2014 January Newsletter

When Energy Codes Meet Energy Ratings David A Wilson, Director, Utah Energy Conservation Coalition             Will a banker, a mortgage company or a home builder gladly pay for a homeowner’s next residential energy code compliance certificate?  Is there an easy method of accurately determining the energy efficiency of a house and providing a compliance check for the newly adopted Utah specific 2012 IECC (International Energy Conservation Code) that is not regulated by the government?  In Utah as the popularity and usage of Home Energy Ratings (HERS) as a market driven alternative for compliance with the model energy code increases, the answer may be, “YES.”             Complexity, cost of enforcement, lack of code officials specifically trained on energy efficiency issues and construction practices, as well as an ever increasing resistance to governmental regulations by builders, subcontractors and numerous members of the housing industry all contribute to the difficulties of adoption and enforcement, according Mike DeWein, a code specialist at the Building Codes Assistance Project in Washington, D.C.   Worse yet, a national survey determined that in those areas where codes are “enforced,” the average on-site inspection is only 12-15 minutes long.  Quality control is often up to the installer, who can maximize profits by spending less time on-site.  There is no way to accurately check the quality of installation once the drywall has been fully installed and is in place.             While states and local governments are often stymied in their efforts at realistically providing energy code enforcement, many have had recent success promoting Home Energy Rating Systems (HERS) as an alternative compliance tool.  HERS is a consumer oriented and a market driven tool for energy code compliance. At the present time, a Home Energy Rating System Index has been shown to be the housing industry standard by which a home’s energy efficiency is measured. It’s also the nationally recognized system for inspecting and calculating a home’s energy performance.  At the present time, over 80% of the nation have active energy rating programs that are being used to demonstrate compliance with residential energy codes.  This national upswing in home energy ratings is fueled by the Department of Energy’s development of uniform nation home energy rating guidelines, increased utility competition, and the development of new energy financing products by secondary leaders and federal agencies.             So what do home energy ratings have to do with energy code compliance, and what does this mean to builders in Utah?  An example of how the state of Alaska met the challenge of merging mandatory energy code compliance with a market driven Home Energy Rating System is outlined below.  Faced with strong home builder resistance to their state energy code, Alaska energy officials elected to use the state’s Home Energy Rating program as an option in determining energy code compliance.  Currently, most Alaskan builders readily request a home energy rating on their homes over other compliance methods for the following reasons:  (1) it is very closely tied to energy financing programs, (2) it can be financed as part of the closing costs, and (3) it can be incorporated into the real estate multiple-listing system as a consumer marketing tool.  The consumer, lender, and real estate agent all understand the star-based energy rating system, the newly adopted HERS Index (so the value of efficient homes in now being fully recognized in the appraisal and resale process.             As with the information on Alaska, all of the above-mentioned items also apply to construction in Utah.  Currently, the Home Energy Rating industry in Utah is showing that compliance with the current energy code can be clearly marked on a home energy rating scale (HERS Index), through a performance-based market driven approach. A HERS Index on a home not only documents code compliance, but it also allows the builders to document and emphasize the financial value of the added energy improvements installed over those required by the 2012 IECC.  More importantly, use of a Home Energy Rating Index enables state and local government officials to use market forces to encourage rather than mandate higher levels of energy efficiency that go far beyond the minimum set by the codes.  Home Energy Raters are often better trained and have more time to conduct energy inspections than many local building code inspectors, which can then increase quality control throughout the building industry.  Finally, the home energy rating includes a blower door air infiltration test, which is now an integral part of the 2012 IECC for Utah. Home Energy Raters across the state have the technical “know-how” and expertise to perform these performance energy efficiency tests. This is important to know as many Building Officials in Utah are time strapped to complete many of the other inspections and reviews they are required to perform on a regular basis. Some code inspection departments may resist having their job done by the private sector, but as state, county and local government budgets shrink, Home Energy Ratings is a practical alternative that should be given serious consideration by all parties.             Simply stated, state and local building officials that use skilled Home Energy Raters can benefit from the market forces of a Home Energy Rating Index to go beyond minimum code requirements. For many in the housing industry around the nation, Home Energy Ratings have been found to be less restrictive and complex due to their being a purely market driven compliance tool.             For more information about the use of Home Energy Ratings (HERS) as an alternative compliance tool for the 2012 IECC in Utah, I ask that you take a few minutes and look at this information from RESNET: http://www.resnet.us/professional/main/Hers_index_and_energy_codes. I also recommend reading more about what a HERS Index is at: http://utahenergy.org/energy-programs/hers/ & http://utahenergy.org/demand-soars-for-home-energy-ratings-in-2013/. As always, for more continued information on the Home Energy Rating Index program and energy efficiency issues in Utah please visit our website (www.utahenergy.org) and subscribe to our e-newsletter (http://utahenergy.us2.list-manage2.com/subscribe?u=b0f0dcf645ff2e4a9f8b227cf&id=09aa77a4b3).
DATE:    January 6, 2014 TO:         Uniform Building Code Commission FROM:   UBCC Mechanical Advisory Committee and UBCC Architectural Advisory Committee The purpose of this memo is to inform the Uniform Building Code Commission that the United States Department of Energy has adopted a version of REScheck software that can be used to verify compliance to the requirements of House Bill 202, as required by the Utah Legislature through the passage of HB202 during the 2013 General Legislative Session.
In order for HB 202 to take effect, the Uniform Building Code Commission is required to certify in writing to the Business and Labor Interim Committee “That the United States Department of Energy had adopted a version of the REScheck software that can be used to verify compliance to the requirements of [House Bill 202]”.
On November 14, 2013, the US Department of Energy certified to Utah parties that it completed incorporating the energy code amendments from House Bill 202 into the REScheck software for Utah as per the requirement in House Bill 202. Between August and October 2013, numerous experts in residential construction, energy code compliance, and energy modeling reviewed test versions of the REScheck software and modeled over 100 scenarios to test the functionality of the software.  The outcome of this review found that the Utah REScheck software provides a working version of REScheck that verifies compliance to the requirements of House Bill 202. On December 10, 2013, the Architectural and Mechanical Advisory Committee held a joint meeting to review the functionality of the Utah REScheck software and unanimously voted that the REScheck software meets the requirements of House Bill 202.  Therefore, the Architectural and Mechanical Advisory Committees recommend that the UBCC certify to the Utah Legislature Business and Labor Interim Committee that the REScheck software has been modified in accordance with the requirements in HB 202. Sincerely, Scott Marsell, Chair Architectural Advisory Committee Brent Ursenbach, Chair Mechanical Advisory Committee Date Signed:  January 9, 2014


Green Builder magazine [www.greenbuildermag.com] has published its 2013 Consumer Survey results. In general, the majority of respondents perceived themselves as being ecologically aware and living a “green” lifestyle.  Years of exposure to green messaging have left a strong impression on consumers.  In the past six months, most people have done at least one action that would “green up” their lifestyle. Two trends seem to be leading consumer interest in green: healthy foods and thrift shopping/reuse.  The latter trend is probably reactionary: belt-tightening as middle class incomes shrink – but the former is less tied to economic factors.  It indicates a more generalized interest in living healthier, longer lives – free of toxins and potential carcinogens.  For example, it’s doubtful that 10 years ago most consumers would have paid much attention to the idea the mold in their homes might make them sick. Interest in green products is strong, but consumers complain that they can’t find eco-friendly alternatives when they want them. Perhaps it’s a sign of the slow economy, but most people seem satisfied with their current dwelling size; they would, however, like to make some quality-of-life improvements that make spaces for their needs more closely. For decades, remodeling surveys have found consumers primarily interested in kitchen and bath renovations.  But new data suggests that their interests have broadened.  Windows and insulation, for example, now rank high on many wish lists. Today’s homeowners understand building science far better than previous generations.  They understand that unless air sealing is addressed, other energy- and water-saving features will not provide their best bang for the buck. They are also more inclined to do their own improvements vs. using a contractor.  Saving money is probably behind the trend toward DIY repairs, causing some uncertainty for “green” remodelers.  Yet both moral and practical considerations are motivating today’s homeowners to live more “lightly” on the earth. The Energy Star and HERS rating has also had an effect.  With nearly 40% of new homes built today having a green rating, no homeowner wants to be left behind, as HERS ratings become an important aspect of resale value.  Green credentials carry weight with consumers.  Apparently, almost any third-party stamp of approval makes them feel better about a home purchase.  They also associate their home’s performance with its resale value.  85% of respondents felt that highlighting the energy efficiency features of their houses would help to sell them faster. For more information, visit Green Building Magazine online.


The big story of the 2015 International Code Council (ICC) final action hearings was the International Energy Conversation Code (IECC) proceedings.  Because they started half a day behind schedule due to prolonged residential building code debates, there was a sense of haste over the remainder of the hearings to try to get back on schedule. The full account of the proceedings, written by Mike Collignon and Bill Fay of Green Builder Magazine can be found here. Energy Rating Index Alternative Compliance Path The other major story of the residential energy code was the energy rating index (ERI) alternative compliance path proposal, also known as RE188.  Here is a summary of the proposal from one of the proponents, Meg Waltner of NRDC: “This new path would allow the builder to comply (with the energy code) by getting a third-party inspection of the home to assess its efficiency, using an energy rating index (ERI), such as the RESNET HERS index.  The ERI is a measure of the Home’s efficiency on a 0 to 100 scare, where 0 is equivalent to a net-zero home, and 100 is equivalent to a home compliant with the 2006 version of the IECC.  Home builders choosing this path would have to meet or exceed a specific ERI score, in addition to meeting minimum envelope requirements and other mandatory measure, such as insulating hot water pipes. “Furthermore, the energy rating index is certified by a third party, reducing the burden on code officials, and increasing code compliance, which adds to overall energy and cost savings.  Finally, many builders will likely highlight their excellent energy ratings to the home buyers as a marketing tool, promoting competition, and likely incentivizing some builders to build beyond code.” The debate took an hour to get through, but ultimately the voting body passed the original proposal.  The voting result was 70% in favor, easily exceeding the 50% needed.  Here are the pertinent details on the new compliance path: A builder can use a HERS rating to comply with the 2015 IECC.  The adopted new performance path also requires that a builder must meet the mandatory envelope requirements of the 2009 IECC. In the end, the new compliance path created through RE188 does give homebuilders a more flexible way to achieve energy efficiency, in a format that is familiar to many.  Fortunately, it maintains the spirit of the 2012 IECC efficiency levels.  While there are logistical/implementation issues for the ICC to address, the result of the RE188 vote could someday be viewed as a landmark decision.

New EPA Building Moisture Control Publication

The EPA has released a new publication, Moisture Control Guidance for Building Design, Construction and Maintenance.  This 144 page document contains the latest information about moisture control in building design and construction.  Download your online copy here.

How to Conduct a Home Energy Audit in Just 30 Minutes!

Taking steps to conserve energy can cut your electricity bill by as much as $600 a year. Don’t believe it? Up to 30 percent of a home’s energy usage can be lost by drafts alone! Do a home energy audit to pinpoint the best ways to reduce your utility bills this winter.
This post originally appeared on Brightnest.
Stop Drafts Fix the drafts under your doors and windows. For a quick fix, place a rolled bath towel under drafty doors and on windowsills. You can also purchase a door draft stopper for around $5.
Reverse Your Fans Many ceiling units come with a switch to reverse the directions of the blades. Switching your blades to clockwise will help circulate warm air pooled near the ceiling back into the living space. This small change can cut your heating cost as much as 10 percent.
Turn Down Your Water Heater Set your hot water heater to 120 degrees F. Water heaters are usually unnecessarily set to 140 degrees F by installers. Lowering the temperature would reduce your water heating costs by anywhere from 6 to 10 percent.
Lower the Heat When You Leave Don’t forget to turn down your heat when you’re not home! For every degree you lower the thermostat during heating season, you’ll save between 1 and 3 percent on your utility bills. Tip: If you’re the forgetful type, consider investing in a programmable thermostat! They are widely available for as little as $50.
Install Window Plastic You can find window plastic at your local hardware store and if it’s properly installed, it’s essentially invisible. The plastic will help to add a buffer against drafts and improve your home’s ability to hold heat.

What’s HOT in Housing?

Here are the latest trends according to the National Association of Home Builders and the 2013 National Association of Realtors, originally published by Engineered Wood magazine: HOME TRENDS NUMBERS: 2,225 square feet – is the median size desired by most home buyers, approximately 17% bigger than what they have now $203,900 – what the average buyer expects to pay for their next home 57% of buyers prefer a single-story home 47% want three bedrooms 65% prefer 2 or 2 ½ bathrooms 37% prefer a completely open kitchen/family room, up from 29% in 2004 65% want ceilings of 9’ or more on the first floor BUYERS WANT MORE STORAGE: 57% of home buyers wouldn’t buy a home without a laundry room 54% rated garage storage as desirable 32% wouldn’t buy a home without it 51% consider a bathroom linen closet desirable 31% wouldn’t buy a home without one 54% want a walk-in kitchen pantry 31% wouldn’t purchase a home without one EFFICIENCY IS IN: 9 out of 10 buyers would choose an efficient home with lower utility bills rather than one costing 2%-3% less without those features 73% report that the projected utility cost of a home would influence their purchase decision $7,095: the average additional upfront home price buyers would pay to save $1,000 annually on utility costs According to 65% of home buyers, the most influential characteristic when buying a home is “living space and number of rooms that meet their needs.” 8 out of 10 recent buyers considered their home purchase a good financial investment. GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES: MILLENNIAL HOME BUYERS: Median age: 28 Median income: $66,200 Home size: 1,700 sq. ft. Cost: $165,000 GEN X HOME BUYERS: Median age: 39 Median income: $93,100 Home size: 2,100 sq. ft. Cost: $235,000

HERS – The MPG Equivalent for New Homes

by Christina Birchfield, Green Builder Magazine 09, Volume 8 Issue 9, September 2013
Mortgage lenders have long known that energy costs are an important factor in home affordability. Back in the early 80s, the concept used to be known as PITI+E, i.e. Principal, Interest, Taxes and Insurance plus Energy costs.
High-energy costs easily undermined home affordability then, and do now.
The 80s answer was the National Shelter Industry Energy Advisory Council, which explored ways to measure the dollars saved by home energy-saving features, and to translate those dollars not spent on energy into a credit that qualified buyers for a more expensive but more energy-efficient home.
The first iteration was the nonprofit Energy Rated Homes of America. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Veterans Administration (VA) all adopted energy mortgage programs that qualified borrowers for larger loans based on lower energy costs. However, lenders seemed either unaware of these programs or were overwhelmed by complicated application processes. Moreover, there were no uniform standards with which to measure energy savings.
In April 1995, more than a decade after these first attempts, mortgage industry officials, the National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Rated Homes of America founded the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) to develop not only national standards for home energy ratings, but to also create a market for the energy rating systems and energy mortgages. After all, what good were standards if no one used them? In 2002, Energy Rated Homes of America and RESNET merged. Today, RESNET’s Home Energy Rating System (HERS) is a powerful third-party endorsement of a new home’s promised energy savings. A certified Home Energy rater scientifically assesses a home, and assigns it a HERS score. Because other energy programs often require a certain HERS rating, David Kaiserman, president of Lennar Ventures, calls HERS a predicate for other programs. All of the six big builders interviewed compared HERS to MPG on vehicles. Just as in MPG, the lower the HERS, the better.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reports that a typical resale home score 130 on the HERS Index, while a typical new home might rate 100. A home with a HERS Index Score of 70 is 30% more energy efficient than that standard new home, and 60% more efficient than a typical resale. “A home is one of the largest and most important purchases a family can make but, until recently, buyers have had little information about what their costs to own the home would be long term,” says KB Home Director of Corporate Communications Craig LeMessurier. “When we buy a new car, we know how much mileage we can expect to get. Homebuyers should know the expected performance and monthly energy costs of a home.” Amber Cate, David Weekley Homes sales coach says, “As ‘green’ became a more mainstream term that never seemed to have clear qualifications, David Weekley Homes felt we needed to identify specific components that we were incorporating into our homes that would help differentiate our homes from our competitors . . . That led us to energy and how it relates to green. If 80% of all environmental damage is related to green, we decided to focus specifically on energy.”
CR Herro, Meritage Homes’ vice president of environmental affairs, lauds the HERS program’s “rigor.” PulteGroup believes HERS “is attractive to homebuyers who are comparing the energy efficiency of other homes on the market. This is especially so in more extreme climates. Heating and cooling costs can be a significant portion of total cost of ownership,” says Jim VanKird, PulteGroup vice president of marketing.
Larry Sekely, vice president of national accounts for M/I Homes, says the company does cutaways inside models to show the otherwise hidden construction features that contribute to low HERS scores.
HERS’ builders are employing this dollars-and-sense approach as a strong marketing tool. New homebuyers can use ratings to anticipate new-home energy costs, and thus the real monthly cost of homeownership.