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EnergyGauge HERS Rating Software

May 06, 2009
May/June 2009
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2009 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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EnergyGauge, from the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC), is one of only two software applications certified by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) for producing HERS ratings for new and existing buildings. (The other, which I reviewed in HE Sept/Oct ’08, p. 10, is REM:Rate, from Architectural Energy Corporation.)

There are several different versions of EnergyGauge, all Windows based. First, there are two Florida residential versions for building code compliance and HERS ratings. There are also three versions for Florida commercial buildings. Finally, there are four different versions that can be used nationwide in the United States. Some versions are available only to certified HERS raters. One nationwide version can be purchased only by HERS providers. Prices range from as low as $99 for the most limited United States residential version to as high as $949 for the Premier Florida commercial version. You’ll need to spend some time on the EnergyGauge Web site to figure out which version might be best suited to your needs.

STEVE MANN is a HERS rater, Green Point rater, LEED AP, Certified Energy Analyst, serial remodeler, and long-time software engineer.
The version I discuss in this article is ResRate Pro Version 2.8. It uses the DOE-2.1E simulation engine to calculate hourly energy usage and determine compliance with International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) building codes. It also generates certified HERS reports, Fannie Mae energy-efficient mortgage (EEM) reports, and federal tax credit documentation. Available only to certified HERS raters, ResRate Pro costs $149 plus $20 for each registered HERS report.

Getting Started

ResRate Pro is a fairly sparse, utilitarian program. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles for, managing clients, generating custom reports about potential upgrades, calculating payback periods, and so on. There are no importing and exporting features other than those required to register a HERS report (more about that later). It does only a few things, but it does them well. Consequently, it’s very easy to get productive with ResRate Pro.

When you start the program, the primary screen shows you a list of existing projects and a few additional choices. When you click on Create New Project, you are taken to the ResRate Pro primary window, shown in Figure 1, where you do all your data entry. Across the bottom are three tabs: Site, Envelope, and Equipment. Above these tabs is a second set of tabs, which I’ll call subtabs, that change as you select one of the three bottom tabs. For instance, in Figure 1, the Site subtabs are Project, Climate, Utility Rates, and Surroundings.

You simply select a tab-subtab combination and fill in the appropriate data. Some data entry screens, such as Site/Project, have a fixed set of fields. Other screens, such as Envelope/Windows, shown in Figure 2, require you to add individual building components, and show a scrolling list of those components. You can select, modify, and delete components as necessary. This approach gives ResRate Pro a lot of flexibility to define almost any building configuration. One interesting limitation is that you can define only one roof—hip, flat, or gable/shed—for a building, regardless of the actual roof configuration. According to the FSEC, that makes very little difference in the energy calculations. Another limitation is that you can specify building orientation only in 45° increments.

ResRate Pro fills in a lot of defaults for you, making it as easy as possible to do your data entry. The screens are for the most part uncluttered and easy to navigate. If you run across unfamiliar terms or fields, the online help is quite good (with a few minor exceptions). The explanations and definitions are well written and understandable.

Reporting

Once you enter all the necessary building parameters, you can select one of several calculation options. Before completing your calculation, the program checks several gross-level errors, such as seriously mismatched floor and ceiling areas. If it finds a potential problem, ResRate alerts you to it and gives you the chance to continue or to correct the problem. It also checks ranges on specific parameters, such as the number of bathrooms. For errors like that, it takes you back to the offending screen so that you can correct the problem. A third level of error checking identifies missing items that the program needs before it can do the requested calculation.

If you make it through the error checking, the possible calculation results are as follows:
  • Annual Energy Summary displays projected energy use and emissions.
  • IECC Code Compliance compares the home to one of the IECC 2000–2006 code bases and displays a pass-fail summary.
  • Fannie Mae displays a Fannie Mae Energy Report that can be used to apply for an EEM if the building meets the Fannie Mae energy savings criteria.
  • Rating calculates and displays a HERS 2006 rating and lets you print an uncertified Building Energy Rating Guide containing the HERS index calculation details.
  • System Sizing display a heating-and-cooling load summary that you can use in selecting equipment.
  • Tax Credit displays a printable Tax Credit Certification Report suitable for documenting compliance with the federal energy efficiency tax credit requirements.

In order to get a certified HERS report, you have to create a registration file using a menu command. This requires filling out financial and RESNET disclosure forms within the program, uploading the registration file to a FSEC database server, receiving a registration code via e-mail from the FSEC, and activating that project for printing. You can then print an official HERS report for the project as often as you like. The FSEC charges $20 per report registration. It bills on a quarterly basis or when your total due exceeds $200.

There are a variety of additional reports you can view and print. Many of them are similar to, or a subset of, the calculation reports. Since ResRate Pro uses the DOE-2 simulation engine for energy modeling, you can also view and print a few dozen DOE-2 reports that provide you with more details on the underlying simulations, if you’re the curious type. Probably the most useful report lets you compare up to four different projects.

Using ResRate Pro

Overall, I like ResRate Pro quite a bit. It’s a no-frills, straightforward piece of software that does a handful of things useful to HERS raters, energy analysts, and other related professionals. If AEC’s REM:Rate is a Cadillac, and priced like one, ResRate Pro is a Volkswagen Beetle, and priced like one. Like the original Beetles, ResRate Pro does have its quirks.
The biggest drawback is that it’s a bit complicated to do an alternatives analysis of a building. If you want to compare an existing house with the same house with energy upgrades, you have to create two separate projects. You then have to run a simulation for each project and generate a comparison report. Second, the Comparison Reports feature doesn’t always work correctly, or at least as I expected. I consistently had trouble getting the program to let me select the options and projects I wanted to compare. It’s possible I just didn’t understand how to use the feature. If so, the online help, which is quite good, was no help in this case.

There is a series of minor problems with the user interface. For instance, there are many situations where clicking a button or invoking a command, such as requesting a HERS index calculation or entering an appliance, creates a new resizeable window. In most cases these windows are quite small, and you have to resize them in order to see any useful content or have access to any of the buttons at the bottom of the screen. It would be very easy to make those windows the correct size when they are first displayed, so that you wouldn’t have to fiddle with them.

Another user interface issue has to do with how you enter doors and windows. You specify walls by orientation and other parameters, including a comment, and they are assigned numbers. When you enter doors and windows, you have to specify the wall number. You have to either mark up a paper floor plan with the numbers, as a quick visual reminder, or swap back and forth between the Walls and the Doors or Windows subtabs to figure out the correct wall numbers. This process would be much easier if the program let you select walls by comment instead of numbers.

As I’ve already mentioned, the online help is quite good overall, with one exception. It’s a typical Windows Help system with Contents, Index, and Search tabs, where the Index and Search tabs have a keyword find capability. The keyword find for the Search tab, the place where you would most likely use it, doesn’t work. You can do a find for “Comparison Reports” in the Index, and the Help system finds it. You can do a find for the same phrase in the Search tab, and it doesn’t find it. This was true of every phrase that I tried.

There are two features that I’d like to see added to ResRate. The first is the ability to do a simple arithmetic calculation within a field that requires numeric data. It would be great to be able to add up a series of numbers when entering a building perimeter, for instance. Second, it would be helpful if the program let you enter a utility schedule that varies rates by month. It currently allows only fixed-rate and tiered schedules. Unfortunately, our local gas company changes its rates each month and by location within its territory.

ResRate Pro has one other limitation that is no fault of the product, but a side effect of various state and federal laws. You cannot use the program to create HERS ratings for properties located in California. Instead, you have to use a program like EnergyPro that calculates California HERS ratings.

Summary

Despite what I say in the preceding paragraphs, I like ResRate Pro. It’s simple and inexpensive, and it does what it claims to do. It won’t help you manage a home performance business, and it won’t give you fancy client reports, but it does HERS ratings, tax credit reports, and IECC code compliance reports, and is a good, relatively user-friendly front end to the DOE simulation engine. Based on its price, I’d have to call it an excellent value, too.  

>> For more information:
Steve Mann can be contacted at steve@green-mann.com.
For more information about ResRate, visit www.energygauge.com.
For more information about REM:Rate, visit www.archenergy.com.
For more information about EnergyPro, visit www.energysoft.com.
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