Are you aware you can identify and improve a home’s energy efficiency by using Energy Star? If not, you’re not alone. In my experience, few—if any—contractors, utilities, municipalities or states know about the Home Performance with Energy Star program.
However, nearly everyone is familiar with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program because it rates appliances and building materials. Energy Star also offers rating programs for new and existing commercial and residential buildings. Home Performance with Energy Star is a performance standard for existing residential buildings that provides a whole-house approach to improving energy efficiency and home comfort while helping to protect the environment. Families with Home Performance with Energy Star-certified homes are enjoying fewer drafts, consistent temperatures across rooms, better ventilation and humidity control, and lower utility bills.
Whole-house Energy Audits
We know prescriptive standards are the basis of all building codes and most utility and state and federal energy-efficiency rebates, as well as building modeling. Prescriptive standards serve as a good starting point for energy efficiency, but they do not account for the way a building actually was built and how much air leakage or thermal bridging, for example, actually are occurring. Testing a home according to the Home Performance with Energy Star protocol will help identify what really is occurring within a home.
To meet the Home Performance with Energy Star standard, an energy auditor who has special training and has been certified by the Building Performance Institute, or BPI, or Residential Energy Services Network, or RESNET, uses tools and software to perform two whole-house energy audits—one before energy-efficiency improvements are made and one after. Locate a local BPI- or RESNET-certified rater by visiting bpi.org and resnet.us, respectively. Pricing between the organizations will vary, so you will need to ask the auditor for pricing and service that meets the Home Performance with Energy Star program. Pricing will include two audits and corresponding reports, thermal imaging and models.
Although Home Performance with Energy Star requires that energy auditors be a third party to provide quality control on a jobsite, remodelers who perform energy-efficiency improvements according to Home Performance with Energy Star also must be BPI- or RESNET-certified contractors. Learn more about earning these certifications on the organizations’ Web sites.
Whole-house energy audits diagnose air movement, thermal bypass, air changes, duct leakage and combustion-zone requirements through the use of thermal imaging, pressure/depressurize testing and building modeling. After the first audit is complete, the energy auditor will provide a report of the home’s performance to the homeowner.
The report will feature thermal images, showing major and minor air leakage. It also will document performance of the home’s HVAC and water-heating equipment, lighting and appliances for an overview of the home’s total energy use.
The report also contains a Home Energy Rating System, or HERS, score. The HERS Index was established by RESNET and compares homes to the HERS Reference Home, which is based on the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code. The HERS Reference Home scores a HERS Index of 100 while a net-zero-energy home scores a HERS Index of 0. Each 1-point reduction in the HERS Index corresponds to a 1 percent reduction in energy consumption compared to the HERS Reference Home. For instance, a home with a HERS Index of 75 is 25 percent more energy efficient than the HERS Reference Home. Homes built before 2006 likely will have a HERS Index higher than 100. Not to worry because cutting the energy use of an existing home by 50 percent through a whole-building approach is achievable.
Finally, the report provides a list of recommendations, including cost, energy savings and return-on-investment calculations, that will increase the house’s energy efficiency. The recommendations are used by a BPI- or RESNET-certified contractor as the basis for his or her bid. A bid should reflect all the local, state, federal and utility incentives for the work. To be successful in the energy-efficiency remodeling marketplace, remodelers must apply for all the incentives available for a project. The more a remodeler can reduce a homeowner’s costs, the more likely he or she is to get the work.
After all the energy-efficiency improvements recommended in the first report are made, the BPI- or RESNET-certified energy auditor returns to perform a final audit to ensure the work meets or exceeds Home Performance with Energy Star requirements. This second audit duplicates the first audit and is a required quality-assurance step. Audit results are put into a final report with the final HERS score that confirms the recommendations from the first audit.
A Home Performance with Energy Star logo then is issued to the homeowner by the energy auditor. There currently is no required HERS score that a home must meet to achieve Home Performance with Energy Star; the idea simply is to make an existing home as efficient as possible.
Keep in Mind
There are a few steps you will need to take when attempting to meet the Home Performance with Energy Star protocol. First, you should contact your local building department to determine whether it will require a building permit for the energy-efficiency work that is planned for your project. Some building departments will require an architectural plan; if yours does, you will need to hire an architect.
Local utility companies offer rebates for air sealing, insulation, new energy-efficient mechanical systems, hot-water heaters, condensers and heat pumps, lighting and appliances. Prescriptive rebate programs typically are listed on a utility’s Web site. Some utilities have partnered with Home Performance with Energy Star and created rebates specifically for the program. Find those utilities by visiting www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_improvement.hm_improvement_hpwes_partners. If your state is not listed, you will need to contact the utility to ask whether it has a rebate program for Home Performance with Energy Star.
You also should ask your utility whether it has a contract with a certified BPI- or RESNET-certified energy auditor. If it does not, ask the utility whether it will pay for the performance rating vs. a prescriptive rating or inspection.
The cost for a natural gas or electric utility to perform a prescriptive audit is about $300 to $600, which is comparable to the cost of hiring a BPI- or RESNET-certified rater.
Some utility rebates will require a site inspection to verify the energy-efficiency work is done; others will require the second rater report after all of the work is complete to ensure the energy savings meets the projected level for each recommendation from the first report.
Currently, a number of regional real-estate Multiple Listing Services identify whether a home has a green-building certification, such as Energy Star, Home Performance with Energy Star, LEED for Homes or NAHB Green.
In addition, last month, the federal government and DOE announced the Home Energy Score pilot program, which offers a standardized way of measuring a home’s energy efficiency. (Read more about this program in “Overview,”) The Home Energy Score program will create market transformation toward energy efficiency on a national level and may be a precursor to requiring homes to be labeled for energy efficiency before being sold. (Europe has long been requiring energy-efficiency ratings before the sale of a home.)
As demand for energy-efficient homes continues to rise, you should be able to provide homeowners with whole-house energy audits and/or energy-efficiency improvements. Following the Home Performance with Energy Star protocol is a surefire way to provide these services to your clients.