Why My GridPoint Energy Audit Sucked

Bad day for energy efficiency the other day.  I have a new house (actually a new to me 55 year old house), and was all excited to have an energy auditor come out and energy audit me.  After all, I write Cleantech Blog, and did an article not too long ago urging all homeowners to get an energy audit – see What You Should Do if You Really Believe in Cleantech.  So after an admittedly limited job of looking around I went with Standard Renewable Energy.

Most of the big box home improvement retailers have a energy audit practice, as do tons of little companies, but I figured Sre3.com, owned by Gridpoint which is backed by investors like Altira who I know and like, would be a good “pure-play” choice for a cleantech blogger.

But perhaps I’m a naive chump who just expected too much.

I ordered a their $149 Essential Energy Audit (full details below) figuring if I liked the audit I could order a more expensive one complete with more toys and high powered analyses later. I’d get my audit done, get my plan, and then geek out for a bit thinking about all the marginally economic things I could do (windows have been done, insulation is coming).

“Which Home Energy Audit is Right for You?

An energy audit from SRE is an extensive home energy efficiency evaluation. It’s performed by an energy efficiency expert and shows you how your home uses energy and how it wastes it. The audit results in a customized plan that empowers you to make energy-saving choices that fit your budget and your lifestyle. And our energy efficiency experts can help make it easy for you to implement the recommendations you choose.


Essential Energy Audit ($149) – A great starting place to identify issues affecting your home’s energy efficiency.  The Essential Energy Audit is a 41-point detailed visual inspection of every part of your home including: doors, windows, walls, attic space, insulation, air conditioning equipment, appliances, and lighting.


Complete Energy Audit ($499) – Builds on the Essential Energy Audit by incorporating diagnostic tests that can pinpoint specific energy efficiency issues and identify your best money-saving improvements:

  • Duct blaster test to diagnose duct leakage
  • Blower door test to identify leaks in your home’s envelope such as around doors and windows
  • Thermographic infrared scanning to evaluate the flow of heat through your home and pinpoint problem spots due to leaks and missing insulation

Comprehensive Energy Audit ($849) – Combines the Essential and Complete Energy Audits with an analysis using energy modeling software that calculates your home’s HERS (Home Energy Rating System) Index. We’ll use the software to provide a cost-benefit analysis of each of our energy-saving recommendations so you can see which have the greatest payback.

The Energy Efficiency Experts

As environmentalists with a passion for finding ways you can use less energy in your home, we’re committed to mastering home energy efficiency:

  • We incorporate industry-leading building science knowledge to ensure a complete picture of how your home uses energy
  • Our extensive technological and practical experience helps us make the best energy efficiency recommendations
  • We use a total approach to evaluate your home’s individual performance and address all areas of your home’s energy use
  • We provide custom solutions tailored for you and your home”

Frankly what I was looking for was the “41-point detailed visual inspection” plus the “customized plan”. I will quote again in bold italics just for the record:

“The Essential Energy Audit is a 41-point detailed visual inspection of every part of your home including: doors, windows, walls, attic space, insulation, air conditioning equipment, appliances, and lighting.”

and


“The audit results in a customized plan that empowers you to make energy-saving choices that fit your budget and your lifestyle.”

So here’s what happened.

I ordered the audit.  It got scheduled quickly (though they were a little backed up so they came out a couple of days later).  My wife and I both worked from home that day so we could be audited, watch what he did and take notes.  As an environmental scientist she was almost as interested as I was.

On the appointed day our energy consultant showed up.  We spend a few minutes chitchatting about why we want an energy audit, how we use the home, what we like in comfort, that sort of thing.  At this time I do tell him that I’m a blogger in the sector and am excited to blog about my energy audit.  He’s a very nice, and knowledgeable guy.  He’s never heard of Cleantech Blog though.  We show him our utility bills.  He takes copious notes.

Then he says it won’t take him too long, he needs to go through the house, inside and out, and in the attic, and go through his checklist.  Then we will sit down and review it.  We say great.  We follow him some trying to watch, but he tells us not to worry, he will take us through it all when he’s done.

. . .

30 minutes or so pass.  He comes back, we gather in the dining room and sit down. Our auditor asks a few more questions.  Gives us some good information.  We discuss the advantages / disadvantages of insulation vs radiant attic barriers.  He tell us our duct work isn’t sealed well, but is still tight enough that it’s not worth worrying about yet.

Karen my wife, starts to take more notes.  Karen likes home constructor projects. He says don’t worry about notes he will send us his write-up afterward to make it easy for us.

We ask him what we should do.  He tells us a solar attic fan.  SRE3 sells them for an “excellent price”.  $950.  And radiant barrier or more insulation, price maybe a couple of thousand each.  SRE sells that too.  I say, but my utility bill in the heat of the summer in July was only $126, without insulation, and before the new double paned windows got put in.  We ask him how much each of those items is likely to save, he mentions 10-20% each at most, without lifting his pencil.  I’m thinking thousands out, and $10-$20 a month back?  He agrees. Then discusses how important a solar attic fan is.  I ask what about one of those cheap metal silver fans instead of a $950 solar attic fan.  He says they never work.  But the SRE3.com solar attic fan is warrantied and the price includes installation.

A few other things happen.

I say I’m not sure I’m interested in the solar attic fan (to save $20 bucks in June, July and August?), but we will need insulation and I’d like to know what a radiant barrier costs.

We end the conversation (on Friday) where he promises to send me a quote on Monday.  I did note that my detailed inspection and customized plan, became a write-up of his notes and now a “quote” on insulation/radiant barriers.

I say nothing except I’m looking forward to getting the write-up.

I then ask, as he’s about to leave, what about weather stripping around the doors.  He says, “Oh, I didn’t check that” – note to self to check, isn’t weather stripping like the standard everyone should do it home energy efficiency item?  He now takes us around to the doors and discusses the weatherstripping.  He gives us some good tips, but we notice he is no longer taking copious notes. Note to self, aren’t you also supposed to have your hot water heater wrapped in insulation?  Ours isn’t.

Energy consultant leaves.  Time allocation:  1/3rd chit chatting on what we want, 1/3rd walking around the house looking for expensive things they sell that we might buy, 1/3rd trying to get us to buy a $950 solar attic fan for an uninsulated house with a $126 July bill, interspersed with a few tidbits of useful info.  Ok, that’s flippant, but it’s close.

Energy consultant comes back.  Says he called the office and they asked him to get the $149 check.  I pay it.

Day 25+, still waiting for my customized plan, checklist on the detailed 41 point visual inspection, write-up of the energy audit notes, or sales quote, or whatever he actually intended to send me.  At least we know the Gridpoint sales management process is working.  They don’t bother sending quotes to cheap homeowners people who aren’t going to buy a $950 solar attic fan – even those who thought they bought an energy audit.  Maybe I’ll send this blog to their PR department and see how well that process is run.  I already found out their A/R department is well run.

PS I still believe in energy audits, obviously just not a Standard Renewable Energy, a Gridpoint company, energy audit.

Neal Dikeman is a Partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, chief blogger for Cleantechblog.com, the chair of Cleantech.org and a founder of cleantech ventures Carbonflow and Zenergy Power.  He is a Texas Aggie.

21 replies
  1. J Brown
    J Brown says:

    Neal,Sorry to read about your experience. As you experienced there is no real consistency in what you will get from a "Home Energy Audit".There are a lot of companies doing audits, each with their own business model. It certainly seems that in your experience the "audit" was merely a loss leader, with the hope of upselling you some retrofitting products.My personal opinion is homeowners like yourself will be more satisfied with working with a company that provides a comprehensive audit at a true price, not one that is merely a veiled sales pitch to earn a contract for a more expensive retrofit.I hope this doesn't completely sour you on the valuable information a true home energy audit can provide.Justin BrownEvolv Efficiency Solutions

  2. Peter Troast
    Peter Troast says:

    Neal–you get what you pay for. The only way companies like Gridpoint can offer a $149 audit is as a loss leader for selling you stuff or using it to get the retrofit work. It's appalling, frankly, especially given who you are, that he didn't upsell a full blower door, duct blaster, combustion safety and infrared analysis. Cue to knuckleheads: when the customer asks about leaks under the door, sell them a full air leakage analysis. Duh. You've landed on one of the hot buttons in the home performance industry–which is the question of separating auditing from the actual work. There are good cases for both. While the purity of someone who is not selling solar fans is comforting, there is also a fair amount of paralysis when audits don't seamlessly lead to getting the work done. We wrote about the pros and cons of both here: http://www.energycircle.com/learn/home-energy-aud… for exposing this. Moldy crap like you experienced doesn't like light. Peter TroastEnergy Circle

  3. Gene Haynes
    Gene Haynes says:

    What kind of duct system has leaks that are not important enough to worry about? March that guy back up in the attic to show where those leaks are … let him tape a strip of newspaper to a long stick and check the ductwork in front of you.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    You inadvertently fell for the scam of paying a contractor $149 to look through your home for opportunities and give you a quote. I'm a bit surprised that you haven't received the followup calls about the deals they can give you on additional "items" that they now know they can try to sell you, or try to upsell you to the next level of audit, then later the next. Nice plan, if they can sell you all 3 audits and collect $1,487, then sell you their goodies on top of that.Unfortunately "the opportunists" have invaded the energy reduction field; it didn't take long at all.CAVEAT EMPTORStan KuhnENERGY AUDITORS

  5. Midwest Energy Audit
    Midwest Energy Audit says:

    I am the owner of Midwest Energy Audits, Inc. and am sorry you had this experience. An energy audit is a great tool for identifying energy efficient improvement opportunities. But as stated in other comments you need to find the right company. Owning a blower door does not make you an energy auditor. You need training, a COMPLETE set of tools and the most important tool is experience. Start your search for a company in your area with the Better Business Bureau. I would be happy to perform an audit at no cost for someone you refer in the Chicagoland area. Then you can see what a real audit should be like. You can contact me at 773 610-8073 or email me at gdomel@midwestenergyaudits.com if you want any information on a legitimate energy audit. Keep up the good work with the blog!! Greg

  6. Allison A. Bailes II
    Allison A. Bailes II says:

    Good catch on the lack of cost effectiveness for the solar attic vent fan. The truth goes further than payback, though. Power attic vent fans of any type are a bad idea unless your ceiling is perfectly air-sealed. If it's not, the fan will be sucking conditioned air from the house up into the attic. Not only do you not get the $10-20 per month savings, but your electric bill actually goes up.Regarding whether or not you should hire an energy auditor who's not with the company doing improvements or selling products, Peter's right. This is a hot topic in the profession, and I also believe there are good arguments either way. I'm actually OK with energy auditors being involved with the work, though. First, it's not easy to make a living doing nothing but third party energy audits. Second, we don't ask our doctors, auto mechanics, or IT guys not to be involved with solving the problems they diagnose.Finally, you're definitely doing the right thing by looking to make your home more efficient before adding any type of solar energy features. See my article on a 5 step plan for solar here: http://bit.ly/bWtZTp.

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    WOW! I just did an audit today using BPI and HPwES standards and systems for a 2800 sq ft home and it took me 5 hours. I would love to sell a retrofit job but I guess I am honest when you get a prioritized list from me. The auditor should only recommend the most cost effective measures for retrofit. Everything else is a bonus. Keith

  8. Davis
    Davis says:

    That's terrible! It's people like that who give energy audits a bad name. Whenever I go out on a site, I always try to make sure we do the best possible work and not do any kind of shady things like push more products. Hopefully you have a better experience in the future. -Davis

  9. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    If you do a little research on GridPoint you will find that they have a raised a lot of venture capital but don't really produce anything. Last year GridPoint purchased several companies including Standard Renewable Energy and they are struggling to maintain control. SRE has closed many of its regional offices and they are down to less than a hundred people from its pre-purchase level of almost 350. Much of the talent was cut or jumped ship. Unfortunate many people think only of the "green" in their pockets, not honor, not integrity, certainly not our environment.Be careful of the snake-oil proliferating the industry; word of mouth and references are always a good place to start.

  10. David Smith
    David Smith says:

    Neal I am sorry you had to go through this, I have been in this industry for 13 years, now things are good too many people are jumping in, cutting prices and giving poor service and products. I will gladly send you my 27 page checklist, 10 point font mind you. this checklist takes at least a minimum of four hours to go over a standard home, and even more for a small business, 10 cents a square foot and 250.00 minimum, it takes me about 1-2 hours to formulate a report and then 30-4- minutes to go over it with the customer by phone. these cut rate vendors have run me out of a job and give our industry the bad names that will haunt us into the future, I agree and disagree that you get what you pay for, no one pays to get bad service, shame on those who do not want to do it right I will gladly send you a copy. dave at livesureal

  11. Brandon
    Brandon says:

    You are partly to blame. I'm not saying the Gridpoint guy didn't do a crappy job. However, it sounds like you didn't have a realistic understanding of what an energy audit can do for you. From your bio, it sounds like your a quasi-finance guy so I'm surprised you didn't see this coming. What you missed is: You have to spend money to make money. Or in the world of energy efficiency, you have to spend money to SAVE money. If your summer utility bill is $126 a month, you're doing pretty good. At best, a full suite of upgrades will shave 20% off your bill. What magic bullet were you expecting him to pull out that would be justified solely by the savings? Keep in mind – almost $20 of your bill a month is from account maintenance fees that don't change based on consumption. On top of that – you've got a big baseload of stuff you're not going to change (flat screen TV, home networking equip., space heaters). If you're good about turning it all off, that stuff can still add up to $60 a month easily. That leaves $40 a month for the home energy auditor to "help" you save on. People paying $300 – $600 in utilities a month should think about a home energy audit. People who get all the upgrades paid for by city rebates should get home energy audits. Everyone else – should just work on turning stuff off, and buying more efficient products when the current one needs to be repaired.-Brandon Energy Efficiency Payback Calculators

  12. Neal Dikeman
    Neal Dikeman says:

    Standard Renewable Energy called today. They apologized for not getting a real audit analysis and said they are working on better training and systems.They are coming out to redo my energy audit as a level II (they offered a refund as well, which I refused). More updates to follow.Thanks for your comments!

  13. NetWinner
    NetWinner says:

    I would certainly consider you to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to energy efficiency in homes. You blog about it and are passionate about energy efficiency in the places we live and work.Most homeowners in our area investing in energy efficiency advice are doctors, lawyers, Indian Chiefs, etc….They have a lot of pride in ownership, concerned about the environment and being practical with how they spend their money. I've got applaud you for first considering to get someone to come into your home, your most intimate space, and give you advice on how to live better.What we often fail see as a professionals is that we are not just in the energy efficiency business, but more importantly, we are in the PEOPLE business.

  14. Jamie Kaye
    Jamie Kaye says:

    WOW! Even after telling him you were blogging about it, he did this kind of shady job. This doesn't seem to be to uncommon these days though. There is a lot of opportunity in this arena right now and driving away the customers who are interested in change and participation is the last thing we need to do. Selling magic products is not the solution!!! Many of these products have a place in the system, but many are just another band-aid on a gunshot wound and some even make the wound deeper.Thanks for posting this article, and I like what Peter Troast said "Moldy crap like you experienced doesn't like light." I also like what Shawn Mullins said "We should all post a link to this kind of stuff on our web sites under the "buyer beware" category!" We need to spread the word!!I think it is up to the Energy Pros to get unbiased, non-product specific primer courses out to the masses. It would be nice if BPI and Resnet began doing some national marketing campaigns as well!!! There is no doubt we have all given our fair share of funds to these organizations, and just maybe if they marketed the energy audit and it's capabilities, HomeStar would gain a little more attention and momentum, instead of me having to refer to the bill as the "Cash for Caulkers" bill and get the standard laugh as a reply.

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I was an employee of Gridpoint's starting back in 2005 and I lasted 4 years there. I have never seen so much deception and infighting in one organization as I saw there. There whole business model is smoke and mirrors. Peter Corsell is a complete poser and is more concerned about his next photo shoot and the pile press clipping he keeps of himself on his desk. I am not the least surprise when I read articles like these.

  16. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    As a former employee of SRE, I am sorry to hear about your experience. I performed many audits on homes, provided a detailed and thorough audit in a timely fashion, with financial payback analysis. I would present energy saving solutions w/o bias or hard sell. Attic fans are good products and should be recommended in addition to weatherstripping, caulking, lighting, energy monitors, insulation, solar screens, radiant barrier, HVAC, Solar, Wind, Geothermal. etc… Each product meets a specific need, has an associated cost, and estimated payback.
    As a former Gridpoint employee, I am not surprised. Gridpoint laid off the entire SRE workforce across the country last week. They purchased SRE in March of this year. In less than 9 months they took a well run company and drove it into the ground. I saw the quality, service, and morale deteriorate under Gridpoint ownership. I can't comprehend what they received for their millions of dollars? SRE was never a competitor to their market. The products and services only complimented their offerings. I guess they like to run businesses into the ground, waste customers time, burn their investors money, and send Americans to the unemployment line.

  17. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    You can easily conduct a home energy audit yourself. With a simple but diligent walk-through, you can spot many problems in any type of house. When auditing your home, keep a checklist of areas you have inspected and problems you found. This list will help you prioritize your energy efficiency upgrades.

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