Whether you’re looking to sell your home right away or you have concerns about high heating and cooling costs, an energy audit might provide some peace of mind and some dollars to help you with the upgrades.Under the federal government’s ecoENERGY Retrofit program, homeowners can qualify for federal grants by improving the energy efficiency of their home – to a maximum grant of $5,000.
For example, the grant for a high-efficiency gas furnace is $625. (The program runs to March 31, 2011; more info at oee.nrcan.gc.ca/corporate/retrofit-summary.cfm or call 1-800-387-2000.)
And since the government announced the additional tax credit for home renovations, more people are thinking about getting a professional energy assessment.
“Since the end of January we’ve definitely seen a spike in interest,” says Derek Brown, manager of energy assessment services with Direct Energy in Toronto.
Brown has a degree in building science and has been doing energy assessments for six years.
But what’s involved in an energy audit and is it worth it?
An energy assessment involves an expert examining your home inside and out, analyzing anything that keeps the heat in or creates heating and cooling – essentially all aspects of a home that affect energy consumption.
For example, attic insulation, hot water heaters and windows are all items that would be covered in an assessment.
“We’ve done energy assessments on homes ranging from 150 years old to six months old,” says Brown. “The reality is any home can benefit because the building code sets a certain standard, but you can go above and beyond that for things like insulation and windows.”
The average energy assessment costs $250 to $300 and the province will rebate $150 whether you take any further action or not.
It takes about two hours and includes a discussion with the homeowner, the data collection, a discussion of the findings and a walk-through to point out the findings.
“We take our data collection offsite, file it with the government and then, once accepted by them, it’s sent to the homeowner and they get in within 14 days,” says Brown.
The report is sent to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) because it must be approved if the owner is to receive grant money for their repairs or furnace replacement.
The report also tells homeowners what rebates they can get for certain upgrades, which must be completed within 18 months.
Brown points out that the energy audit is different from a home inspection, although a home inspector may tell you that a home could use more insulation, improved windows or a new furnace.
“They are two different things that kind of cross paths,” says Brown.
So if you’re selling your home, is it a good idea to pay for an energy audit ahead of time?
“If an energy audit is done by the buyer, it could force the hand of the seller,” says Darryl Mitchell, area manager and broker with Royal LePage in Toronto.
“But I would like to think that, in most cases, a professional realtor would tell a seller to deal with things like older casement windows and things that might impact what they feel should be the price of the home.”
The difference between a home inspection and an energy audit is that problems discovered in a home inspection – such as an unstable foundation – could break a deal, whereas an energy audit may not reveal as serious a problem.
“A home inspection may show a roof needs replacing and a buyer will back away because of it. I can’t say an energy audit could be used to do that,” says Mitchell. And he says other projects can be less stressful.
“I’d like to say people buy with their brain but the truth is, for the most part, they buy on emotion. Simple things make a big difference, like having your home staged may have a bigger bang for the buck. Or landscaping – for far less money, you can add curb appeal.”
And things like replacing lawn sod or adding a deck also qualify for the federal government’s Home Renovation Tax Credit, worth up to $1,350, says Cleo Hamel, a senior tax analyst with H&R Block.
“It is a credit of 15 per cent of what you spend, but you have to spend more than $1,000, up to $10,000, which would give you the $1,350 maximum payback. But even if you spend $5,000, you will get $600 back.”
– Jennifer Brown