Insights A Promising Future for HERS

How Recent Code Changes Enhance the Role of Home Energy Raters

By Mike DeWein, NY Manager, Energy Services and Jeff Suderman, Senior Strategist

As we look back on the past 30 years there are dramatic shifts in regards to our concern about energy efficiency. The maps below demonstrate how drastically America has changed in adopting, implementing, and monitoring energy codes designed to bolster residential energy efficiency, as shown on the right.

Alongside this growth in energy efficiency the assessment and measurement industry has also flourished. Standards such as LEED ratings, Energy Star® and, increasingly, theResidential Energy Codes Home Energy Rating System (HERS) are becoming recognizable brands and benchmarks which help us achieve greater energy efficiency. They have also spawned considerable economic development and affiliated industries.

The profession of home energy rating has not only steadily grown but has also had its importance enhanced by energy code updates and legislation. However, changes to code have significant impact on an energy rater’s trade. For example, in the 2003 era of energy codes, an increasingly prescriptive energy measurement approach limited the role of raters. In contrast, the upcoming changes in the 2015 energy code provide some exciting opportunities due to the return to a true performance compliance path. We estimate that this round of code increases efficiency between 10 and 15% over previous versions, and provides raters with opportunities that we have not seen in many years. However, capitalizing on these changes will require raters to act intentionality and strategically.

One key opportunity for HERS raters is to utilize the open doorway of code-required whole-house air leakage testing. The 2009 (optional) and then 2012 and 2015 IECC (mandatory for all homes) require these tests to ensure that buildings are tight and insulation is properly installed, as well as aligned with that air barrier. This testing requirement can only be conducted by a handful of trades, one of which is HERS raters. While this type of work isn’t the integrated, whole house solution that raters typically offer, it can be used to provide them and the industry with a very valuable ‘foot-in-the-door’ with builders. Providing whole-house air leakage tests will help raters develop relationships and trust with builders and local code enforcement officials, which can lead to other work such as duct leakage testing, full  third-party assessments for energy code compliance, or to full blown rating business with builders and code officials in jurisdictions that use Ratings for energy code compliance. In our experience, builders tend to rely on trusted contractors who have provided timely and quality work in the past. This standalone test offers a simple way for HERS Raters to provide a solution required by the current energy code as well as build longer term work relationships.

In addition, HERS Raters have the opportunity to help builders create and assess optimal performance compliance pathways. Over the past decade, code performance standards have gradually grown more restrictive (e.g. – R-values for building enclosure elements, window U-values, insulation types, HVAC equipment, etc.). Since changes to the 2015 energy code provide increased compliance flexibility, allowing more options in overall performance for compliance, builders will support the adoption of that energy code in their jurisdictions, and take advantage of this flexible design/compliance pathway to assess the best way to design homes to optimally meet code, efficiency, and budgetary goals. HERS Raters are adept at evaluating and developing optimal design packages which mix the ingredients of energy use, code requirements and financial costs. Raters have the knowledge to assess and design performance compliance pathways that can provide builders and homeowners alike with increased flexibility of design and choice, while optimizing the efficiency of the home. Further, providing these services, once raters achieve a high level of trust with their jurisdictional code officials, they can help ease the enforcement burden of those jurisdictions by providing code compliance QA/QC as a trusted
3rd party.

This is a wide open door for HERS raters to expand their business as well as assist their jurisdictions to improve energy code compliance. Initially, these opportunities will be greatest in the states which support the adoption of current model energy codes. Over time, we are optimistic that this will help move other states that have not adopted current codes to do so where they are currently using older versions of code. In the end, the 2015 updates to energy code will help America become more energy efficient, and states to realize better energy code compliance. HERS Raters who understand and take advantage of these opportunities will utilize these changes to build their clientele and contribute to growth in our nation’s energy efficiency, economy and code effectiveness – through performance energy codes.

 


The Institute for Building Technology and Safety (IBTS) is an energy trainer for local, city, state and federal governments. We help identify energy needs and then turn these ideas into action. As a non-profit 501 (C) organization, IBTS specializes in providing solutions in the built environment for governments who lack the necessary staff, time or expertise. We work with governments to facilitate improvements that assist your energy conservation and innovation.

 

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