Energy audit plan may not sit well with remodelers

County’s goal of encouraging the retrofitting of older homes is laudable, but the coercive method chosen is lacking

We applaud San Luis Obispo County’s goal to make older homes more energy efficient; limiting “green build” principles to new construction isn’t going to do much to reduce local energy use or cut greenhouse gas emissions.

We aren’t convinced, though, that the county’s recently adopted ordinance requiring home remodelers to pay for energy audits is the best way to achieve the goal of retrofitting older homes.

Under the ordinance approved last week, homeowners who do more than $10,000 worth of remodeling or repairs will be required to have a home energy audit in order to qualify for a county permit. But there’s no guarantee that energy retrofits will actually be done, since homeowners won’t be required to carry out the audit’s recommendations.

The hope is that homeowners will be so impressed by the potential savings that they’ll choose to make changes of their own accord.

Maybe. But it’s also likely that some will be so incensed about being required to pay for a$400 energy audit — at the same time they’re undertaking expensive home remodeling — that the message will be lost.

Also, it’s no secret that many homeowners never apply for county permits for remodels in the first place. That could become even more prevalent once word gets out about the new requirement, which takes effect in January.

If the county wants to make energy audits mandatory for older homes, we believe a more efficient and consistent method would be to require them at the time a home is resold.

It would be much harder to skirt the requirement then. Also, sellers might be more inclined to do an energy retrofit if they thought it would make their home more marketable.

But here’s an idea: How about programs that don’t rely on coercion at all, but rather, offer incentives that would encourage homeowners to voluntarily sign up for audits and retrofits?

Those could take the form of low and no-interest loans and rebates — some of which are already available through utility companies.

Currently, though, there is no assistance with the $400 audit, although the county is actively searching out programs that would provide some financial help.

That’s a step in the right direction.

Energy retrofits of older homes make sense, both to reduce countywide energy consumption and to provide homeowners with a break on utility bills.

But homeowners might be more receptive if the county used a carrot, rather than a stick, to sell them on the advantages of ahome energy audit. We urge the county to move forward as quickly as possible with voluntary programs that will make energy audits and retrofits more affordable and attractive to homeowners.