Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Home Energy Audits

A lot of people are offering to do home energy audits.   Save your money.

Home energy audits are the newest scam.  People call you up, violating the Do Not Call registry act, and then say "this is not a sales call" and blather on about a tax rebate you are going to get for doing a home energy audit (usually $3700 to $3800 is bandied about).  They use names like "US Energy Audit" or "American Energy Company" or whatever - and say it so fast you can't hear it.

They use high-pressure sales tactics to get you to agree to have someone come to your home to do an "energy audit" and then suggest how to improve your home to save energy.

The problem is, of course, they offer to do work that is bogus at times, and often dangerous, and they charge more money than you should rightfully pay for such work.  And what they recommend in the "audit" is stuff you can do yourself or hire someone to do locally - someone with a real phone number and physical address.

For example, replacing my old single-pane windows with vinyl replacement windows will save me money - and this the largest energy drain in my home.  I don't need a guy with a blower test and an IR camera to tell me that (real energy auditors use these, the fraudulent kind usually don't even have that).

And vinyl replacement windows are cheap - as little as $99 each, and maybe another $99 to install.   But the energy audit scam artists will want $800 to $1000 a window.

Attic insulation is another one.   This can easily be installed yourself.  Some of these companies just go and throw up a few rolls, knowing you won't check it out (if you are elderly or infirm) or won't realize it until they are long down the road.

Some of the things they recommend are quite odd - "correcting" dryer and bathroom vents by disconnecting them so they vent into crawl spaces or into your attic.  While this many not be a horribly bad thing, humid air in an unvented attic can lead to mold and mildew.   And a dryer vent venting indoors is a lint nightmare and a fire hazard - and will make your house hot in the summer.

So what do these scams have in common with other scams?   Well, they are pretty common scam techniques:

1.  They Start the Relationship Based on a Lie or Deception:  A free energy audit from a government program (or utiltity sponsored program) through a telemarketer call in direct violation of the Do Not Call Registry.  Any business relationship predicated on a lie, even a small one, will go steeply down from there!

2.  They Call You, You Can't Call Them:  They claim they cannot give out their address for "security reasons" and their phone number because "a computer generates it".  They have no website because "the program is so new!"  If this doesn't tip you off, you are pretty dumb, frankly.   But people let their guard down, particularly older folks.

3.  They Offer Something-For-Nothing:  Nothing gets the Marks all riled up like FREE and TAX REBATE.  They dangle money out in front of you, or a FREE whatever, and assume (rightly) that most people will suspend disbelief once FREE MONEY is offered.  TANSTAAFL!

4.  Nearly Impossible to Shut Down:  What they are doing isn't illegal - or very hard to catch.  Selling $500 of insulation for $5000 isn't against the law - it is just a crappy bargain.  And selling bad bargains isn't against the law in the USA.  And the amount of money involved is always about $5000 - the amount that lucrative for them, but too little to sue over for you.  Once you get stung by these folks, no one can help you - it ain't worth it.  The Police have "real" crooks to catch - you know, taxpayers who can be caught and have assets to attach.  Con Artists skip town and the cops can't do squat.

So how do you protect yourself from scams like this?  Well, don't be a fool.  Get on the Do Not Call Registry and just assume that anyone who calls saying "this is not a telemarketer call" is a lying scumbag.  Stop believing in FREE and SOMETHING FOR NOTHING.  Just hang up the phone - and use call blocking (*60 then #10#, if you have the service).  Or better yet, put them on hold and then just walk away from the phone - it really pisses them off, as it kills their "leads" rate.

Are their "legitimate" energy audit companies out there?  Yes, but they don't call you, you call them.  And they do a blower test, a burner test and use an IR camera to look for energy leaks.   But, chances are, you already know where the energy leaks are in your home.

Myself, I am saving my money for new replacement windows.  The cost of one "energy audit" would pay for at least a couple of windows!