Scott Roberts

The best way, many remodelers and energy auditors say, to determine how a homeowner should use the $1,500 tax credit for their home, is to first conduct an energy audit.

“You need to look at the whole picture and decide on priorities,” says Darren Lombardo of Home Energy Solutions, an auditor in Salisbury, Md. “For example, it does not matter how efficient an HVAC system is — the house still has to retain the heating and cooling it provides.”

Remodeler Andrew Shore uses audits to prioritize energy-efficient home improvement options from least to most effective for his clients. “We rank them so homeowners can see what will result in the biggest energy savings. That is critical in providing value. Do not pitch the most expensive things to them, but what is most cost-effective,” says the owner of Sea Pointe Construction, in Irvine, Calif.

Last year, Case Design/Remodeling, in Bethesda, Md., began offering a complementary evaluation to its clients. The evaluation, conducted by Case staff, includes a review of existing equipment and conditions and utility bills. “We then use this information during the design stage to suggest places to improve performance,” says project designer Matt Dirksen. Often small improvements relating to sealing the building envelope result in a greater savings and increased comfort level. “I recently watched a homeowner receive a 9% drop in air leakage simply due to one hour’s worth of caulking and sealing,” Dirksen says.

Case Design/Remodeling clients can also choose to pay for a full audit conducted by an outside firm, such as Amicus Green, in Kensington, Md. This company uses custom software to analyze existing conditions. It then suggests improvements and re-tests the house after the updates have been made. In addition, “using the audit as a baseline, we offer strategies for future changes,” president Jason Holstein says.

The proof, Lombardo says, is ultimately in the client’s utility bills: “When people see a 35% reduction, they know that what I do works.”

Holstein advises homeowners against basing their improvement decisions solely on the tax credits. “It should be more of tie-breaker to assist in the decision. Use the stimulus money as an extra tool to prioritize what you will do.” —Nina Patel, senior editor, REMODELING.