What is an energy audit?
An energy audit is a careful diagnostic procedure that will inform you about the energy efficiency of your building and what you can do to improve it – a bit like taking your building to the doctor for a checkup. An energy audit generally includes a visit to your building by an energy professional, measurements and observations, calculations and analysis based on the data collected, and a report presenting the auditor’s findings and recommendations.
Why get an energy audit?
There are many sources of information out there on ways to lower a building’s energy costs. But every building is different, and not all energy saving measures will pencil out in your particular case. Expert help in the form of an energy audit can help you choose or create a plan to implement measures that will save you the most money, reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, improve comfort – whatever criteria you ask your auditor to use in making recommendations.
If you are a tenant leasing your business’s space, you can still benefit from an energy audit if you’re the one who pays the utility bills. Ask your auditor to focus on no-cost or low-cost measures that make sense for you to implement as a tenant. Better still, get your landlord involved in a conversation with the auditor about more comprehensive energy upgrades that can lower your bills while also raising property value for the owner.
What are the types of energy audits?
Energy audits range from a quick one-time overview of building systems to in-depth diagnostics that can take months to complete and track your building’s performance in both the heating and cooling seasons. The right level of audit for you depends on the type and size of your building, your current energy costs, and your business investment criteria. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) classifies audits by increasing level of thoroughness (and cost) as ASHRAE level I, II, and III audits.
- Level I audits include utility bill analysis and a brief walk-through of the facility. The audit report focuses on no-cost and low-cost measures, with minimal consideration of measures requiring large capital investment.
- Level II audits involve more detailed analysis, including a breakdown of energy demand by end use and in-depth examination of capital retrofit opportunities.
- Level III audits provide, in addition to the above services, on-site energy use measurement of individual loads over an extended period, with the collected data used as inputs in a computer simulation of building energy use to compare different retrofit scenarios.
The table below provides more detail on what services are typically included in these different audit types.
1 EUI: energy utilization index, or energy use per square foot
2 EEM: energy efficiency measure
Table courtesy of Jim Kelsey, kW Engineering
Costs of energy audits vary greatly depending on the size and complexity of the facility and the level of audit detail. According to one source, a typical range of costs for energy audits of commercial buildings is $0.08 to $0.24 per square foot. A simple ASHRAE Level I audit can uncover easy, no-cost adjustments you can make to equipment in your building that can immediately reduce energy costs by 5% or even 10%. A more thorough Level II or III audit can lead you to capital improvement projects with favorable return on investment, even with the cost of the audit taken into account as part of that investment.
How do I get an energy audit, and who does them?
Some national organizations offer recognized certification programs for energy auditors. You may wish to select an auditor certified by one of these groups.
- ASHRAE: Building Energy Assessment Professional
- Association of Energy Engineers: Certified Energy Auditor
In addition, the National Association of Energy Service Companies offers a Provider List of its members who can perform both audits and implementation of the recommended measures.
Our Sonoma County Energy Watch (SCEW) program offers limited-scope energy audits to small and medium businesses, local governments, and non-profits. These audits identify lighting and refrigeration measures that can be implemented at no cost or reduced cost to the customer by the SCEW program’s designated implementer.
If you are a PG&E business customer, you can start by visiting PG&E’s Assess Your Energy Usage page, which will guide you through a do-it-yourself energy assessment. Large PG&E business customers can find information on the site about how to request an onsite energy assessment.
My energy audit is complete; now what?
A proper energy audit will include a list of recommended measures, along with estimates of energy cost savings and implementation cost for each measure. The auditor will typically use these numbers to calculate payback time, return on investment, benefit-cost ratio, or some other indicator of cost-effectiveness for each measure or set of measures.
Now it’s time for you to take action on the measures that meet your investment criteria. If you need help with this decision-making process or wish to investigate PACE financing options for your selected measures, please contact our office. We can also provide unbiased assistance in identifying and selecting contractors to install your projects.
For more in-depth information on energy audits, see this guide from the U.S. Department of Energy: A Guide to Energy Audits.