Measure the Greenness of a Home Through Performance Testing

The green revolution in residential building was in large part established and fueled by various accrediting groups such as the U.S. Green Building Council with its LEED certification, Build It Green with its GreenPoint Rated ratings and the government’s HERS ratings. These programs have promoted best green building practices, technologies and material choices; given ratings based on installed measures; and set minimum standards as the way to realize the global goal of sustainability. Groundbreaking as these checklist ratings were, they in no way guaranteed the so- called green performance, or, to be more precise, the energy efficiency, durability, health, safety or comfort levels of a home.

The essential component missing from these checklist standards is a contractor whose goals for the home are based in measuring the performance of the house and its systems. Unfortunately, the majority of contractors calling themselves green have no way of knowing whether their installations are actually performing. It is not a common practice within the contracting industry to set performance goals or to perform work beyond minimum standards. The typical green contractor sells a work scope based upon checklist rating programs, manufacturer-claimed efficiencies or products linked to rebate money. Often these services, fixes and products are inappropriate for the home, neither providing solutions nor being installed efficaciously.

The good news is that there is a subset of contractors who make it their business to work beyond minimum standards and deliver efficiency. They call themselves home-performance contractors. These contractors will be noticeably different in their approach to the project. They will want to see a year’s worth of utility bills, talk about how the home’s systems function and ask about how the home is operated.

The home performance contractor will arrive with equipment to run diagnostic tests on the home, as well as crawl into the nooks and crannies of the house to do a complete visual inspection.

What does all this testing, questioning and investigating accomplish? This contractor will know how the home is performing in terms of energy use; durability of the structure; degree of comfort the house is providing; possible safety concerns relating to electrical, moisture and combustion; and whether bad air from an attic, crawl space or walls is entering a home and being inhaled by its occupants. Armed with this knowledge, the contractor will offer solutions rather than widgets.

Because the home performance contractor’s solutions are based on knowledge gained from their diagnostic testing and a thorough evaluation of a home, they are able to provide clear, measurable goals, which enable the contractor to set efficiency targets that will be met or exceeded upon completion of their contracted work scope. These goals provide valuable feedback loops to the contractor, which means the contractor continually knows they are providing results, not just installations.

Home performance contractors work with the most appropriate technologies and materials. This is combined with the virtues of good workmanship, intelligent planning and painstaking attention to detail. (For a detailed account of one such undertaking, see “A Demonstrated Success in Energy Upgrades,” April 2013, p. 14.)

This attention to the pertinent details of installation quality is another important distinguishing characteristic of the home performance contractor. Nothing is efficient when poorly installed — not insulation, not a heating or cooling system, not a ventilation fan, nor a water heater. Home performance contracting is based on setting performance goals with the intent to achieve energy efficiency, comfort and structural durability along with health and safety within the home. Only by incorporating performance criteria are green ideals made real and true green reached.