Should RESNET® Require a Blower Door Test for RESNET HERS® Ratings?

EnergyLogic has spoken out and issued a position paper on the topic of whether RESNET should require a blower door test for HERS Ratings.  The topic has come up on a few social media networks and apparently this issue is not as easy to tackle as one might think.  The fact is RESNET doesn’t require blower door testing.  The reality is most providers require it, most raters do it.  These two discrepancies should be a concern to an industry pushing for consistency.

If you’re a provider and you don’t already address the issue, make sure your policies and procedures include a requirement for blower door testing for every confirmed HERS Rating.  There are many benefits to the builder, homeowner, and rater in having a blower door required.  However, you should be careful how you word the requirement as you don’t want the liability of requiring something that could be hazardous to the occupants of a home.  You might be thinking “how can a blower door be hazardous”?

Hint: These dirty words rhyme with “as best toast” and “gold”.  You guessed it, asbestos and mold in an existing home could be hazardous to homeowner health when stirred up and we all know blower doors can move some air.  See EnergyLogic’s position on the matter here; “Requiring Blower Door for RESNET HERS Ratings-Position Paper.”

If you’re a HERS rater, review your provider’s policy and procedures documents and make sure your provider requires blower door testing under safe conditions.  If they don’t, inform them why they should.

Glenn Pease
Energy Professional Services, Technical Lead

Price and Scale – Big questions for the Home Performance Industry

While this thread came from a discussion of pricing for Energy Star Version 3, it applies to any service you might offer. Pricing is one of the most difficult tasks you face as a business.  I’ve written a related post on Firing a Client and we’ve also discussed how we set pricing for software services.  Let’s start by assuming that a “good” price is one in which we have an equal exchange of money for value.  What other questions should you try to answer?

  • What will the market bear?
  • Can you deliver the service for less without sacrificing quality?
  • Are you building a business or working for wages?
  • Could you scale up at the price you’ve set?

All of these questions (and there are a LOT more!) are considerations for pricing your services.  I’d like to spend a few words discussing the last bullet, price versus scale.  In an immature, developing service industry, there are typically a multitude of small companies, many of them sole proprietors.  These companies are able to offer their services for a very low price as they have insignificant overhead; tend to have simple systems and far too often don’t understand the implications of pricing.  A key factor in small business failure is attempting to fight a price war.  I just wrote about this in my last post about racing to the bottom.

As an industry scales up, the assumption is that prices will drop. This is often true in product sectors. I’d like to propose a contrasting position; as an industry scales up, in order to meet market demand, prices must increase to handle increased complexity and overhead requirements.  BIG CAVEAT: This presumes consistent quality of service.  That is, it presumes and apples to apples comparison.  If quality is eroded, then my theory doesn’t hold.  I contend that the impact on the industry (any industry, but especially service industries) if quality is diminished will be negative.  In my opinion, we are a trust agent industry.  If and when we lose that, we all lose for a long time.  Finally, as an industry achieves maturity, prices can come down again as economies of scale and other synergies come into play. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as the integrity of the industry is protected.

I think it’s critical for the long term health of our industry that we all work to support and demand a high level of accountability, enforcement of standards and ethical behavior.  For better or worse at the moment, we must self-police.   This is not a call for collusion.  It is a call for demanding quality of ourselves and our peers.  In fact, we can and should explore increasing oversight and raising standards.  The Rating Registry is an example of something that will benefit us all.  Yes, it’s additional effort, but the payback for the industry as a whole is worth it.  (We’ve got a very nice system for handling your registry woes built into our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System iRate® if you’re interested.  See this blog post on our solution!)

We work in a price sensitive environment to be sure. Builders, homeowners and utilities are cost-conscious shoppers.  However, we do ourselves and our businesses no favors by racing to the bottom.  In the words of Mark Twain (possibly?), “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”  We’ve seen this before; markets nearly drive themselves to destruction with price wars.  Quality suffers, companies go out of business, and industry integrity is damaged.  It is my fervent hope that we are building an industry that will supply meaningful work that is fairly compensated–that our industry will be stable enough to grow, mature and deliver ever better service and information to our customers. 

Many of us have worked long and hard to bring this industry to where it is today.  And where is that?   I think we’ve built a foundation of credibility for long-term, sustainable growth.  It’s up to us not to screw it up.

There’s Gold in them there Green Labels – Really!

Creative Commons courtesy BullionVault

The latest in a mounting body of evidence that demonstrates real value in Green Labels was released recently.  The Value of Green Labels in the California Housing Market is an academic and science based approach to answering the question of Green Label value.  The authors, Nils Kok and Matthew Kahn conducted a thorough and thoughtful study of the question and concluded that the answer is “Yes”!

Now of course, their work and the answer itself is more nuanced than that, but we can take heart, those of us with hearts that is, that all the work that’s gone into building a solid, stable, defensible and respectable industry has begun to pay off.  For the purposes of their study, Green Labels included Energy Star, LEED for Homes and GreenPoint (California program) homes.

This study is one of a number of recent studies demonstrating performance of our industry across a variety of metrics.  Here a couple of recent and important related studies:

 

Some of these studies are getting a bit long in the tooth, but all of them are within the last three years; which incidentally is all encompassed in the great housing meltdown.  Now some of the data is from before the meltdown, but much of it is after and during the debacle.  One takeaway is the growing amount of data that points to success; as you are talking with key stakeholders; builders, policy makers, media, etc. there is a growing amount of research to direct them to, don’t forget to use it!

Back to the California study — these were key points for me from my reading of the report:

  • Energy efficiency appears to be the highest correlation to increased value with Energy Star commanding a 14.5% premium when disaggregated from the others.
  • The homes in the study were primarily production, not custom homes.
  • Where cooling loads are higher, buyers are “… willing to pay more for the energy efficiency of their dwellings.”
  • Energy price variations (in kWh) did not appear to affect buyer’s willingness to pay more for green.
  • Hybrid vehicle ownership correlates closely to green certification value (if you were wondering if building green would be good for your neck of the woods)

I contend that any area has a demographic that is ready to pay a premium for energy efficiency and green.  Not every place will have the same premium, but the numbers from the report indicate that the premium is big enough to cover a lot of margin of error.

Let’s note here that the energy foundation for all of these labels is the HERS rating system (yes, I know its California and it’s not the same – for consumers the differences are in the noise as they should be).  There has been a tremendous amount of movement across the country to embrace the HERS index.  There are a variety of reasons that this is happening, from the yeoman efforts of RESNET Raters to new programs like Southern Energy Management’s new EcoHome program that are based on the HERS index.

Most of us are fighting an uphill battle around Energy Star Version 3 adoption. The ability to continue to promote our services via the vehicle of a HERS rating and upsell to more aggressive programs is very important.  It’s also back to the future as that’s what we used to do and there’s nothing particularly “wrong” with it.  When Energy Star became synonymous with code, most of us took advantage of that.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is business and you better be able to adjust when times change.  This is one of those times, but the work I’ve noted above didn’t exist before and we’re in a much better position now to not just keep clients, but expand our businesses and the industry; and serve our nation in the process.

To the ramparts!

Observations from the field: Size Matters (Ventilation Version)

It seems that many builders are using an exhaust only strategy to meet the ASHRAE 62.2 requirements for the programs that they are building to.  While I’m sure that we all have opinions on whether or not this is the best option, it seems to be the most prevalent in the houses I inspect.  I know that equipment cost is one factor and for builders with a deeper understanding of the issues affecting HERS scores, and the watt draw penalty associated with other ventilation methods seems to be another.  A 15W bath fan running continuously will use a lot less energy than a 300+W furnace fan even if you only have to run it 8hrs a day.

There is one important thing that I have been trying to get my builders to keep in mind when using this strategy to meet ventilation requirements.  If you build homes that cover a wide range of square footages, the one fan size fits all approach might cause problems unless you oversize to meet your largest homes ventilation needs.

I have come up with a couple of options while keeping in mind that cost is a driving force for most builder decisions.

Ventilation size matters to ASHRAE 62.2

Option 1:  Install 1 smart fan capable of moving 80cfm, usually in the laundry, and install fans that meet the sone requirements in all other locations.  If the single fan does not meet ASHRAE, a builder could simply add a smart switch to one of the other fans to meet the requirement.  Possible drawbacks are the cost of the smart switch, increased wattage, and possible re-inspection fees for the rating.

Option 2:  Install a smart fan capable of moving 130cfm, probably in the laundry, and make this the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for all of your homes ventilation strategies.  I have not had a house that needs more than this yet, but I am sure that they are out there.  The drawback to this method is the price difference between the 80cfm and 130cfm fans.

Aside from making sure that the trades we work with are doing what the builder pays them for, I feel a responsibility to keep my builders informed of issues that may be on the horizon.  I learned in the military, it is much more beneficial to be proactive than reactive!

-Justin Heldenbrand, EnergyLogic Rater

To learn a whole lot more about ventilation, check out our new HVAC Ventilation course offering from ventilation expert Paul Raymer.