Energy Audit Tips

I want to share some tips for energy auditing after a week of training at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. This particular collection of tips is mine, but gleaned from expert presentations by great auditors who have done many more audits than I have.

Energy Auditor (from

Energy Auditor (from

Top Ten Tips for Energy Auditing

1. Come in to the energy audit saying, “I am here to make you more comfortable.” You will meet with resistance. Reassure your client. Discomfort is expensive, and it means that facilities managers get yelled at. Our predecessors in the energy efficiency field did a crappy job and proposed energy conservation measures that saved energy by making things dim and cold. Economically, it’s not worth utility bill savings if you make an employee less productive. 

2. Listen. Ask your client what problems they want you to look at. Ask them about their challenges and their ideas for improvements. Get information from any source you can. Don’t be hostile towards your client/facilities manager, but do report any lighting burnouts or maintenance problems like dirt or dust in your report. Never underestimate the role that human operators play in setting or re-setting equipment. Understand first, then make recommendations. (i.e. Make sure it makes sense to recommend a variable frequency drive before recommending it.)

3. Don’t promise anything unrealistic. Take the conservative estimate for any cost savings. Don’t bend numbers to convince a decision-maker to take action. Think about how much money your client has for upgrades (thousands? none?) and how many years of payback they are required to achieve (3 year payback or less? 5 year? 15 year?). You can use the line, “I want your savings to be more than this, but…” Think about making recommendations that simplify maintenance – there is no reason a building should have 15 different kinds of light bulbs.

4. Think about interactions. A lighting upgrade will impact the heat a little bit. Buildings operate and interact in sometimes mysterious ways. Keep in mind what the building was originally designed for. There may be weird holdovers from your building’s days as a 1970s hotel (i.e. “So that explains the package terminal air conditioners in every office!”).

5. Think about seasonal changes and daily operations. Normalizing for weather helps explain part of your heating and cooling story. Graph a year’s worth of utility bills to get a picture. Record a day’s energy use with a pulse monitor to see if something weird is happening (i.e. “Why is the air conditioning system being turned on at 4 a.m. when nobody arrives until 8?“). Keep custodial activities in mind (lights on all night?). Keep utility demand charges in mind (rates go up during peak hours or seasons) when proposing recommendations. 

6. Bring tools to help you measure now. Bring tools to help you remember later. Use a digital camera if you can. Take pictures of nameplates. Take pictures of equipment. This will help you remember the building when you are pulling together your report. Ask for a building schematic, or copy an evacuation plan map from the wall. Ask for a year’s worth of utility bills ahead of time. “Discriminators” tell you whether a ballast is electronic or magnetic. A “Watts Up” tool tells you how many Watts/hour a plug is drawing. You can order tools from the Davis catalogue. A mirror helps save your neck when you are performing a lighting audit. Bring a cell phone in case you get locked in somewhere. Tally counters are available at Target or Staples.

7. If you notice an OSHA or hazardous waste or fire code violation, you are liable and are legally obligated to report it. Familiarize yourself with these basic codes.

8. Energy efficient upgrades will increase the real estate value. Buildings sell better when they cost less to light, heat and cool.

9. Write your report for the building owner, who surely lives in California and will spend a grand total of 5 minutes reading your recommendations (if that). Use executive summaries, initial costs, and dollar savings. Include everything. If the lighting is already efficient, write that the lighting is already efficient and you have no recommendations at this time. Address building envelope, lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, and equipment/plug load/process equipment.

10. Benchmark against other buildings. Use 2005 ASHRAE Handbook Ch. 35 to compare energy intensity (kBTU/square foot/year) or Energy Star. Measure or estimate square footage to get this benchmark.


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