December, 2010
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Residential Energy Audit Certifications – Confusion Untangled!

ARTHUR LAZEROW

After three years working intensively in the home energy audit industry, even I have to admit to amazement at the complexity of the various levels of energy audit certifications. Too many organizations are doing too many different things, each organization with different genetics, resulting in differing and often contrasting world views. Andrea Palmer, National Green Program Coordinator for Guaranteed Watt Saver System, Inc. of Oklahoma City, one of the nation’s leading energy auditing training and certification organizations, says “it’s so complex, the easiest way for a potential auditor to decide what certification to pursue is to chose the program first and train for the appropriate certification.”  Let’s get our arms around the issue of certifications.

Introduction


The three major non-profit organizations that are recognized by federal and state officials for their certifications as models of acceptability and competence in the area of residential energy auditing are Residential Energy Service Network (RESNET), Building Performance Institute (BPI) and U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). USGBC’s LEED program also is the gold standard for commercial buildings.

BPI was founded in the early 1990s by renovation contractors desiring an effective economic model for energy efficiency retrofits. This model colors their attitude. BPI develops technical standards for home performance and weatherization retrofit work, individual and company certifications, and performs quality assurance for their members, all with an eye to first doing work right, and second, being economically successful. Historically, its emphasis has been on the existing home market.

RESNET was founded on a more academic basis, also developing energy efficiency standards, residential energy audit protocols and audit certifications, with a focus on quality control without emphasis necessarily on business opportunities, although this is changing in the RESNET world. In April 1995, the National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Rated Homes of America founded it specifically to develop a national market for home energy rating systems and energy-efficient mortgages.

USGBC, founded in 1993, promotes sustainability in how buildings are designed, built and operated. According to its website, “USGBC is best known for the development of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating systems …”  More recently, it has created “LEED for Homes,” a voluntary rating system promoting construction of high-performance, energy-efficient, low-energy use new construction homes. LEED for Homes is gaining traction among on-base military homes, strangely enough. There is no energy auditing program here, just verification of design achievement.

The National Association of Home Builders’ Green Builder Program establishes points for design enhancements over and above the minimum standards contained within the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). A home with a 60 percent energy use improvement gets the highest award — Emerald — and a true marketing advantage.

The Energy Tune-Up program was initialed by CMC in the 1970s as a private enterprise. It has not been recognized by state or federal programs, but CMC claims that over 25,000 homes have been inspected. CMC is more recently morphing into a BPI-based training provider, now offering a BPI Building Analyst certification course. With 2,000 trained energy people working diligently to help homeowners, this program will continue to have merit and, with the BPI certifications, CMC will open opportunities to its members in the public arena.

New construction energy auditing certifications


RESNET has the field to itself. The U.S. Department of Energy permits RESNET Raters to grant Energy Star designation approval to the home and a tax credit to the builder. The RESNET Rater certification allows the Rater to use approved software to model the energy utilization of a newly constructed home and compare it to a home built under the minimal standards of the 2004 International Energy Conservation Code. Finding a projected 20 percent reduction in energy use below that of the standard code home allows the home to be certified “Energy Star,” with the builder receiving a $2,000 federal tax credit and any available state tax credit.

Existing homes energy auditing certifications

The fact that there are 120 million existing homes make this category potentially the most lucrative market for energy audits and upgrades. The entry-level energy audit certification is the RESNET Home Energy Survey Professional (HESP). The building science studies of the HESP certification course furnish the foundation for all energy auditing studies and on-site work. The HESP certification allows for a walk-through survey of a home, but no testing or computer modeling. The RESNET concept for the HESP was that consumers would pay a small amount for a survey, which would lead to a more in-depth audit. The next step up for RESNET is the Diagnostic HESP certification, which adds on-site testing with the blower door and duct tester, and a more thorough report based on actual test findings. However, no computer modeling is permitted by RESNET protocols followed by a Diagnostic HESP.

 At the end of October, RESNET finalized its two newest certifications, called the Building Performance Analyst (BPA) and Certified Home Energy Auditor (CHEA). Take the skills of a Diagnostic HESP and add training for combustion zone gas and carbon monoxide testing, and scope and prioritization of work, and a BPA results. A Comprehensive Home Energy Auditor is a certified home energy rater who has additional training to conduct combustion appliance safety testing and prepare a work scope. The CHEA is the ultimate RESNET residential energy specialist.

The BPI Building Analyst certified auditor has the same skills as a RESNET BPA, the house-as-a system building science knowledge and an understanding of combustion zone testing, work scope and prioritization of renovation work. From its beginning, BPI has specialized in the existing home audit and retrofit market. Its Accredited Contractor Program certifies renovation contractors as energy efficiency upgrade contractors and this requires the contractor to hold two BPI certifications, typically the BPI Building Analyst, plus either a Building Envelop or HVAC certification. BPI also has certifications for multi-family and manufactured homes auditing.

Mentioned above, USBGC has developed a program that Andrea Palmer cites as “respected and recognized” by various governmental authorities. In order to become a USGBC Green RATER, the candidate must have prior experience with new homes, watch five-six hours of online training, take a two-day workshop, pass a monitored exam and then complete a two-project mentorship. In contrast, NAHB has a Green VERIFIER designation of its own, with additional unique training for the Green Building Standard program. The Verifier must have prior experience and watch a five-hour online training video before taking an online test.

Conclusion. At this point, your head is either spinning or you are totally bored. For home inspectors keeping an eye on potential income sources, energy auditing will, without a doubt, be the next income producer. It is founded on residential concepts and is component-based. Home inspectors possess 60 percent of the knowledge required of an energy auditor. Building science studies force us to think holistically about how a house operates as a unified system, not just a pile of components studied one at a time.

By the time this article goes to press, two new federal programs in the planning stages for months may have been announced: first, a national DOE contract for survey of energy improvements made in homes throughout all 50 states under the Weatherization Assistance Program; and, second, a multi-city HUD trial requiring energy audits, with all conveyances financed with FHA-insured mortgages using DOE’s Home Energy Survey public domain analytic program (HESPro). ASHI has a seat at the table and the best possible chance for work in the field. Additionally, the $6 billion Home Star energy efficiency program either will have been passed or finally buried during the current lame-duck Congressional session. Each of these programs requires certified RESNET HESPs or above. The magnitude of the opportunities these present argue loudly to home inspectors to take action now to become certified. The future is moving in this direction; we should be sufficiently wise to prepare.