Homeowners are used to getting emails and letters about new opportunities to improve their homes. Lately, many homeowners are hearing new terms like “virtual home energy assessment,” “digital energy audit,” and “low-carbon plan.” In this article, we’ll explain virtual home energy assessments and the differences between related terms.
The information included in this article might be of interest to homeowners, policy-makers, and professionals involved in building modeling, energy efficiency programming, sustainable finance, real estate, insurance, and more. For an in-depth exploration of virtual home energy assessments and how they can be deployed in a web-based platform, download our whitepaper.
A home energy assessment, also known as a home energy audit, assesses a home’s energy efficiency and comfort. The assessment often includes coaching and retrofit recommendations.
The assessment process typically involves an on-site room-by-room examination of the home. It collects hundreds of data points with equipment like blower doors, infrared cameras, and moisture meters.
A certified individual will visit a house to perform a professional energy assessment. In the United States, these professionals are called Energy Assessors or Energy Auditors, and they can earn a certification through the US Department of Energy. In Canada, these professionals are called Energy Advisors and earn credentials through Natural Resources Canada.
Homeowners use home energy assessments to understand their home’s energy performance to help make retrofit decisions to improve their home’s efficiency, comfort, and emissions. In some places, homeowners use the results of home energy assessments to qualify for retrofit rebates and other financial incentives.
Home energy assessments are also used to create building energy labels. Building labels are a proactive way to share a home’s retrofit potential. In some states, provinces, and cities, building labels are mandated to be visible when a home is bought and sold (on an online listing, on the deed, etc.). These building energy labels contain helpful information for homebuyers, homeowners, real estate professionals, banks, efficiency program owners, contractors, and other groups.
A virtual home energy assessment (or digital home energy assessment) estimates a home’s energy performance in a virtual space instead of physically examining the building on-site. It uses building structure data collected from reputable sources. Like an on-site assessment, a virtual home energy assessment can provide detailed home efficiency retrofit advice.
There are three main types of virtual home energy assessments:
“Home energy audit” is often used interchangeably with “home energy assessment” and “home energy evaluation.” In some cases, the difference is that energy audits are performed by certified professionals, while energy assessments are not. However, there isn’t consensus on this distinction, and terminology is inconsistent across the industry and between regions. Local governments and energy efficiency organizations are often a good source for clarification and information on home energy assessments and programs.
Let’s talk about the three main types of virtual home energy assessments:
A no-touch mass market home energy assessment (or AI-based home energy assessment) is a type of virtual home energy assessment that leverages public data, such as property tax assessment data and weather data, in combination with an artificial intelligence (AI) platform to evaluate the energy efficiency of homes. This method offers broad coverage of all residential buildings in an area without needing additional input from energy advisors, homeowners, or program managers.
Homeowners use these energy assessments as a starting point to understand, plan, and perform impactful retrofits. Some progressive governments and energy efficiency organizations use no-touch mass market assessments to aggregate data to make informed decisions on policies and programs to drive impactful home retrofits.
This data can also be used to inform policy around energy poverty, workforce preparedness, climate literacy, sustainable program design, and community energy planning.
A survey-based assessment is a virtual home energy assessment that uses data gathered from homeowners or real estate agents (or another individual who’s familiar with the property) through online questionnaires. Survey-based assessments request basic information such as the home’s age, type of space heating or cooling system, insulation levels of the building envelope, and draftiness of the home.
Some homeowners use survey-based assessments to understand their home’s energy efficiency and retrofit opportunities. With some web-based platforms, survey results can be combined with data from a no-touch mass market home energy assessment to get a more comprehensive understanding of the building.
When conducted at a regional level where the homes have been pre-assessed with AI, inputs from survey-based assessments can help enhance that region’s overall database and provide more precise and practical retrofit recommendations.
A remote home energy assessment is a comprehensive evaluation of the energy efficiency of a residential building conducted via phone or web conference with a professional energy advisor.
Remote assessments gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic as an alternative to the traditional on-site home assessment. It was quickly discovered that the lower price, reliable results, and professional advice created a powerful way to educate and engage homeowners in their retrofit journey.
During a remote energy assessment, a professional energy advisor gathers evidence about the configuration of a home, including its size, age, insulation levels, and heating and cooling systems. The energy advisor may also request utility bills and photos or videos of the home. During the remote assessment, energy advisors sometimes use energy modeling to advise homeowners on how different retrofit options can improve energy efficiency. After the remote assessment, homeowners receive a detailed report outlining energy-saving and carbon-reducing recommendations, estimated cost-savings, and coaching on potential retrofit options. Some advisors can also help homeowners access financial incentives and rebates.
A low-carbon plan for a home (sometimes called a home energy report) is a set of data and personalized recommendations that guide the owner through the steps required to improve their home’s energy efficiency and carbon emissions. Low-carbon plans sometimes go into detail with features like:
Virtual home energy assessments generate so much interest because they are fast, accurate, and a great way to introduce homeowners to their home’s energy efficiency retrofit needs. This technology can help us retrofit more homes faster to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
Virtual home energy assessments quickly give homeowners actionable information to make their homes more comfortable, less costly to operate, and lower carbon emissions.
Virtual home energy assessments (whether touchless, from a survey, or by video conference) offer benefits for homeowners, professional energy advisors, and energy efficiency program managers. Some of these benefits include:
Climative uses energy data collected via artificial intelligence, surveys, remote assessments, and on-site assessments to create a comprehensive digital twin of a home. This digital twin is maintained in a building ledger and can be viewed and continually updated by homeowners and any trusted third parties. The data is permissions-based and can only be accessed or shared with the consent of the building owner.
Climative’s machine learning models are built and maintained by a team of data scientists and industry experts who are passionate about data transparency and the ethical use of AI. We take data privacy seriously and work only with partners who share our views on transparency, collaboration, and technology innovation for climate action. Our technology has been developed in collaboration with industry stakeholders like NRCan, Enbridge, EfficiencyOne, Econoler, CLEAResult, NB Power, and more. We are involved in committees to develop national standards for digital home energy audits to accelerate broad market acceptance.
To learn more about Climative’s unique technology approach, we invite you to download our whitepaper, “Scaling Net-Zero Retrofits with Virtual Home Energy Assessments.”