Top US Rating Companies Combine to Create Industry Collaborative

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

An Independent Resource for Builders, EnergyPro Exchange Launches at NAHB’s International Builders’ Show

Jan. 20, 2015, LAS VEGAS – To help meet the growing demand for energy efficient homes, as well as the renewed growth in new home construction, the country’s top energy raters announced today at the National Association of Home Builders’ 2015 International Builders’ Show  the first-ever industry collaborative to provide builders with a central energy rating resource.

Known as the EnergyPro Exchange (EPX), this new, independent group of home energy rating system (HERS) experts will provide builders a variety of services to support new home construction with greater durability, comfort and safety, and lower operating costs for homeowners. From energy ratings and code compliance to design and consulting services, EPX helps builders meet evolving national and local energy codes that incorporate HERS. It is designed to help builders who are concerned about delivering the highest-quality homes with a high performance-to-cost ratio.

“Many home builders take great care in hiring the best engineers and architects. Working with the best HERS raters is just as important – and building to the highest industry standards in energy efficiency adds immediate and long-term value to the homes they build while mitigating risk and liability,” said Steve Byers, managing director of EPX.

Unfortunately, not all energy efficient homes are created equal, and builders often need help finding a HERS rater who meets the high caliber of service and integrity they expect from a vendor.

“Energy raters represent an underutilized resource among builders. Competent, professional energy raters create added value for builders – while the inverse exposes builders to additional risk,” said Byers.

As the only collaborative of its kind, EPX members are carefully selected to ensure sophisticated guidance and expert HERS knowledge in virtually every major market in the U.S. These experts helped set the industry standard for HERS as a national energy efficiency rating system. Several EPX members are accredited Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) training providers and have participated in the development of national energy efficiency code standards of the International Code Council. They have established long-standing business relationships with the country’s biggest builders and the top 20 Leading Builders of America.

EPX member organizations currently include EnergyLogic, Inc.; American Energy Advisors; Building Energy, Inc.; Clean Efficient Energy Company; DRW; DuctTesters; Earth Advantage; Efficient Home, LLC; Energy Diagnostics; Green Building Consulting; MaGrann Associates; Southern Energy Management; and Sustainable Energy Analytics, LLC. Negotiations are currently underway with several other member organizations.

With the support of its partners, Owens Corning, Huber Engineered Woods and Panasonic, EPX has access to research and development resources, industry training and education, and financial support.

According to research from the National Association of Home Builders, four of the top most desired features in a new home involve saving energy: for instance, 94 percent of home buyers want ENERGY STAR-rated appliances and 91 percent want an ENERGY STAR rating for the whole home. Additionally, the number of homes rated according to HERS grew from 5 percent in 2007 to over 22 percent in 2013. Building permits for new, privately-owned housing units in the U.S. have grown 62 percent since 2010.

About EnergyPro Exchange

EPX is a national collaborative of the country’s top Home Energy Rating System (HERS) providers who work with residential builders to make better purchasing decisions that reduce builder risk and liability and lead to a greater stock of energy efficient homes in America. EPX is also a forum for sharing innovative ideas and best practices about operational performance, energy efficiency and sustainability, and a business incubator dedicated to developing new industry processes and solutions in residential energy efficiency. More information can be found at www.energyprofessionalexchange.com.

 

There’s a New Code in Town

IECC-2015The 2015 International Energy Conservation code has recently been published and we are seeing some local jurisdictions (Denver and Parker) beginning the process of adopting it. This new code is quite different from previous updates, and we’ve identified three unusual aspects of the code change that you should know about.

1. The actual increase in efficiency from the 2012 IECC came out to only 1.5%

As you may know, I-codes are on a three year development cycle. As we completed developing the 2015 I-code, the 2018 I-code development is starting. This cycle is an issue that the International Code Council (ICC) and jurisdictions are struggling with as some feel they need more than three years to implement and understand the implications a new code, especially as they become more complex. Many jurisdictions were unwilling to adopt recent revisions and are now overwhelmed by what will happen with the 2015 adoption. This was revealed during recent code development hearings in October of 2013.  This unwillingness showed efficiency gains from code cycle to code cycle come to a screeching halt with only a 1.5% increase.

chart1-IECC2015

2. Not much changed between the 2012 and the 2015 other than cleaning up language and making it more usable

Jurisdictions and Builders who are currently utilizing the 2009 IECC or older will have the most difficulty with a 2012 or 2015 IECC code change adoption.  This is because of mandatory requirements needed to achieve the 15% increase in efficiency above the 2009 IECC and the 30% increase in efficiency above the 2006 IECC (see chart above). That being said, jurisdictions such as Denver who are going from 2009 or older versions are jumping directly to the 2015 IECC rather than going to the 2012 first.  As noted earlier, the 2015 IECC is a better written code than the 2012 IECC, and it has only tweaked the efficiency requirements rather than advance them another 15%. It is likely that many jurisdictions will skip the 2012 and move directly to the 2015 IECC.

3. A fourth compliance pathway was added that utilizes an Energy Rating Index.HERSscore1

The biggest addition to the 2015 IECC is the inclusion in chapter 4 of an additional compliance pathway through the code. Older versions of the IECC had three pathways one could choose from to demonstrate compliance. These are:

  • The prescriptive path:
    • This path mandates minimum levels of insulation in the building envelope based off of a component insulation table for each climate zone in the country. A builder can add more R-value than listed in the table but cannot trade off a lower component R-value in a specific location, an attic for example.
  • The Total UA alternative or UA path: (area weighted U-value (UA))
    • This path allows a Builder to trade off R-values and U-values within the thermal envelop and is most often complied with using the RESCheck software and is sometimes called the RESCheck path. If a Builder would like to put an R-20 in an attic, for example, it would be allowed if the lower energy performance could be traded off for better performance in another component of the building.
  • The simulated performance path:
    • This path offers the most flexibility for tradeoffs and is the path most EnergyLogic builder clients utilize.  In addition to being able to trade off R-values and U-values (conductive energy) this path allows for trading convective energy losses for conductive energy losses and therefore house tightness, duct leakage, ventilation and more are all accounted for in demonstrating compliance.

We are currently teaming with other code experts on writing a white paper that significantly goes in depth on more aspects of this code change.  If you are interested in reading that preliminary , please click here.

If you are interested in attending any classes EnergyLogic is offering on the new code,  follow this link.

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Robby Schwarz
Principal and Director of Builder Relations
EnergyLogic, Inc.

There’s a New Code in Town (continued)

IECC-2015The 2015 IECC keeps the traditional pathways of compliance explained above but introduces the Energy Rating Index path (ERI).  The ERI has three main components:

  1. As with all pathways of compliance, the ERI path requires compliance with all the mandatory provisions of the IECC such as air leakage, duct leakage, ventilation, and air barrier/insulation requirements. This means that the air leakage requirement of 3 ACH50 cannot be traded off.
  2. The ERI path requires the minimum component insulation levels of the 2009 IECC which means that the R-values and U-values of the 2009 IECC become mandatory. You can add more insulation but you cannot trade off for lower component R-values or U-values.
  3. The ERI is utilizing a fixed Energy Rating Index to help demonstrate compliance with the code. For now the RESNET HERS Index will be what is used.  The House will have to meet or exceed the climate zone specific required Index to be code compliant.

As mentioned before, the structure of the IECC requires that, regardless of the pathway chosen through the code, all mandatory requirements in chapter 4 “Residential Energy Efficiency” must be met.

Confusion often arises due to another heading in the code titled “Prescriptive.”  Unlike mandatory requirements, prescriptive requirements describe measures that must be accomplished when utilizing the prescriptive and total UA alternative pathways through the code. Although they are not mandatory for all pathways, the prescriptive requirements are often referenced as they embody best practices and are at time referred to in the mandatory sections.

The “Air leakage” section 402.4 of the IECC is mandatory for both the 2009 and the 2015 IECC.  However, there are some significant changes in the 2015 version of the code.  First, the 2009 allowed a choice between testing the home to achieve less than 7 ACH (air changes per hour) or a visual inspection utilizing the air barrier and insulation table (when utilizing the simulated performance path both of these options were utilized).  The 2015 IECC, alternatively, requires both compliance with the air barrier and insulation table, as well as air leakage testing utilizing a blower door.  In addition, the 2015 IECC ramped down the air leakage requirement in Climate zone five to 3 ACH, a substantial increase in house tightness. It introduces a new mandatory requirement to ventilate the house properly utilizing whole house controlled mechanical ventilation.  This will be brand new to builders coming from the 2009 unless they were using the simulated performance path where house tightness was often used to trade off R-values and U-values in the envelope.  EnergyLogic is seeing that by following the 2015 air barrier and insulation table, which was broken out into separate air barrier and insulation columns for clarification in the 2015 IECC, builders are not having any difficulty meeting the 3 ACH requirements in their single family homes.  However, Multi-family projects are often struggling to achieve 3 ACH and additional air sealing measures are often needed.

The air leakage section of the 2015 IECC has a significant addition in section R402.4.4 “Rooms containing fuel-burning appliances.”  This section now requires a combustion closet or sealed combustion appliances. The change applies to climate zones 3 through 8 and states that “where open combustion air ducts provide combustion air to open combustion, space conditioning fuel burning appliances, the appliances and combustion air openings shall be located outside of the building thermal envelope, or enclosed in a room isolated from inside the thermal envelope.” When a room is used to isolate the appliances from the conditioned space, the room must be sealed and insulated in accordance with the below-grade wall R-value requirement in Table R402.1.1.

Duct leakage testing is another mandatory section of the 2009 and 2015 IECC and there have been changes in the newer versions of the code.  Specifically, the 2009 allowed four possible scenarios for testing of the duct system including total duct leakage testing and duct leakage to outside testing at rough or final.  The 2012 and 2015 IECC, written slightly differently, moved away from allowing duct leakage to outside testing and now only requires a total duct leakage test if any portion of the duct system is located outside of the building envelope.  This is very clear if a portion or all of the duct work is located in a ventilated attic, for example, but is at times difficult to assess if the duct is located within the building envelope such as ducts in a floor system over a garage or an exterior wall in our open floor plans.

Although the early chapters of the IECC do not correspond directly to field construction of the house, they are important to read and understand as the last of the big changes between the 2009 and 2015 IECC occur outside of chapter 4 “Residential Energy Efficiency.”  Chapter 1 of the IECC is titled “Scope and Administration.”  This chapter includes information that is required on construction documents most significantly:

  • R-values and U-values of the thermal envelope
  • Mechanical system design criteria
  • Duct sealing, duct and piping installation and location
  • Air sealing details
  • And section R103.2.1 building thermal envelope depiction. “The building’s thermal envelope shall be represented on the construction documents.”

Chapter 1 also includes section 104 “inspections”.  In this revised section of the 2015 IECC a detailed description is given on the type of inspections that are required including footing and foundation inspection, framing and rough-in inspection, plumbing rough-in inspection, mechanical rough-in inspection, final inspections, and re-inspections.

Chapter 2 “Definitions” includes some new terms such as circulating hot water system which was needed to help describe an entirely new mandatory section of the 2015 IECC R403.4.1 “Heated water circulation and temperature maintenance systems.” I did not discuss this in this article as the provisions are only mandatory if a hot water circulation system has been installed.  In addition, definitions of terms used in the Energy Rating Index path were added to this chapter.

Chapter 3 includes the addition of a new tropical climate zone as well a better defined requirement that the insulator “shall” provide a certificate listing the manufacture and R-value of installed insulation in each component of the building, as well as, the installed density for wall and attic blown insulation and coverage area, installed thickness, settled thickness and R-value of blown attic insulation.  “The insulation installer shall sign, date, and post the certification in a conspicuous location on the job site.”  I am highlighting this here as we recently learned that insulation companies are installing wall insulation at different densities to achieve different R-values.  It was standard practice to insulate a 2×6 wall with blown fiberglass to an R-23.  Now, based on the density of the installed blown in product builders can be receiving anywhere from an R-20 to an R-24. Unfortunately code and quality assurance inspection cannot visually identify the R-value of the assembly.  We therefore recommend that builders include language in their scope of work documents requiring the creation and posting of a completed insulation certificate as well as the posting of results from at least 4 density tests per home. This should ensure your installation is meeting your specifications.

Lastly, there are a couple new sections of the code that should be touched on.

  1. Chapter 5 is a new chapter that explains how the energy code “control (s) the alterations, repair, addition and change of occupancy of existing buildings and structures.”
  2. For the first time the IECC will have two new appendices. The first involves recommended procedures for worst-case testing of atmospheric venting systems (combustion safety testing). The second is a solar-ready provision for detached one and two-family dwellings.  Appendices are not mandatory unless an adopting jurisdiction makes it so.

So after analyzing the 2015 IECC you will notice that the actual impact to energy efficiency is minor compared to the changes introduced in the 2012 IECC. If jurisdictions are moving to a new energy code it will only impact you if that jurisdiction is moving from the 2009 or earlier version of the IECC and if a builder has not had any experience working in a jurisdiction that is currently on the 2012.  The 2015 IECC truly represents a break in the process of ramping up requirements and efficiencies to make the code more stringent.  It is a better written version of the 2012 IECC which added a unique compliance path utilizing the Energy Rating Index.

Time will tell if this is a trend in the code development cycle or not.

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Robby Schwarz
Principal and Director of Builder Relations
EnergyLogic, Inc.

Black Hills Energy 2015 New Homes Program

Black Hills

Black Hills Energy just released their 2015 New Homes program.  The program structure is similar to past programs with a prescriptive path and a performance path but they have made it more enticing for Builders to participate.  There has been some confusion regarding ENERGY STAR.  Although the program does not require homes to meet ENERGY STAR, they do require some ENERGY STAR documentation. Not to worry, EnergyLogic will complete this for you.  Please note that compliance with the Black Hills Energy New Construction Program does not qualify your homes for the ENERGY STAR label.  There are significant additional steps that need to happen to achieve ENERGY STAR. That said, achieving what Black Hills requires for their rebate is very achievable.

Here are the details for each path:

The prescriptive path allows Builders to choose the energy features they would like to install in their home from a list of options which will earn them rebate dollars. For example, a builder could choose to install all or any combination of the following:

  • Natural gas furnace ≥ 94% AFUE and < 96%  $400
  • Standard natural gas water heater ≥ 0.67 EF  $75
  • R-49 ceiling insulation  $200
  • Air sealing ≤ 4 ACH50  $300
  • Duct sealing ≤ 4 CFM25 to outdoors per 100 square feet. All sheet metal joints, supplies, and returns sealed with duct mastic, aluminum tape, or other approved sealant  $200
  • ENERGY STAR door  $20
  • Have a HERS Rating performed on the house  $100

This package would earn a Black Hills Rebate of  $1295

The Performance Path requires documentation that the houses performance is at least 10% above the energy code for a given home’s jurisdiction. This is documented through a ‘Home Energy Rating’ and can earn a $1000 rebate.  EnergyLogic can help you determine the most cost effective way to achieve 10% above code.

To obtain the rebate, Builders must complete an application for each house. They must also provide invoices as required, ensure that the house is a gas customer, and complete the house and turn in all paperwork before January 31st 2016.

Schwarz_ArticlePicRobby Schwarz
Principal and Director of Builder Relations
EnergyLogic, Inc.

 

Whole House Ventilation Strategy

Duct fan modificationAs houses continue to be built tighter and tighter, the importance of ventilation and providing adequate fresh air to occupants grows.  Ventilation requirements of ENERGY STAR® and the 2012 IECC reflect this growing importance.  Recognizing that many builders are installing exhaust fans to meet whole-house ventilation requirements, manufacturers are offering some new-innovative fans and controllers to meet this growing demand.

Panasonic Whisper Green® series and Broan Ultra® series are two products we see often.  Both fans are designed to operate at a continuous ventilation speed for background ventilation. They can also be ramped up to an exhaust (maximum) speed for spot ventilation.  When properly wired to a wall switch, the fan ventilates when the switch is off and exhausts when the wall switch is on.  Ventilation speed is set by a knob on the fan itself so that it can be adjusted to meet the ASHRAE 62.2 ventilation rate.

At EnergyLogic, our biggest frustration has been finding these fans incorrectly wired to operate as designed.  The wiring process is different than a standard bath fan and to complicate matters, different from one brand to another.  Quite often we test fans that cannot be adjusted to meet the ASHRAE requirements and either over ventilate or under ventilate the home.  Each time, the fans are not wired per the manufacturer instructions.  (We have even seen oversized fans that are modified with an inline damper to try to adjust the flow to meet ASHRAE. This limits the effectiveness of the fan and drastically increases the noise.  A loud fan is a fan the homeowner will turn off.)

By understanding how these fans are supposed to work and properly wiring them, builders can be assured that their investment in a high quality, multi-use fan will perform as designed, providing fresh air to the homeowners and running quietly in the background.  As Raters we strive to be knowledgeable in the ventilation systems our clients are installing and to help their trade partners understand the technical aspects of the systems.  We encourage our builders to contact EnergyLogic directly for access to our tech bulletins on exhaust ventilation wiring and installation or to get help navigating the maze of various products and configurations available to meet the new ventilation requirements.

Rusty Buick

 

By Rusty Buick
Field Services Manager
EnergyLogic, Inc.