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Raters Offer Time and Talent to Habitat for Humanity

January 02, 2009
January/February 2009
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2009 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), Building America, and Habitat for Humanity have partnered to recruit certified home energy raters willing to volunteer rating services to a Habitat affiliate in their area. When a rater signs an agreement to volunteer, RESNET posts a special logo next to that rater’s name on the RESNET Web site. Any Habitat affiliate anywhere in the United States can find a rater volunteer simply by clicking a link on the RESNET Web site and searching by state.

The goal of this partnership of home performance professionals and the Habitat network of affiliates is to deliver homes that use at least 15% less energy than the Building America benchmark and provide a healthy, comfortable environment that will last for generations.

Habitat for Humanity realizes that a house is not affordable unless it is affordable to operate.

Habitat for Humanity realizes that a house is not affordable unless it is affordable to operate. Habitat will continue to work toward the goal of having all of its homes built to Energy Star standards.

Although many Habitat affiliates are unable to reach the 15% goal today, there are affiliates throughout the country that are committed to doing so. Although raters in some of the following examples charge for some services, the examples illustrate that rater-Habitat affiliate relationships can cut back energy use in Habitat homes, and can reduce the cost of building those homes.

I work for RESNET, and in the process of collecting information for this article I was pleasantly surprised at the number of raters who had been donating their technical expertise to Habitat programs in their communities long before our program got started. Although the program had to leap some hurdles to get off the ground, RESNET is proud to report that we have recently recruited over 55 volunteer raters in 36 states to volunteer their services.


Texas

Houston Habitat has been receiving free home energy ratings from DPIS Engineering to certify its Energy Star homes for the past three years. According to construction manager Mike Owen, making a home more energy efficient adds to the homeowner’s monthly bottom line, and the attention to details in an energy-efficient home enhances the home’s durability—air sealing in particular increases a home’s durability by keeping moisture under control. Although the added cost of building an Energy Star house in Houston comes to about $600, utility rebates currently offset that added cost.

Habitat’s Dallas affiliate is also on the leading edge. It has been working for seven years with rater Steve Saunders, president of Tempo Mechanical and TexEnergy Solutions, to design and build more efficient homes. Tempo Mechanical (HVAC) agreed to work for the Dallas affiliate at cost. Contracting out the HVAC improved HVAC performance in the Habitat homes and reduced the scheduled time for those jobs. “We were able to bring a very professional approach, and the home delivered quality, comfort, and reasonable utility bills,” says Saunders. “Because of Tempo’s high-volume purchasing power, prefabrication methodologies, and the reduced sales price, Habitat actually lowered their annual cost for HVAC labor and material.” Saunders then sold the Dallas Habitat affiliate on the idea of building homes to meet Energy Star standards.

“It has been an exciting and fun partnership,” says Saunders. “Our companies have a growing practice in low-income housing—many mirroring the financial arrangements we pioneered with Habitat. We love it because it is fun, productive, good for our folks, and helps us contribute back to the community that supports us. Helping Habitat adds meaning to our jobs and helps attract better and more socially responsible employees. We help Habitat, we help those less fortunate than ourselves, and we are better people and a better company as a result.”

South Carolina

East of Texas, in Greenville, South Carolina, Todd Usher of Addison Consulting has been working with Habitat for the past two years. He convinced his local Habitat program to build homes to the Energy Star standard by literally taking them to
Atlanta and showing them how it’s done. “The result of this trip was the commitment by Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County to qualify all of their new homes (about 16 this year) to the Energy Star program as well as the EarthCraft House regional green building program,” says Usher.  “Another result of the same trip was the commitment of our local county redevelopment authority to specify Energy Star qualification for all new homes built by the redevelopment authority in Greenville County (approximately 20 homes annually).  We have been working with Habitat of Greenville County to model, inspect, and qualify all of their new homes under these programs—with the first home each year pro bono and subsequent homes at a dramatically ‘in-kind’ reduced rate.”  Habitat of Greenville now uses the Energy Star and EarthCraft program marketing materials to help attract new qualified home buyers.

“Our success with the program in Greenville County has been noticed by Habitat for Humanity in adjacent Spartanburg County, who just made the commitment with us for their first Energy Star home, which we are modeling now,” says Usher.

Mississippi

Two years ago, rater C. Eric Eades, president of Home Energy & Repair Services Company, Incorporated, in Jackson, Mississippi, at the request of the local electric power company, Entergy Mississippi, worked with a team of building professionals to design and ultimately rate the first Energy Star home in Mississippi (see photo, p. 8). The process began with a meeting at the company offices. “We sat at a round table and worked through the entire REM:Rate program to create an Energy Star house,” says Eades. “During this process we were able to reduce the number of windows, reduce the size of the furnace and A/C units, specify low U- and SHGC- [solar heat gain coefficient] values, increase the insulation levels, and specify a higher A/C SEER-value.  To our surprise, the additional cost was approximately $500 over a standard Habitat house that was being built.  Entergy was happy, as that was definitely inside their budget.”

The plan review and construction write-up for this house is currently being used as a template for all Habitat for Humanity/Metro Jackson houses.  The construction features, equipment when the cost fits the budget, and installation guidelines for this house have become standard.  However, because of cost constraints and because high-performance materials have not been available, Habitat for Humanity/Metro Jackson has not built an Energy Star house since.  The plan review, work write-up, and testing is still done when the builders request it, as they did five times in the first ten months of 2008. Blower door tests for the five houses tested in 2008 were all under the 0.35 ACH (natural) target.

“The greatest benefit is knowing that the houses are affordable and are energy efficient, even though they are not Energy Star,” says Eades. “I also have been a Habitat volunteer through my church, Saint Andrews Episcopal Church in Jackson, for many years.” When Saint Andrews builds a house, Eades does the plan review and follows the construction to see that as many energy-efficient features are installed as possible within the budget constraints of Habitat for Humanity/Metro Jackson.

Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana

TriState Habitat for Humanity was created in a merger of eight different Habitat affiliates in the Greater Cincinnati area. It serves the counties of Butler, Warren, and Clermont in Ohio; Boone, Kenton, and Campbell in northern Kentucky; and Ohio and Dearborn in Indiana. “Due to the merger, we had several different building groups building in very different ways; not that they were all wrong or right, but we lacked consistency,” says Randy Wilkerson, construction operations manager for TriState. “When I was hired six years ago, I felt we built a solid energy-efficient home, but we could do better. Over the next couple of years, I offered suggestions and ideas on not only improving our energy efficiency but also building a more durable, affordable home. Once we were all on the same page, it was a great chance to roll out our Energy Star program.”

Wilkerson’s efforts eventually led TriState Habitat for Humanity’s board of directors to approve a policy that all TriState Habitat for Humanity homes be Energy Star qualified. “Our additional cost was less than $2,000 per house, or $20 more per month on the family’s mortgage,” Wilkerson explains. “This was a huge selling point. It cost the family $20 to save $50 or more per month.”

“Our current goal is to have all of our homes average a HERS Index of 55 by July; right now our average is 58,” says Wilkerson. “Once we get there, we will work to lower that again. This has created a bit of competition between our volunteer site leaders, who can build the lowest HERS and save the family the most money. We are on track to qualify our 12th home by the end of the year.”

Wilkerson is proud of his affiliate’s results. “For us, the priority is not only to build a simple, decent, affordable home but also to build a sustainable, durable, maintenance-free (or minimal), and efficient home as affordably as we can. Just as a side note, I heard a project manager for one of our local high-end builders doing community service comment that we build a better home then they do.”

All TriState Habitat homes include:

  • Rinnai tankless water heaters;
  • Panasonic Whisper Green continuous running bath fans;
  • range hoods that vent to the outside; and
  • 2 x 6 framing in the wall where the service panel is, to add insulation behind the service panel.


The crawlspaces in TriState Habitat homes have always been conditioned. But now they have poured-concrete floors as well, to create a mini-basement.

And Many More

There are many more examples of raters doing good work for and with Habitat for Humanity affiliates all across the country. (You can read about some of them on our Web site.) We are just pleased that we can contribute to the cause by facilitating the contact between raters and affiliates. The personal testimonies I have heard from raters involved in Habitat projects confirm that this is an important program for RESNET.  


Claudia Brovick is the director of quality assurance and accreditation for RESNET.

For more information:
To find out more about RESNET and the Habitat partnership, go to www.resnet.us/rater/partnership/default.htm or contact the author at cbrovick@resnet.us.

To learn how the Houston Habitat home-building projects meet Energy Star standards, go to www.baihp.org/habitat/pdf/Houston-Case-Study.pdf.

 

Discuss this article in the Habitat for Humanity and Home Energy Ratings groups on Home Energy Pros!

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