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The Associated Press November 17, 2010, 10:47AM ET

Proposed home energy audits in Nevada spark debate

Nevada real estate agents and green energy advocates were at odds Tuesday over proposed regulation requiring energy efficiency evaluations of homes before they are sold.

At issue is whether homeowners will be allowed to substitute utility bills to satisfy the audit requirement.

The regulation, which was mandated under a law passed by the 2007 Legislature, was being drafted in time to take effect Jan. 1. A hearing to adopt the regulation will be held Nov. 29.

As currently drafted, the regulation would allow a seller to satisfy the requirements -- without hiring an outside auditor -- by providing a year's worth of monthly utility bills for the dwelling. Homes in foreclosure are exempt under the law that also allows the seller and purchaser to waive the audit by mutual agreement.

"I do recognize that the proposed regulations are controversial," Nevada Energy Commissioner Hatice Gecol said. Her office has received more than 1,400 written comments since the first of two workshops on the proposal was held Oct. 15, she added.

Real estate representatives said they oppose mandating the audits for a sale to proceed, and said the draft regulation reflected the intent of the legislation when it was passed three years ago.

They also said that in a state that leads the nation in bankruptcies and foreclosures, requiring audits to be conducted only by certified auditors would add another bureaucratic layer and costs to struggling homeowners.

"Many people do not have the money for outside expenses" like energy audits, said Linda Rheinberger, president of the Nevada Association of Realtors.

But Mary Venable, an architect and member of Nevada Building Performance Professionals, said utility bills don't tell the whole story.

"Energy bills do not reflect the energy performance of a building," she said before the workshop. "They reflect the occupant behavior."

Her group, which represents energy auditors and upgrade contractors, said such audits would educate buyers how much it will cost to operate a home.

If conducted by a professional auditor, the evaluation would also include recommendations to improve energy efficiency. The audit also would require statements indicating:

-- any home improvements made in the previous five years and whether they reduced overall energy consumption.

-- the approximate age of major appliances.

-- approximate age and efficiency rating of heating or air conditioning systems.

-- insulation and efficiency rating of insulation in walls, crawl spaces and ceilings.

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