Expert Advice on Green Buildings

Commercial Energy Audit: What Is a Level 3 Audit?


Rachel asks: What is definition of energy audit level 3? I am looking for a bid template/example of a thorough energy audit - level 3 audit. Can you help me??


Rachel, with the ARRA money coming into distribution in states across the country, terms like this are finding their ways into requests for proposals more and more. Throw into the mix the push to save energy as well as programs like Energy Star and USGBC’s LEED as well as commissioning and energy audits are becoming more and more prevalent in the industry.

As a mechanical design engineer, my understanding of the three energy audit levels is as defined by the ASHRAE Handbook, HVAC Applications, Chapter 35: Energy Use and Management. There are three levels of Energy Audits. Preliminary Energy Use Analysis, Level I – Walk-Through Assessment, Level II – Energy Survey and Engineering Analysis, and Level III – Detailed Analysis of Capital-Intensive Modifications. So each new level builds on the information from the previous level.

From the ASHRAE Handbook…

  • Level I - Walk-through Assessment - Assess a building’s energy cost and efficiency by analyzing energy bills and conducting a brief survey of the building. A Level I energy analysis will identify and provide a savings and cost analysis of low-cost/no-cost measures. It will also provide a listing of potential capital improvements that merit further consideration, along with an initial judgment of potential costs and savings.
  • Level II - Energy Survey and Analysis - This includes a more detailed building survey and energy analysis. A breakdown of energy use within the building is provided. A Level II energy analysis identifies and provides the savings and cost analysis of all practical measures that meet the owner’s constraints and economic criteria, along with a discussion of any effect on operation and maintenance procedures. It also provides a listing of potential capital-intensive improvements that require more thorough data collections and analysis, along with an initial judgment of potential costs and savings. This level of analysis will be adequate for most buildings and measures.
  • Level III - Detailed Analysis of Capital-Intensive Modifications - This level of analysis focuses on potential capital-intensive projects identified during Level II and involves more detailed field data gathering and engineering analysis. It provides detailed project cost and savings information with a high level of confidence sufficient for major capital investment decisions.

While there are plenty of checklists and how to guides for ‘do it yourself’ energy audits, these tend towards the residential side (learn more here), while the ASHRAE energy audit levels include an underlying assumption of implementation in a commercial building.

Even with these definitions, there’s some room for interpretation – each individual engineer might draw the line between Level I and Level II services differently as well, so it’s somewhat subjective.

Hope this helps,

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Expert Advice and Comments

Level Three Ashrae Energy Audit

Sarah gives a good overview of the ASHRAE auditing processes. For level three the biggest component/difference is the "capital-intensive" investments.

Level III Energy Audit

Sarah did a great job answering your question, Rachel.
The only addition I would make relates to the capital intensive verbiage from ASHRAE.
This typically refers to when a company has to seek capital outside of the company, e.g., a bank.
However, it can also be put to good use when the finance dept. or Board of Directors of the company have to make a decision as to where they're going to spend their own dollars.
The financial aspect of a Level III audit is usually beyond the scope and expertise of companies who do primarily residential energy audits, or even those who do commercial Level I audits, as it gets into Return on Investment (ROI), Internal Rate of Return (IRR) and Life-cycle costing.
Hope this gives you some additional insight.