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Energy auditor is the new top job

Monday, June 18, 2012

The title may be new, but the idea has been around for about 40 years: Energy auditors assess the energy efficiency of people’s homes to help residents learn how they can save energy – and money. “Federal weatherization programs started in the 1970s,” says Jackie Ducharme, program manager for the Home Performance with Energy Star program manager at Xcel Energy in Denver.

The federal government supports energy audits and residential updates to improve efficiency, offering incentives for homeowners to have audits and save energy. That means there’s a need for certified energy auditors.

The Routine
An energy auditor goes into residents’ homes or apartment buildings and diagnoses problems with energy use. They look beyond whether the heating and air conditioning (HVAC) is efficient, and look at the whole house as a system, says Leslie McDowell, marketing and communications director for Building Performance Institute, Inc. in Washington, D.C. According to McDowell, the auditor “looks at the building envelope of your house, the cracks and gaps.” The auditor runs tests to determine where the cracks are, and checks out insulation and how it works. “You can put in the best HVAC system in the world, but if you have a really leaky house, it won’t work well,” says McDowell.

The auditor then shows homeowners the results and discusses possible solutions. Auditors usually work independently, contracting utility companies like Xcel. They also might work for HVAC, home energy contractor, insulation or utility companies.

Energy auditors can learn on the job with a mentor or attend training at a private school or community college. The key is to learn enough to pass the certification exam, which is administered through BPI. “We have a network of independent training organizations – about 300 – that we work closely with,” says McDowell. Ducharme works mostly with Red Rocks Community College in the Denver area. “We partner with them and they have specific courses they use to educate the work force,” she says. Once certified, energy auditors must take continuing education courses to stay up-to-date on technology and other changes in the industry.

Tool Kit
A background in engineering or construction is helpful for a prospective energy auditor, but a high school diploma is all that’s truly needed. Energy auditors need to grasp and explain the mechanical concepts of heating and air conditioning and other home systems to pull together the audit for customers. Many people who become energy auditors, often as a second career, have backgrounds such as engineering, energy or construction, says Ducharme. A good energy auditor needs skills beyond technical and mechanical, though. “Communications and salesmanship are very helpful skills to illustrate to the homeowner how they can save the money they literally are throwing away each month” says McDowell. Ducharme agrees that people skills are important.

Ups and Downs
The job of an energy auditor can be physical; they might have to climb into attics or crawl spaces to check insulation and air gaps. The pay is not high, says Ducharme, “but it’s important and good work.” Many energy auditors get a lot of satisfaction from helping homeowners solve energy problems and save money.

The Outlook
There are few statistics on outlook or salary since the specifics of energy auditor duties still are being standardized. Both McDowell and Ducharme say the outlook is good for the job, however, because of programs subsidizing homeowner audits and overall energy consciousness. BPI reports that certifications grew 120 percent from 2010 to 2011.

The Pay
Pay information is not standardized, and energy auditors often are contractors, paid per audit. Ducharme estimates that energy auditors can perform enough in a day to average about $35,000 a year, a figure in line with the Green Careers Guide estimate of $30,000 to $60,000 a year averages for energy auditors.

The Way There
Learn on the job from a mentor or attend one of the education programs affiliated with BPI. Once certified, contact a local utility company. Check the Environmental Protection Agency’s Home Performance with Energy Star website to see what states participate in the program.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Teresa Odle