Expand Your Business with Energy Audits
Residential electricians have a new opportunity for a career path or simply to develop a specialty involving electrical energy conservation, says Jimmie Sparks, residential energy program manager with the Neighborhood Energy Connection, a non-profit organization in Saint Paul, Minn., that provides home audits for Xcel Energy, an electric utility that operates in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.
“There’s opportunity for electricians for basic home audit testing around lighting and appliances,” he says. “People in the electrical trades have great resources available, from training to tools such as monitoring devices that test the electrical use of an appliance which doesn’t require them to buy any new equipment.”
Comprehensive home testing requires specialized equipment, such as a calibrated blower door fan that mounts on exterior doors to test air leakage, or infrared cameras that reveal air infiltration and missing insulation.
Particularly in the east and west coast regions of the country where kilowatt-hour charges are expensive, Sparks says electrical-related audits appeal to consumers because of the potential for savings. With basic services like assessing home electrical use and recommending ways for homeowners to reduce energy usage, Sparks says electricians should consider bundled services. For example, appliance testing, infrared testing and testing of heating systems and water heaters can be offered in a service, complete with utility bill analysis and summary report.
Christina Kielich, press officer in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., says many utilities offer rebates to the consumers for appliance and HVAC equipment replacement, and electricians can help evaluate the different options available to them. Older homes are especially ripe for basic energy audits, she says. “People tend to think of windows, doors and fireplace dampers, but even electrical outlets and switch plates can leak energy.”
Training and certifications
Sparks says requirements for becoming a certified home auditor vary by state. He recommends electricians start with their local utility company and vocational colleges. For example, in the state of Minnesota, electric utility Xcel Energy no longer offers in-house training on conducting audits in Minnesota. However, a five-day course and competency exam that meets state requirements for residential energy auditors is offered through the Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis. Sparks also recommends training and certifications offered by the Residential Energy Services Network and the Building Performance Institute.
For more information on home energy audits and certification programs, Kielich recommends electricians check with their state energy office and utilities to see how to get certified as an energy auditor. These resources are available at the U.S. Department of Energy's Web site under the Professional Home Energy Audits section.
Opportunity and caution in “green” jobs
From a business perspective, Sparks sees definite opportunity for electricans in green-related and energy-audit services. However, he cautions electricians to do their homework, noting that subsidies by utility companies to providers like Neighborhood Energy Connection make it tough to compete on pricing. For instance, in Minnesota, Xcel Energy offers a basic home audit to consumers for a $35 fee.