Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thou shalt be efficient.

Thoughts on the proposed mandatory energy audits.

Legislation in the works in Ontario that would require a homeowner to conduct an energy audit before selling their house. “Thou shalt be efficient”. The idea is that the owner does the audit, then does all or most of the suggested improvements to make the home market-attractive. Alternatively, a “poor” audit could lead to a reduced selling price, leaving the buyer with more money to make the improvements.
The vision and intent are admirable. We know the climate change issue is real and that houses are often leaky energy-wasters. We are actually certified NAGAB “Green” agents so we should probably be behind this. But …

• Who’s going to do the audits? There is even now a shortage of good qualified auditors. A sudden demand for a whole whack more audits every year would strain the resource and lead to any number of scams and misuse.

• The timing will be problematic. There is a lot to do to get a home ready for market. The homeowner has repairs, decorating, clutter purging, staging and whatever to do. All sorts of other logistics must be dealt with in the owner’s probably-non-existent “spare time”. All this, plus paperwork, photos, measuring, maybe floorplans and videotours, advertising on a deadline, etc. are being done, usually with a tight target date for “hitting the market”. It’s hard enough already without scheduling an energy audit and then trying to schedule (and pay for) whatever “fixes” seem appropriate to have the audit help, rather than hinder, the sale.

• What about a weak audit? If the seller reduces the price rather than doing the suggested work, will the buyer actually use that money to improve the home’s efficiency?

• What about the overall home inspection? If an energy audit is mandatory, why wouldn’t a whole systems and structural inspection also be required? Not saying I agree with either being legislated, but I have trouble seeing why an owner should be legislated into pointing out that the attic is a little light on insulation when he/she is not required to point out a substandard electrical system, or a weight bearing wall removed in a recent renovation. Which would you be more interested in knowing?

At home-buying time, energy efficiency, I think, is a little like taxes and utility costs are now. It’s good information to know. But they can become distractions from critical “deciding factors” in which home that person decides to buy. Similarly, I think an energy audit would be, for some, a distraction in an already stressful process.

Existing programs allow us to get good rebates and credits on home efficiency improvements. Current owners have access to these grants. New owners have access. It’s good stuff to do. But on balance I don’t think mandating these audits makes sense at this time.

How about an extra incentive or rebate for doing an energy audit and/or improvements, if done within a year of buying? My guess is this would get more done and take away a distraction and largely ineffective requirement from the actual buying/selling process. What do you think?

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