May, 2016
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Energy and Water Efficiency Ratings: An Opportunity for Home Inspectors to Learn (and Earn) Green

CAROL DIKELSKY

Note. The April issue of the Reporter featured an article about HRVs, ERVs, high-velocity systems and ductless mini-splits. Mike Collignon and I talked with experts in these modern HVAC systems because, as part of more sustainable, green building practices, the use of these and other energy-efficient systems is increasing in homes across the country. This month, we focus on two other aspects of green and sustainable buildings—energy and water ratings, which are two of Collignon’s focus areas.

In communities across the country, homeowners are becoming more aware of the benefits of knowing their home’s energy score, energy efficiency rating and water efficiency rating. With this knowledge, they can make changes to have a more energy- and water-efficient home and, in some cases, receive financial incentives or tax credits. According to Mike Collignon, Executive Director of the Green Builder® Coalition, “The results of some analyses—for example, the Home Energy Score (HES) and Home Energy Rating System (HERS)—can affect the transaction of a home just as much as the results of the home inspection. These auditing systems represent a simple performance path (HES) and a more complex performance-based system (HERS) toward energy efficiency.”

Collignon encourages home inspectors to learn about these and other green rating systems and consider capitalizing on the green and sustainability trend by becoming an assessor of energy or water efficiency.

Why Going Green Can Be a Good Fit for Inspectors
Collignon stated, “With vast background knowledge about homes and their systems, inspectors are well-suited to seek the type of training and certifications that would allow them to offer ancillary services, such as assessing energy efficiency, rating water efficiency and more. Inspectors are trusted by, and have credibility with, home buyers looking for information and guidance to solidify their decision about a major investment. Because determining a home’s energy performance could carry with it financial incentives, homeowners may find it reassuring to turn to their inspectors for guidance in this area as well.”

He added that home inspectors are well-equipped for this opportunity because they are:

  • specialists in analyzing systems and reporting details about their findings;
  • proven experts in performing the objective, third-party role of assessing a home;
  • willing to continually add to their knowledge, training and experience;
  • regarded highly by clients; and
  • open to new avenues to expand their income and business contacts.

Home Energy Score (HES) The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has advanced the efforts made by the home-building industry to improve sustainability and energy efficiency. The DOE developed a Home Energy Score (HES) that can be assessed by experts and applied to existing homes. People who request an HES assessment receive the score itself, facts about the home and a list of recommended improvements that, if implemented, can increase the home’s future HES and improve energy efficiency.1

Reasons why a homeowner might want a HES report
Making recommended improvements found on an HES report can potentially save the homeowner money on utility bills and raise the home’s future HES rating, which they can showcase when refinancing the mortgage or selling the home. In addition, addressing the recommendations can enhance the home’s comfort level and improve its air quality.1

The DOE and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Federal Housing Administration (FHA) are working together “to initiate an incentive with some other loan programs…. [such as] offering a 2% stretch to expand the amount that people would be qualified [to borrow] in terms of their debt-to-income ratio.”2 By purchasing an efficient home or by making improvements, the home’s HES will improve, and this improvement could factor into a lender’s decision on a loan transaction.2

Path to become an HES Assessor:
1. Work with a participating Home Energy Score (HES) Partner. Two partners are ASHI and Building Performance Institute (BPI).

2. Hold a relevant credential, such as ASHI Inspector or ASHI Certified Inspector.

3. Pass a free, online test. For more details, contact ASHI or BPI, or refer to the information provided by the DOE.3

Home Energy Rating System (HERS)
The Home Energy Rating System (HERS) is another widely accepted rating tool for auditing home energy efficiency.4 HERS is an energy rating index, and as such, is accepted as an alternative compliance path to the residential version of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Updated every three years, the 2015 IECC is the current model residential energy code and is the first edition of the IECC to include the Energy Rating Index (ERI) path, which is supported by home builders and energy efficiency advocates.5 The ERI path is akin to a performance path that helps home builders try to hit benchmarks and address performance levels, while still meeting building envelope requirements.

“Although HERS was intended to tie energy efficiency into mortgage rates and underwriting, it has not been able to achieve that success yet. However, an ERI does provide an analysis of a home’s projected energy consumption, as opposed to assessing the behavior of the occupants,” Collignon said. The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), a national nonprofit organization that coordinates standards for energy efficiency rating and certifications, promotes the use of HERS and offers accreditation for Home Energy Raters according to RESNET standards.6,7

Reasons why homeowners might want a HERS rating Collignon explained that the use of HERS ratings grew in popularity during and after the housing bubble. Over time, HERS ratings have become linked to some state and local energy efficiency programs, as well as some state and local energy codes.

He added that the ERI path gives builders flexibility, which they generally like because it gives them more independence and, to comply, they simply need to be at or below a specific number to achieve energy efficiency. For example, if a home’s HVAC equipment is the most energy-efficient on the market (with the highest Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio [SEER] rating), but builders install the lowest-performing windows allowed by code, as long as they achieve the proper ERI number for their area, then all is well.

“In most cases,” Collignon said, “seeking a HERS rating is voluntary. The homeowner requests an independent third party to assess the home, and that rater looks at the entire envelope of the house, by checking the home from the outside in. In other words, the assessor notes the existence and status of the insulation, the walls, windows and roof. The energy rating does not include choices the home buyer made on parts of the exterior of the home. And although the original homeowner of a residence likely would know the home’s energy rating, unless that documentation is transferred, subsequent homeowners of the same residence might not know about these ratings.”

Path to become a HERS Rater: The knowledge base and skill sets for Home Energy Raters are defined by RESNET standards, and training providers must be accredited by RESNET. Home Energy Rater candidates must pass a national online test and perform five ratings under the supervision of a certified RESNET Home Energy Rater before becoming certified by a RESNET-accredited Rating Provider.7

Water Efficiency Rating Score (WERS)
Ensuring water quality and efficiency is a major issue across the country. You need only look to the headlines about the distressing water quality problems in Flint, MI, or the chronic drought conditions limiting access to water in several Western states to know that our water supply is a constant concern.

Collignon explained that RESNET is developing its own water efficiency rating index, but all subgroups and committees have yet to work together. Furthermore, the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) develops standards and publishes codes, including the Uniform Plumbing Code. IAPMO is developing a water efficiency standard (WE Stand) and has a formal Process and specific timeline. It plans to publish WE Stand by the end of 2017.

During a webinar conducted in March 2015, Joan Glickman, a presenter from DOE, said, “I know the Department of Energy and other federal agencies like [the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)] are very concerned about water. It’s clearly a problem for this country and the world. We do not, unfortunately, have a plan to incorporate it [into the HES] right now. But that said, I think there are talks of others getting involved in seeing if there’s some kind of companion piece that might be potentially used with the score…[We’ve] been talking to EPA about different kinds of collaboration we have with their tools, so maybe that’s a role that they can also play.”2

Collignon stated that one program that has been created is the Water Efficiency Rating Score (WERS). Water ratings are similar to an energy rating, in that a property can achieve a specific score on a scale of 0 to 100, in which a lower score is more desirable. The WERS program is performance-based and assesses the design and product choices for a new or existing single-family or multifamily property.

Reasons why homeowners might want a water rating:

  • To comply with a code. For example, in Santa Fe, where city officials plan to add WERS into the residential green building code, homeowners will need to stay at or below a specific WERS.
  • To access tax credits. WERS is an option that helps certain homeowners qualify for New Mexico’s Sustainable Building Tax Credit (see sidebar).
  • To be a part of a green building program. GreenStar, a green building program based in the upper Midwest, is phasing the WERS program into its water criteria.

The WERS program is still in the business development stage as stakeholders learn how they can best utilize WERS for their specific situation. For some, that might mean using it in conjunction or in compliance with a code, as an incentive or as a way to differentiate their homes from another builder’s.

Path to become a WERS Verifier: Led by WERS faculty, students attend a three-day course that includes both classroom and on-site instruction. On the final day, students take one written exam and one field exam. Once the student passes both exams, he or she needs to complete two probationary WERS verifications before becoming an accredited WERS Verifier.

The inaugural WERS Verifier training course was held at Santa Fe Community College (SFCC) in early March 2016, and SFCC has already scheduled another course for mid-June. Discussions are underway to hold classes in Georgia, Florida and Illinois later in 2016. Interested students should contact the Green Builder® Coalition for information about future classes.

Go Green to Get More Green
If becoming a certified rater or verifier for HES, HERS or WERS seems like a logical addition to your list of ancillary services, perhaps it’s time to seek training to add these certifications to your toolkit. Your clients may be interested to find out that they can get this information from you at the same time they are seeking a home inspection, or they may turn to you for consultation years after purchasing their home in an effort to seek new information, to make improvements and pursue tax incentives or as they strive to live more sustainably in the community.

“Becoming a rater could be a great fit for inspectors, given that they are already familiar with many aspects of the energy code,” Collignon stated. He added, “Because they become a confidante of the homeowner and already have experience analyzing systems and providing comprehensive information, taking on this unique opportunity to deliver a projection of the home’s anticipated energy and/or water bills could enhance their business.”

With some effort, inspectors could get the required training and then market this new service to clients to give them confidence that, by either partnering with a local contractor or doing the work themselves, they can make plans to improve the energy and/or water efficiency of their home. The benefit to clients is they can get a rating that can amount to a palpable return on investment from an inspector they trust. The benefit to inspectors is having an additional skill set that can lead to new business prospects and an increased bottom line.

Mike Collignon is the Executive Director of the Green Builder® Coalition, an organization he co-founded in 2010. He engages in national and state-level advocacy, co-produces quarterly research reports and publishes a monthly member publication and a monthly feature in Green Builder® Magazine. He has presented at EEBA, RESNET, the Pacific Coast Builders Conference, Better Buildings: Better Business (Wisconsin), Green Building Focus, StormCon and the Sustainable Disaster Recovery Conference. Mike has also delivered testimony at the IECC and IgCC final action hearings. He also has served as the moderator for Green Builder® Media’s Impact Series webinars from 2012 to 2014 and became the host in 2015.

About the Green Builder® Coalition

The Green Builder® Coalition is a not-for-profit association dedicated to amplifying the voice of green builders and professionals to drive advocacy, information and education for more sustainable home building practices. It is an action-oriented community of green builders and professionals dedicated to uniting and growing our joint expertise, values and voice to create stronger standards for sustainable, more environmentally responsible home building. The Coalition is also the national program sponsor of the WERS program. For more information, visit www.greenbuildercoalition.org

1. Energy.gov. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Home Energy Score. Available at: http://www.energy.gov/eere/buildings/home-energy-score. Accessed March 16, 2016.

2. Energy.gov. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Home Energy Score Update: New Simulation Training and Requirements for Assessors Webinar—text version. Presented in March 2015. Available at: http://energy.gov/eere/buildings/home-energy-score-update-new-simulation-training-requirements-assessors-webinar-text. Accessed March 28, 2016.

3.Energy.gov. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Home Energy Score: Information for Interested Assessors. Available at: www.energy.gov/eere/buildings/home- energy-score-information-interested-assessors. Accessed March 16, 2016.

4. Green Energy Money (GEM). Not HERS and His, but HERS and HES. Available at: http://greenenergy.money/not-hers-and-his-but-hers- and-hes. Accessed March 17, 2016.

5. International Code Council (ICC). Overview of the IECC. Available at: http://www.iccsafe.org/codes-tech-support/codes/2015-i-codes/iecc/. Accessed March 17, 2016.

6. Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). The History of RESNET. Available at: http://www.resnet.us/about/our-history. Accessed March 17, 2016.

7. Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). What is RESNET? Available at: http://www.resnet.us/about/what-is-resnet. Accessed March 17, 2016.

8. Summary of the Massachusetts ‘Stretch’ Energy Code. Available at: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/doer/green-communities/grant-program/stretch-code-summary-jun20-2011.pdf. Accessed March 17, 2016.