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Home Performance with Energy Star

Those who are charged with enforcing building performance standards in Canada's newest territory have miles to go before they begin.

March 01, 2003
March/April 2003
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2003 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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        The EPA reported that 37,000 homes earned the Energy Star label in the first three quarters of 2002.When all the statistics are in, the total number of Energy Star homes should exceed 50,000 for last year, and 100,000 for the program since inception.Almost all of these were new homes.Another program, Home Performance with Energy Star, is an effort to use the extensive and growing awareness and credibility of Energy Star to promote whole-house, building sciencebased energy improvements in existing homes. While the goal of Home Performance with Energy Star is to save energy, its market-based approach and message address a range of customer needs—from comfort to durability to health and safety.The approach emphasizes consumer education, value, and one-stop problem solving.
        How does an existing home earn the Energy Star label? Energy Star is not creating a new or secondary label for existing homes.Any home, whether newly built or 80 years old, that receives a HERS score of 86 or higher is Energy Star rated. (For more on HERS, see “How Do You Score a House?”HE May/June ’95, p. 30.)
        From the success of a few handfuls of contractors who’ve been getting the Energy Star rating for existing homes for years,we know that this is a viable business model (see “The Sweet Smell of Success”). With its positive recognition and goodwill in the marketplace, Energy Star is helping other contractors make the move to this comprehensive, and profitable,way of doing business.

The Basic Approach

        Home Performance with Energy Star is being implemented differently in different parts of the country. However, all of the programs share several key components: a bona fide and fuel-neutral whole-house approach; a home energy inspection and evaluation with a focus on delivering improvements; the use of diagnostic testing and best-practice installations; and quality assurance. The inspection includes a complete visual and diagnostic evaluation of the home’s thermal and mechanical efficiency, including attic,walls, basement, and heating and cooling systems. Diagnostics include air infiltration and duct leak testing, combustion safety testing, and—where possible and appropriate— electric baseload analysis.The inspection is just the beginning and leads to targeted advice on the home’s energy and maintenance programs and an effort to sell the recommended improvements to the homeowner.
        Participating contractors can install any and all of the recommendations on a fee basis. This includes installing energy-efficient lighting products, insulation, windows, and HVAC equipment and performing duct-sealing and air-sealing measures. Alternatively, contractors who do not offer all of the services directly can provide a list of allied contractors, and can help with the coordination of the work.
        Quality assurance is vital to this effort. Different programs address quality assurance differently, but all programs ensure that the recommendations being made and the work being done are consistent with sound building science principles and industry best practices. Some programs are using the Building Performance Institute (BPI) to certify and accredit contractors. Some are using more familiar inspection protocols after required training. The bottom line is making sure that the work gets done, and that it gets done properly.

Growing Implementation

        Home Performance with Energy Star began in the spring of 2001 in New York (see “Energy Star Takes On Home Performance,”HE Sept/Oct ’01, p. 39). The following fall,Wisconsin began its own version. Based on the success of, and the lessons learned in, these programs, new programs are springing up around the country.
        The New York program, sponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), is an example of effort bearing fruit. Eighteen months into the initiative, the program had completed work in over 1,000 homes. This number represents a good start, but it only touches on the real success. More than 100 contractor firms have undergone training and received BPI certification and accreditation—a requirement to participate in Home Performance in New York. Many more are in training and in the certification pipeline, and the number of participating contractors continues to grow, as does the average number  of completed jobs each month. This is happening even as NYSERDA scales back its aggressive marketing campaign.
        Why the continued growth? I believe it is largely because NYSERDA has demonstrated that the business model works for contractors—and because it is committed to developing the contractor infrastructure, by offering training support and by helping contractors to purchase necessary diagnostic equipment. The business proposition is indeed attractive. The average job reported to NYSERDA exceeds $7,000 for energy improvement and related measures! Although NYSERDA does provide access to financing at 5% for qualified homeowners, the homeowners pay the full cost of the job. Nonetheless, because they have knowledgeable contractors whom they can trust to address their particular concerns, they have been willing to pay for comprehensive work in their homes. Given the size of the average job, and with some contractors reporting closing rates following bids that are as high as 70%–90%, contractors are able to make money. To top it off, the program can generate significant thermal and electricity savings. It’s win-win-win all the way around—for the contractor, for the homeowner, and for the environment.
        Starting later and without the marketing push used in New York,Wisconsin has generated fewer and smaller completed jobs.However, they have been able to get the ball rolling using a lower initial investment. While New York uses BPI certification,Wisconsin is using a required training, mentoring, and inspection approach to assuring quality. And Wisconsin has worked closely with the Home Energy Rating community to encourage them to expand their work into the existing-home arena. Wisconsin’s approach provides a useful example as Home Performance with Energy Star expands into other areas.
        Another good example of innovation is taking place in Kansas City, Missouri, where the initiative was launched last December without sponsorship at either the state or utility level. The Metropolitan Energy Center is leading the effort with recruiting and coordinating the initial marketing, and the primary quality assurance mechanism is BPI certification and accreditation. Because it does not have a presence in Kansas City, BPI established an affiliate relationship with the Kansas Building Science Institute, which serves as the proctor for both the written and the performancebased testing required for certification. This use of BPI affiliates may serve as a model for programs in other regions nationally. By focusing on the Kansas City media market, this model also demonstrates how limited resources can be concentrated effectively.
        In Massachusetts, National Grid and Berkshire Gas have teamed up to use Home Performance with Energy Star in their implementation of the statewide Residential Conservation Services program. A 1997 evaluation of this program showed that homeowners implemented only about 16% of the recommended measures. In part to address this low implementation rate, the program underwent a statewide redesign after National Grid and Berkshire believed that they could leverage better results by linking their program to Energy Star and by using BPI-certified contractors.As of presstime, NStar Electric is ready to start offering Home Performance with Energy Star as well.
        Laura McNaughton, manager of residential energy efficiency services for National Grid, points out,“We’ve been successful using Energy Star to market energy efficiency in the lighting, appliance, and new homes arenas, and it just makes sense to tap into the Energy Star platform on the existing-homes side as well.” National Grid also hopes to use its leadership to offer Home Performance with Energy Star through the Narragansett Electric Company in Rhode Island.
        Also under way is a pilot program running concurrently in Fresno and San Jose, California, funded by a California Public Utility Commission grant to the California Building Performance Contractors Association (see “A New Path for Whole-House Contractors,”HE Sept/Oct ’02, p. 18).

Next Steps

        Energy Star is looking for other groups and individuals to work together to implement Home Performance with Energy Star. Discussions are under way in the Southeast, the Southwest, and the Pacific Northwest. With a good deal of flexibility as to how the program can be implemented—as long as the core criteria are met—this is an approach that can work in a variety of settings.

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