How to choose an energy efficiency company
Last updated 1/2/2019
A professional contractor can provide valuable insights and services when you make energy efficiency improvements for your home or business. However, choosing a contractor can be the most challenging part of making your property energy efficient. Whether you are unsure of what upgrades to make, or have specific goals to improve the air sealing, insulation, or HVAC system of your home, certified contractors can offer you peace of mind.
Energy specialists for home energy audits
If you have not decided on what upgrades you want to make, consider hiring an energy specialist to conduct a home energy audit. An energy specialist can pinpoint the sources of energy waste in your home and recommend cost-effective solutions. When hiring energy specialists, you should be sure to ask about the duration of the evaluation and if they will provide a list of improvements. If the answer is yes, ask if they can make any of the suggested improvements, or if they can refer you to a professional who can.
Energy specialists include both home energy raters and energy auditors. A home energy rater is certified under an accredited home energy rating system (HERS), and performs a standardized and comprehensive home evaluation. An energy rater conducts an on-site inspection, air leakage test, duct test, and computer analysis to assess the energy efficiency of your home. After the evaluation, the energy rater will provide a savings estimate and home energy rating.
An energy rating allows you to compare the energy performance of your home with similar ones, and will be important if you are considering selling your house or if you are applying for energy efficiency financing. Home energy raters generally do not offer to make the suggested improvements themselves, but some do offer contracting services. You can search for a certified home energy rater in your area through the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET).
An energy auditor performs a home energy assessment, or energy audit, of your home to identify sources of energy waste and prioritize potential upgrades. However, an energy auditor does not follow a standardized procedure. As a result, an energy audit provided by an energy auditor may or may not be as thorough as one offered by a home energy rater. Before hiring an energy auditor, ask about what tests they will perform. Another key difference is that energy audits do not necessarily provide a home energy rating. When searching for an energy auditor, first contact your electric or gas utility. Utilities often offer home energy audits for free or at a discounted rate. Another reliable provider of energy audits is Home Performance with ENERGY STAR, whose services may be available in your area.
Energy efficiency contractors and service companies
If you are ready to conduct specific energy efficiency measures at your home, you will want to hire a qualified contractor with specialized experience.
If air leaks are a major source of energy waste in your home, consider hiring an air-sealing contractor. Ideally, an air-sealing contractor will not only seal gaps and cracks in your home, but also perform tests before and after sealing. A contractor should measure air leakage before and after sealing your home using a blower door test. After sealing your home, the contractor should also test the safety of combustion appliances. These are important topics to ask about before settling on an air-sealing contractor.
Finding a reliable air-sealing contractor is not as simple as consulting the yellow pages. Instead, you should contact home energy raters near you and ask if they offer air-sealing services. If not, ask to be referred to a recommended contractor in your area. Home energy raters can be found through the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). You can also be referred to an air sealing contactor through contacting the Weatherization Assistance Program.
You should only consider installing insulation after ensuring your home is sufficiently air sealed. An insulation contractor typically specializes in one type of insulation. Before hiring an insulation contractor, you should have an idea about the recommended R-values for the areas you want to insulate. The R-value, or the level of heat resistance, recommended for your home or business will differ based on the area you want to insulate and where you are located.
For instance, the attic and ceiling require the highest R-values, which are even higher for homes located in colder regions. Furthermore, if you are adding insulation to your current home, you need to know the location, type, R-value, and thickness of the insulation already installed. You can do this through a personal inspection or hiring an energy auditor.
Before the contractor begins his work, you should ask to make sure the R-value of the insulation will meet your energy efficiency needs. After installation, Federal Trade Commission insulation regulations require your contractor to provide a written statement on the R-value of the installed insulation.
Heating and cooling (HVAC) contractors
Heating and cooling contractors sell, install, and service the three components of your HVAC system: heating, ventilation, and cooling equipment. Their product offerings include furnaces, boilers, central air conditioners, heat pumps, ducts, and programmable thermostats. Some contractors may offer additional specialized services such as air balancing, duct sealing, and energy audits.
Before hiring a heating and cooling contractor, you should be familiar with the model and maintenance history of your current HVAC system. If you have a forced air system, ask your contractor to inspect your ducts for air leaks and insulation, especially the ducts located in your attic or crawlspace. In addition, you should know the license and insurance requirements for heating and cooling contractors in your state, and make sure the contractors you are considering can produce the necessary documentation. In addition, you should feel free to ask for local references and verification of your contractor’s technical qualifications.
Before purchasing any equipment, be sure to acquire an itemized estimate and sign a written proposal with all the information on the former document. This is to have hard proof of agreed upon project costs, model numbers, job schedule, and warranty information, and protect you in any future disputes. The best heating and cooling contractors will also be able to tell you about any special offers or rebates available in your area for ENERGY STAR certified equipment and other energy efficient devices.
A heating and cooling contractor should spend a significant amount of time inspecting your current system and home. This is to “size” or tailor new equipment to the specifications of your home. Relevant factors include the size, insulation level, and window types of your home. Before your contractor starts the upgrades, notify him or her of any rooms that are too hot or cold in the summer or winter, as those problems can potentially be addressed through HVAC system servicing.