Will the Independent Home Energy Auditor Become Extinct?
Independent home energy auditors have always been a rare breed. In the past decade, though, an army of them has gone through RESNET or BPI training programs and hit the streets in search of homes to analyze. At first, these energy auditors were mainly of the RESNET variety—certified home energy (or HERS) raters—because the ENERGY STAR new homes program really took off. Then, with all the ARRA weatherization money that started flowing in 2009, the BPI building analyst certification became the hot one.
Home energy auditors basically fall into one of two camps: those who work for small, independent companies, often only one person, and those who work for large companies. A number of factors are making it difficult for the small, independent companies to make a go of it in this business.
- With new home construction way, way down, fewer home builders are hiring home energy raters to qualify their homes for the ENERGY STAR label.
- The ENERGY STAR new homes program is in transition to Version 3 right now, and some builders who are still building are dropping out of the program. (RESNET is trying to keep HERS raters going by getting builders to market the HERS Index.)
- The cost of training to become a home energy auditor has risen a lot in the past decade. When I took the HERS rater class in 2003, it cost me $625. Now, most trainers charge $1200 to $1500 for a week long training (both HERS and BPI) because of their increased costs and the stiffer requirements they have to meet.
- The cost of ongoing certification and quality assurance requirements keeps rising.
- BPI is adopting new new testing standards, and the costs to trainers will rise significantly. There's been a lot of really good discussion about this lately in the RESNET/BPI group on LinkedIn.
- A few big companies have gotten most of the grants and contracts from the ARRA money and have used that to expand their positions in the market. I know one energy auditor in Ohio who couldn't make it on his own and had to go to work for one such company because he couldn't compete against the $50 energy audits they were offering homeowners.
- The ARRA money is going away, and the economy is still weak.
Can a small, independent home energy auditor make it? I think the answer is yes, but it will be more difficult. It also depends on who else is in their market, as my friend in Ohio found out. Mostly, though, home energy auditors need to combine their energy audits with other services or products to be profitable. Many are also contractors (insulation, spray foam, crawl space encapsulation, full home performance...).
So, there are a lot of interesting things happening in the world of home energy auditing, which you'd expect for any new industry. I think a lot of things are going to change in the next ten years, both on the training side and the energy audit side, and the industry will look very different in 2022 than it does now. (I'll write more about the training changes I see coming in future articles.)
As I see it, there's always room for smart, resourceful people, and because the industry is so new, there's plenty of opportunity to be on the cutting edge of the changes.