Blog Post

Taking Advice: Do Homeowners Follow Up on Home Energy Audits?

Aug 19, 2014 | Karen L. Palmer, Margaret A. Walls, Peter Hansen

This is the second post in a new blog series on our survey of homeowners as part of RFF’s Energy Efficiency Information Initiative. The first post focuses on what’s included in an audit and how much it costs homeowners. In this post, we’ll reveal if people followed their auditors’ recommendations. In the third post, we’ll focus on some differences among homeowners who had an audit versus those who hadn't.

Consulting an expert can be helpful when faced with certain decisions that require technical expertise. When it comes to assessing and reducing home energy use, professional home energy auditors can be a good source of advice. The most common recommendations from home energy audits are to 1) seal air gaps and, 2) add insulation. Air gaps can be around windows and doors, in attics, and in many nooks and crannies of the home and are often identified during an audit by using a blower door test. The most common area for insulation is the attic but, ideally crawlspaces, walls, and pipes are also insulated. In our 2011 survey of home energy auditors, more than 90 percent said they recommend air sealing and insulation improvements fairly often or always.

In our recent homeowner survey, 67 percent said that their auditor recommended air sealing. Air sealing is the lowest hanging fruit for efficiency improvements in homes. It is usually inexpensive and relatively easy. Moreover, an audit is usually especially helpful for identifying where and how to seal. However, only 41 percent of homeowners in our survey did all the air sealing that was recommended in their audit, 38 percent said they did some, and 21 percent said they had not undertaken any air sealing.

Figure 1. Extent of Follow-up on Air Sealing Recommendations by  Whether Audit Included Particular Features

Auditors recommended attic and crawlspace insulation somewhat less frequently; in our case, only 56 percent of homeowners reported receiving such a recommendation from their audits. Of these, about 41 percent said they did all the insulation improvements that were recommended—the same percentage as air sealing. Only 23 percent reported doing some, and 36 percent said they did none of the recommended insulation. New heating, cooling, or water heating equipment was recommended to only 30 percent of the homeowners in our survey who had audits. Interestingly, however, 62 percent of these folks followed up and purchased new equipment.

Figure 2. Extent of Follow-up on Insulation Recommendations by Whether Audit Included Particular Features

Audit follow-up also appears to vary with the quality of the audit. Figures 1 and 2 show that follow-up is higher when the audit includes special tests and services that are indicators of higher quality. (See our prior blog post for more on these features of an audit.) Just a few of these features are associated with a difference that is statistically significant: a blower door test, personally showing the homeowner where changes need to be made, and providing estimates of energy savings. When the audit included a blower door test, 83 percent of households followed up on at least some air sealing recommendations and 75 percent followed up on insulation; without a blower door test, the percentages were 72 percent and just less than 50 percent, respectively. The auditor personally showing spots that needed improvement and providing an estimate of energy savings also aligned with similarly significant increases in both types of follow-up.

Figure 3. Reasons for Not Following Up

What are the main reasons people don’t take their auditor’s advice? As shown in Figure 3, procrastination seems to be the most important reason: nearly 50 percent of homeowners said the main reason for their failure to seal air gaps was that they “had not gotten around to it,” with a slightly smaller percentage saying that for insulation. Insufficient energy savings is the second most cited reason for failure to do air sealing, while insufficient savings and high cost of improvements are equally cited as reasons for not adding insulation. Lack of trust in or disagreement with the auditor’s recommendations was rarely selected as a reason for lack of follow-up.

Do homeowners find that audits are useful? We asked homeowners to rate the quality of the information in their home energy audit on a scale of 1 to 10, where higher numbers mean greater satisfaction. The mean and median rating across respondents was 7. This seems pretty high to us. However, consistent with our conclusion in the previous blog post that audits are heterogeneous, there was a lot of variation in the reported satisfaction: while 12 percent gave a rating of 10, 4 percent gave a 1 or a 2, and about 11 percent rated their audit below 5. Perhaps a better indication of the level of satisfaction is whether or not a homeowner has recommended getting an audit to others: 45 percent reported that they had recommended home energy audits to friends, neighbors, or colleagues. Though homeowners claim to think highly of their audits, only about a third of homeowners have recommended the actual auditor they used.

In our final installment in this series, we’ll go back and look at the factors that might explain why some homeowners get audits and others don’t. We focus most closely on a set of factors that measure the salience of energy costs to homeowners and how attentive homeowners seem to be to the energy features of their homes.