they get.

"Starting out, trying to do that on their own, it would be extremely challenging," says Bashista. "The business is growing but until we (consumers) have a lot more expendable income I think it is, or is going to be, oversaturated."

Demand for home audits largely depends on the availability of government incentives. If the federal government were to start giving large credits to homeowners who made their homes energy efficient, this would have a huge impact.

At the moment this is not being done in the U.S. or Canada, but planned legislation in both countries would give additional incentives to homeowners.

Sara Mathew is one of a growing number of realtors who are promoting themselves as "green realtors." They help homebuyers find green homes and encourage home sellers to do energy audits.

Mathew says some homeowners get an energy audit because they want to be environmentally friendly. Some want to save on their energy costs. Others do it for the various incentives offered by (some) local, state, and federal governments.

Links

U.S. Department of Energy
Learn how to conduct a home energy audit

Association of Energy Engineers
Details about becoming a Certified Energy Auditor

Building Performance Institute
Offers training programs for home energy auditors

Your Home's Energy Use
Learn where a house's energy goes

Home Performance
Check out this home energy auditor's blog