This article was originally published in the May/June 1994 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online May/June 1994


Computerized Energy Audits


Weatherization agencies have complained for years about a U.S. Department of Energy requirement that 40% of Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) funds be spent on materials rather than labor. Because energy-efficiency technology has vastly improved over the years, and state-of-the-art weatherization requires labor-intensive measures like blower door diagnostics, DOE is now offering states a waiver of the 40% requirement, if they can prove that what they are doing is cost-effective.

Computerized energy audits can help eliminate guesswork, determine what a home needs to be more efficient, and set the best ratios of materials to labor. In theory, software contains the distilled wisdom of many experts (see Computer Energy Savings: A Software Overview, HE Sept/Oct '91, p.13). Recognizing this, new DOE regulations strongly encourage computerized audits.

The waiver is aimed at encouraging states to adopt the most cost-effective and technically sophisticated audit and weatherization practices. DOE will grant waivers to states that use approved computer audits, but an audit must meet specific criteria (see Recipe for a `DOE-Approved' Computer Energy Audit, p.28).

Alternatively, and if they can justify it, states may receive a waiver for a priority list of measures for generic house types, if the list is based on an approved computer audit and the state meets other requirements. For example, an audit procedure might combine a priority list or decision tree (developed using a DOE-approved computerized audit), with presumptively cost-effective measures, diagnostic procedures, and tables or nomographs for assessing unique situations on a site-specific basis. This type of approach does not require auditors to conduct computerized audits on every home, and may be a good option for those programs that have not invested in automation.

DOE contracted with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop a tool for states to use to receive the waiver, the National Energy Audit (NEAT) for site-built residential and small multifamily (one- to four-unit) building (see The National Energy Audit, p.28). The waiver will be extended to cover both mobile homes and multifamily buildings (defined as more than four units) until approved audits are available for these types of housing--provided either housing type does not represent more than one-third of the total units weatherized in the state. DOE also contracted with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to create a mobile home audit which is now under development.

States where multifamily dwellings account for more than one-third of total units weatherized will have to comply with the 40% requirement or adopt an audit that meets DOE's approval. DOE decided not to develop a multifamily audit because the one size fits all approach was not appropriate for multifamily dwellings.

As of March 1994, a number of states--including Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, Missouri, Arkansas, and Nebraska--opted to use NEAT and received waivers. Ohio received the waiver for a NEAT-based priority list, or decision tree. Wisconsin, Idaho, Montana, and Colorado have their own audits and have received waivers (see The Wisconsin Audit System, p.32). New York has DOE-approved audits for single and multi-family dwellings (see Confessions of an `Addicted' Auditor, p.29 and New York's `Targeted Investment Protocol System', p.30).

Some states have used their own computerized audits for years, and are updating them to meet DOE's new requirements. Others have waiver requests pending. Some are trying alternative approaches. For example, Alaska is developing a program called Akwarm for use in WAP. Akwarm will also be used for performance contracting in public housing, to perform home energy ratings to be used with energy-efficient mortgages, and for rating homes based on the amount of CO2 they produce.

The trend toward automation may offer the added benefit of linking weatherization agencies with utility demand-side management programs and home energy rating systems, and is generally considered a positive direction for the industry. One downside is that where financial resources are limited, auditors may do better by learning more about how buildings work, rather than spending time acquiring a new skill--how to use a computer.

-- Cyril Penn



Related Articles

Advancing the Art of PRISM Analysis (Fels, Kissock, Marean, Reynolds)
¿Como Se Dice 'Retrofitter'? (Griffin)
Confessions of an 'Addicted' Auditor (Padian)
Measuring the Performance of the National Energy Audit (Sharp)
The National Energy Audit (Harner)
New York's 'Targeted Investment Protocol System' (Gerardi and Sweeney)
Selecting an Infrared Imaging System (Snell)
Training Guide for 'Total Comfort' Professionals
Using Fuel Bills for a Targeted Investment (Padian)
The Wisconsin Audit System (O'Leary)

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