What Is The Difference Between Energy Efficiency And Energy Audit?

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What is the difference between energy efficiency and energy audit?

Energy efficiency and energy audits may appear similar on the surface but actually refer to distinct, but related concepts. In brief, energy efficiency is about using less energy to perform the same function while energy audits are comprehensive evaluations of building systems aimed at identifying opportunities to improve performance and reduce energy use.

Both energy efficiency and energy audits are powerful tools to cut energy waste, lower utility bills, and reduce environmental impact. But understanding the key differences between them provides clarity on when and how to use each strategy to maximize benefits.

This article will explore what exactly energy efficiency and energy audits are, their unique purposes and processes, and how they can work hand-in-hand to create more sustainable, high-performing buildings.

Definition of Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency simply means using less energy to perform the same task or produce the same result (EESI). Energy-efficient technologies, practices, and products require less input energy to perform at the same level. Examples of energy efficiency include using LED light bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs, adding insulation to reduce heat loss from buildings, and purchasing ENERGY STAR certified appliances that use less electricity.

The goal of energy efficiency is to reduce energy waste. This allows us to get the same services by consuming less energy, which saves money and reduces environmental impact. For example, an energy efficient refrigerator uses less electricity while still providing the same cooling and storage. Improving energy efficiency is one of the fastest, most cost-effective ways to combat climate change, reduce stress on the grid, and lower energy costs (Department of Energy).

Benefits of Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency involves using less energy to provide the same service. Energy efficiency measures reduce energy waste and can provide many benefits to families, businesses, and the environment. Some key benefits of energy efficiency include:

Saving money on utility bills – Improved efficiency lowers energy usage, directly reducing monthly electricity and gas bills. Over time these savings can add up to thousands of dollars for households and businesses. Energy efficient improvements often pay for themselves in energy savings over time.

Reducing environmental impact – More efficiency means less fossil fuels burned to generate energy. This decreases greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and water usage for power generation. In 2017 alone, energy efficiency improvements avoided over 800 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in the U.S., comparable to taking over 170 million cars off the road.

Enhancing grid reliability – Lower energy demand reduces strain on the power grid, especially during times of peak usage. This improves grid resilience and reliability.

Creating jobs – Manufacturing, installing, and maintaining energy efficient products employs hundreds of thousands of Americans. Programs promoting efficiency can spur local job growth and economic activity.

Improving building comfort – Sealing air leaks, adding insulation, and upgrading to efficient appliances improves indoor environmental quality. This enhances occupant comfort and health.

Increasing property values – Efficiency improvements can increase residential resale values. Commercial buildings with energy efficiency certifications also tend to have higher occupancy rates and rental incomes.

Definition of Energy Audit

An energy audit is an assessment of the energy use and efficiency of a home or building. During an audit, an energy auditor will conduct a thorough inspection of the property to identify areas where energy is being wasted and opportunities for improving efficiency. The goal is to analyze how the building is currently using energy, find problems with efficiency, and recommend solutions to reduce energy consumption.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, key parts of an energy audit include:1

  • A walkthrough of the home/building to assess insulation, air sealing, heating/cooling systems, lighting, appliances, and other energy uses
  • Blower door tests to measure air leaks and infiltration
  • Thermal imaging to identify areas of air infiltration and missing insulation
  • Testing and inspection of mechanical systems and appliances
  • A review of energy bills and usage

At the end of the audit, the auditor will provide a report detailing areas for improvement and recommendations to enhance efficiency. Implementing these recommendations can help homeowners and businesses reduce energy waste and lower utility bills.

Types of Energy Audits

There are several types of energy audits that can be performed on a building or facility:

Walk-Through Energy Audit

A walk-through energy audit, also known as a preliminary energy audit, involves a basic visual inspection of a building to identify areas of energy waste and potential efficiency improvements. This type of audit focuses on low-cost or no-cost energy conservation measures (ECMs) that can provide a quick payback (according to https://www.carboncollective.co/sustainable-investing/energy-audit).

Energy Survey and Analysis

An energy survey and analysis, sometimes called an ASHRAE Level 2 audit, provides more detailed data collection and analysis of a building’s energy use. This usually involves analyzing energy bills, inspecting major equipment and systems, and possibly conducting short-term monitoring and measurements (according to https://www.abraxasenergy.com/energy-consulting/commercial-energy-audits/types-of-energy-audits/).

Detailed Energy Analysis

A detailed energy analysis, also known as an ASHRAE Level 3 audit, is the most comprehensive type of audit. It provides a detailed energy profile of a building through extensive monitoring, measurements, analysis, and modeling. This intensive audit quantifies savings opportunities and provides more reliable recommendations for capital-intensive upgrades (according to https://www.abraxasenergy.com/energy-consulting/commercial-energy-audits/types-of-energy-audits/).

Goals of an Energy Audit

The main goals of an energy audit are to identify areas of energy waste, recommend efficiency improvements, and calculate potential cost savings. According to Just Energy, an energy audit aims to “identify energy efficiency problems and energy-saving opportunities in a home or business.”

Specifically, an audit will determine how much energy a building or facility is using and where that energy is being wasted. This allows the auditor to pinpoint deficiencies in insulation, air sealing, equipment efficiency, lighting, heating and cooling systems, building envelope, water heating, and other areas.

Once problems are identified, the auditor will provide a detailed report with recommendations for upgrades and improvements to reduce energy consumption. Common recommendations include adding insulation, sealing air leaks, upgrading to ENERGY STAR appliances, installing high efficiency HVAC systems, switching to LED lighting, and more.

In addition to identifying efficiency opportunities, a key goal of the audit report is to calculate potential energy savings from implementing the recommendations. This allows building owners to prioritize upgrades that will maximize cost savings over time. Overall, a quality energy audit provides a roadmap to transform a building into a more efficient, lower cost, and more sustainable property.

Energy Audit Process

The purpose of an energy audit is to understand how a building uses energy and identify opportunities to improve efficiency. The typical energy audit process involves the following steps:

First, an energy auditor will visit the site to visually inspect the building. They will look at aspects like insulation, windows, lighting, HVAC systems, appliances, and overall building envelope. The auditor may use equipment like blower doors, infrared cameras, and surface thermometers to detect leaks, drafts, or areas of poor insulation.

Next, the auditor will analyze past utility bills and data logs to understand the building’s energy use patterns over time. This helps identify times of peak energy use.

The auditor will then conduct diagnostic tests on the building systems. This may involve checking airflow and duct leakage, measuring motor and pump efficiency, testing lighting controls, and examining appliance consumption. The goal is to understand how major energy-using systems are performing.

With all this data collected, the auditor synthesizes their findings into a report. This outlines areas for improvement, provides calculations of energy savings opportunities, and estimates costs for upgrades. Typically an audit report will include a list of recommended energy efficiency measures along with their payback periods. The home or building owner uses this report to determine which upgrades to implement.

In summary, a standard energy audit includes an on-site inspection, utility bill analysis, diagnostic testing of systems, and a detailed report on how to improve efficiency. This process aims to provide a detailed understanding of energy use and savings opportunities in the audited building.

Recommendations from Audit

An energy audit will provide a homeowner with a detailed list of recommended improvements to increase energy efficiency. According to the Department of Energy, some common recommendations from an audit may include [1]:

  • Sealing air leaks around doors, windows, pipes and any gaps in the building envelope. Air sealing can greatly improve energy efficiency.
  • Adding insulation in attics, exterior and basement walls, ceilings, and floors. Insulation slows heat flow and is one of the most cost effective ways to make a home more energy efficient.
  • Upgrading to energy efficient appliances, lighting, heating and cooling systems. Energy efficient equipment will consume less energy than outdated, inefficient models.
  • Installing programmable thermostats, smart power strips, water saving fixtures, and other efficiency measures.
  • Replacing old windows and doors with energy efficient models.
  • Upgrading the water heater and pipe insulation.

The recommendations will be tailored to the specific home based on the findings during the energy audit inspection and analysis. Implementing these upgrades can significantly reduce energy waste and costs in a home.

Comparing Energy Efficiency and Audits

While energy efficiency and energy audits are related, they serve different purposes. Energy efficiency refers to using less energy to perform the same function. This is achieved by implementing technologies, processes, or behaviors that reduce energy use. Common examples include installing LED lighting, adding insulation, replacing old appliances with ENERGY STAR models, and encouraging employees to turn off equipment when not in use.

Energy audits, on the other hand, are assessments done to identify opportunities to improve efficiency. There are different types of audits, but they generally involve reviewing utility bills, surveying building systems and equipment, performing diagnostic tests, and analyzing energy use data. The audit results in a report that outlines potential upgrades to lighting, HVAC, building envelope, motors, compressed air, and other systems that can reduce energy consumption. Recommendations are presented along with cost estimates and return on investment calculations.

In summary, energy audits help achieve efficiency by first identifying where savings can occur. The audit provides a roadmap for implementation. Energy efficiency refers to the actual operational improvements and technologies that reduce energy waste.[1][2] The audit and resulting recommendations allow organizations to strategically adopt efficiency measures that offer the greatest energy, carbon, and cost savings.


In summary, energy efficiency refers to efforts made to reduce overall energy consumption, usually through improved technology, processes and behaviors. Energy audits are detailed evaluations conducted by professionals to analyze how energy is used in a home or building and identify opportunities for greater efficiency.

While both aim to reduce energy use, energy efficiency involves the actual implementation of energy-saving measures, while audits focus on assessing current use as a precursor to efficiency improvements. Audits analyze systems and practices to pinpoint problems areas and wasted energy, and provide recommendations on upgrades to equipment, insulation, appliances, lighting, and more. The audit findings will often guide the specific energy efficiency actions taken.

So in essence, energy audits are analytical assessments that provide the roadmap, while energy efficiency refers to the destination reached through conservation measures and optimal energy utilization based on the audit guidance. By understanding how they complement one another, both homeowners and businesses can develop comprehensive strategies to reduce costs, minimize environmental impact, and use energy in a smarter and more effective way.

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