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What does the Future Hold? New Information from RESNET 2023 Conference

Sharla Riead

What’s new and what’s news in the world of energy and Home Energy Ratings (HERS Ratings)?  RESNET held its first-ever end of the year conference to share just that information.  Change is coming and focus is shifting.  Markets are evolving.  It is fascinating that expertise in energy and the quantification of energy use is pulling Energy Professionals into the world of social justice and Environmental Social Governance and forcing a closer relationship to carbon generation and use of embodied carbon than with energy consumption.

RESNET also had another first - they took the time to honor the women who have helped the success of the organization and the HERS® Industry.  Our own Sharla Riead was recognized in the inaugural class of "RESNET© Recognition of Woman Pioneers in HERS® Industry"; and we couldn't be more proud!

We have put together a summary of highlights from the 2023 RESNET Conference which you are invited to read.  It will be almost like looking into a crystal ball.

Does your Representative “represent” your concerns about energy efficiency in construction?

Missourians live in a “Home Rule” state. Local jurisdictions adopt the building codes, including energy codes, that work for the residents and builders. This allows the people who live in an area to determine their own health, safety, and environmental goals. After over two years of analysis, research, and testimony, Kansas City, Missouri voted to adopt the 2021 IECC (International Energy Conservation Code). This code will not be enforced until July 2023, which provides builders and developers time to prepare for compliance changes.

Builders and energy professionals have been working together to understand what the new standards will entail. After much discussion, the general consensus is that the 2021 IECC will provide an energy reduction of about 30% over current Kansas City codes, and the cost to implement it will be offset by the resultant lower utility bills. Utility payments are, on average, the second highest expense in home ownership, right after mortgage payments. Utility bill payments are decreased the very first month of home ownership. The savings are immediate, and the full investment pays back in an average of six to eight years. The reduced utility payments, comfort, and improved indoor air quality are permanent improvements.
Unfortunately, there is a movement at the state level that could jeopardize Kansas City’s ability to make this plan a reality. House Bill 580 prohibits any community in the state from adopting any ordinance, resolution, regulation, code, or policy that includes a handful of energy efficiency requirements for new dwellings. The bill:

• Prohibits codes with wood frame wall cavity insulation greater than R-13
• Makes it illegal to require the utilization of exterior continuous insulation
• Outlaws a maximum air leakage rate less than five air changes per hour
• Bans a requirement for ceiling insulation greater than R-38
• Requires that the use of framed cavities as ducts or plenums be allowed

This bill would make it against the law for Kansas City to enforce the 2021 IECC for new houses, duplexes, or townhouses. HB580 moves the state of Missouri backwards. In Kansas City, we will be under the 2009 IECC, and in some cases jurisdictions will be sent all the way back to the 2006 IECC. An estimated 120 jurisdictions across the state would have to roll back their codes to avoid breaking the law.

The items listed by the bill greatly impact comfort, health, building durability, and energy efficiency. HB580 is in direct conflict with many years of improvements focused on evidence-based building science and construction research. If these changes are allowed to occur, our state’s building stock will be sub-par for decades into the future. Our housing will be more expensive, less safe, and far less comfortable.

Those in favor of the bill are saying that the new energy codes are stealing the dream of home ownership away from Missourians by making homes less affordable. However, this is blatantly untrue! First, analysis of current home plans shows that the cost to meet the 2021 Energy Code increases the cost of construction by an average of $6,000 and saves the potential homeowner an average of $600 per year. The mortgage cost would increase approximately $30 per month, but the utility bills would decrease approximately $50 per month meaning that the total cost of ownership actually decreases by $20 per month! Secondly, there is a mortgage tool called an EEM - Energy Efficient Mortgage, which every mortgage company and bank are required to make available to potential home buyers which is backed by the secondary mortgage market. This mortgage tool includes an analysis of the energy efficiency of a new home and includes the utility costs in the mortgage calculator providing a "stretch loan" based on the savings in utility costs. Having more energy efficient housing actually makes the dream of home ownership more attainable by more Missourians!

A public hearing was held on this House Bill wherein a staggering 93% of public comments, made in-person and through official online channels, were against the proposed changes. Despite overwhelming disapproval by the people who will be most impacted, this bill has passed out of committee and will move to the full State House soon.

Those chosen few who are meant to be our representatives are ignoring the voice of the people. A few special interests are attempting to override what’s best for their constituents, despite the experts and evidence in front of them. If you can, please write to your representative and let them know that this is unacceptable. Missourians deserve to live in the highest conditions that can be provided for them, using methods backed by construction research and building science.

Need for Certified HERS Raters is Growing Quickly Due to Inflation Reduction Act

The need for certified home energy raters is growing quickly. Excellent full or part-time work for students up to retirement. Control your own schedule.

There are over 8 billion dollars in rebates allocated to improving the energy efficiency of privately-owned residences and another billion to fund upgrades to affordable housing. It is difficult to project how many certified energy professionals will be needed to implement these programs but it is clear that there are not yet enough of these specialists available to meet this growing demand.

The certification time frame for one of these energy professional positions ranges from a few weeks for RFIs to up to a year for a HERS Rater. The time needed depends highly on the motivation of the individual to complete the training, testing, evaluation, and apprenticeship. An individual can also progress through these levels of certifications as a method to expand their knowledge and abilities.

Certified individuals can choose to work as an employee for a verification firm, or start their own business working as an individual or growing their own company. The work can be part or full-time. The types of verification services required cannot be outsourced to other countries as it requires on-site testing and inspections. This opportunity is excellent for students on up to seniors. Perhaps the new year is a time to consider a new career!

Check out this press release:

How does the Inflation Reduction Act impact the 45L Energy Efficiency Tax Credit for New Construction of Homes and Apartments?

President Biden has signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law.  This act includes some excellent incentives for residential new construction that are guaranteed to save energy and prepare residences to become zero energy structures.  The first thing this portion of the act does is to extend the 45L tax credit through the end of 2022.  It had expired at the end of 2021.  This provides the ability for builders and developer who have been building and selling energy efficient structures this year to claim their credits for that work.

Historically, the 45L tax credit has been extended on an annual, and retroactive basis, which has been a headache for builders, developers, accounting firms, and the energy professionals who verify qualifying structures.  The second thing this act does is to update and extend the tax credit for nine additional years through the end of 2032.  One can almost hear the huge sigh of relief from all these stakeholders.

The 45L tax credit has also historically used stand-alone verification criteria that were different from any other energy efficiency program.  The third thing this act does is to align qualification for the tax credit with well-known and well-vetted programs.  It provides credits based on qualification or certification under EPA ENERGY STAR and DOE energy programs.  Starting in 2023 builders will need to ensure their structures qualify for ENERGY STAR certification or achieve Zero Energy Ready Home certification.  The amount of the tax credit provided differs based on which of these is achieved as well as whether prevailing wages have been paid on the project.

There is a subtlety to the requirements that is important to understand.  At the lower tiers of tax credit amount, the act requires “qualification” for the ENERGY STAR program being used: the ENERGY STAR New Homes Certification Program, the ENERGY STAR Manufactured Homes Program, or the ENERGY STAR Multifamily New Construction Program.  However, at the upper tiers of tax credit, the act requires “certification” for the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) Program.  This also requires certification for the applicable ENERGY STAR program because that certification is required under the ZERH program.  Make no mistake, qualifying vs. certifying does not provide any shortcuts, because the ENERGY STAR programs make it very clear that to “qualify” for their programs, builders, developers, HVAC technicians, verifiers, and others must still meet all requirements.  This includes training and credentialing of those involved in the project, and all the checklists and verifications would still need to be performed to verify the qualification to the IRS.  Jumping through the hoops to meet all the requirements and stopping short of actual certification might save a few dollars, but that also eliminates the marketing and support the program provides.  Following through with the process will reap dividends that far outweigh the up-front cost of certification.

The act also changes this tax credit to make it applicable to all multifamily developments regardless of height.  This fourth change will provide an increase in jobs for the verification teams and incentives for builders and developers.  This is work that must be performed in-person so these additional jobs will remain in America.

The fifth thing this act does is to increase the 45L Tax Credit.  The first tier of credit is $2,500 per home or $500 per apartment in multifamily construction and the second tier of credit is $5,000 per home or $1,000 per apartment.  The apartment numbers increase to the $2,500 or $5,000 level per unit if prevailing wages are paid for those projects.  The table below summarizes the requirements and tax credit levels.

Overall, this update to the 45L Energy Efficiency Tax Credit is a significant expansion in scope and participation.  It promises American jobs with living wages along with major incentives to build energy efficient homes for the next ten years.

ES SFNH = ENERGY STAR Single Family New Homes Program

ES Mfg NH = ENERGY STAR Manufactured New Homes Program

ES MFNC = ENERGY STAR Multifamily New Construction Program

DOE ZERH = DOE Zero Energy Ready Home Program

Qualified = Meets the requirements of the applicable program (doesn’t have to be certified, but if it is Certified it is considered Qualified)

Certified = Certified under the applicable program

Link to ENERGY STAR Online On-Demand Training and Certification:

Link to Home Energy Rater (HERS*) Rater Certification Online On-Demand Training:

Link to HERS Modeler Certification Training:

Link to Recommended Rating Field Inspector (RFI) Training:

EnergySmart Institute Course Catalog:

*HERS = Home Energy Rating Systems

Is a Solar Home For You?

Is a Solar Home for You?

The use of solar energy and solar technologies in home construction is becoming quite popular.  And why wouldn’t it?  The sun provides free heat and light energy to us every day.  Many owners of new and existing homes are adding Solar Photovoltaic, or PV, panels to their roofs and yards.  These panels take advantage of the sunlight and generate electricity.  However, others are worried about the cost, maintenance, or reliability of the systems.  Then there are those who just don’t like the way the panels look!  While (most of) these concerns are reasonable, there are solutions to be found.  There is much, much more to solar homes than panels on a roof.

Homes can be built to utilize passive solar energy, without relying on panels at all.  The south side of the home could be constructed as a collector; which may look like a simple window, or be transformed into a beautiful sunroom.  This collector captures the heat of the sun to warm the rest of the structure.  There’s more to it than just putting glass on the south side, however, quite a bit of planning and engineering goes into ensuring that the home does not overheat in the summer or lose too much heat in the winter.  With this method, the heat is stored throughout the day in mass walls, or floors, or materials such as water or phase change salts.  Then the heat is released as needed to the rest of the home.  Existing homes can be retrofitted to include a passive solar wall or room.  These systems can be changed from passive to active with the addition of fans or pumps, which can then also be powered by solar energy.

There are systems that generate hot air or hot water directly from the sun without the use of solar electricity.  Hot water solar panels can help provide hot water for radiant floor systems, which are an extremely comfortable type of winter heating.  These systems can also provide domestic hot water for cooking, bathing, and cleaning.  Hot air panels can help provide heat directly to rooms that may not have a connection to the central heating system.

There are many varied and creative ways to include solar energy in your living situation, whether you are constructing a new home or renovating an existing one.  These methods can be mixed and matched for any living space and style.  Learn more about all these types of solar energy and see if any of them can help you turn your home into a solar home.


Energy Modeling

We hear a lot about Global Warming and the need to save energy.  Energy prices are rising and we are told to conserve.  But, how does one determine how much energy their house, or apartment, or small business is using?  How does one understand what changes need to be made in the pursuit of having more energy efficient and affordable housing?

This is where energy modeling comes in.  An energy model is a digital representation of all the items and equipment in a structure that use or lose energy.  Energy models are generated to determine compliance to energy codes, to understand if a structure meets the goals of a program, and to evaluate whether energy improvements are financially feasible and a good investment.  An energy model is created by a person entering data into a computer program which then compares the data to a reference energy model, and provides the results.  However, energy modeling is much, much more than data entry.  The ability to generate an accurate energy model is one of the most difficult and critical responsibilities of any energy professional.

You have likely heard the saying, “garbage in, garbage out”, meaning that if a system is populated with bad data, the system will produce bad results.  This is very true in this case.  The person generating the energy model really needs to understand not only what data must be gathered to enter in the tool, but also whether that data makes sense.  If incorrect or bad data are input, the results will still be generated, but they will be incorrect, or at least very misleading.  Decisions made using the resulting information could be very bad decisions.

The modeler must know construction math and building science as well as obtain a working knowledge of where the model data comes from and why it is important.  An understanding of what data are gathered in the field, what to expect from that field data gathering, and how to turn that data into modeling information and enter it into the Modeling tools is also required.  This is why it is important that energy models be developed by certified energy modelers.  One such organization is RESNET, the Residential Energy Systems Network, which oversees the quality assurance of HERS (Home Energy Rating System) energy models. RESNET now requires this certification for anyone generating an energy model for a HERS Rating.

You can learn more about this certification training for HERS Modelers at EnergySmart Institute.

Breathe Easy

Do you find it difficult to breathe?  Not because of your health or your lungs, but because of all the viruses, droplets, and other nasty things we never thought about before?  With the advent of Covid 19, we have been hearing more and more about how viruses spread and more and more about the health of our breathing air.

There is a growing interest in ensuring good indoor air quality in our homes and places of work (now many times one and the same.)  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend on average about 90% of their time indoors and the concentration of pollutants in the indoor air are two to five times higher than in outdoor air.  This is because the indoor air is trapped by our walls, ceilings, and floors, so the pollutants found in the air concentrate into higher and higher levels.

While viruses are one pollutant we are worried about; there are other deadly pollutants in our indoor air as well.  If there is anything that burns in your home, you have the opportunity for deadly carbon monoxide to concentrate.  Gas stoves and ovens burn fossil fuels.  Gas furnaces and water heaters do as well.  Cigarettes, candles, and wood-burning or gas fireplaces release smoke that contains deadly chemicals including carbon monoxide.  Cleaners and solvents and paints and even the materials used in our furnishings can off-gas chemicals and gasses that can make us sick and give us cancer.  So, what can you do to breathe easier?  There are three steps to take, eliminate, filtrate, and ventilate.

Eliminate items from your home that have a chemical smell (the human nose is a particularly good test tool.)  Do not bring or build items into your home that can lead to poor indoor air quality.  For example, use a closed cell foam pad under carpeting instead of a cheap carpet pad which will degrade over time, turn into dust, and enter your breathing air every time you walk across it.  Use recycled glass or quartz countertops instead of granite to avoid off-gassing radon into your breathing air.  Use low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paint and stains.

Filtrate using a good quality filter.  The system that conditions your air includes a filter that it runs your indoor air through as it heats or cools that air.  The filter protects the system, but it also protects your lungs.  A higher MERV number on a filter provides more filtration.  Be sure to have an HVAC professional review your system if you plan to increase your filtration.  If it is harder to pull the air through the filter, you can cause issues with your space conditioning system, and that can be an expensive mistake.  Adjustments can be made to tune your system to accommodate your new filter rating which will keep everything running smoothly and provide more filtration.  It is most important to change the filter on a regular schedule.  Once the filter gets clogged by the pollutants it is trapping; the system will try to pull the air around the filter instead of through it and you have lost all the benefits of having the filter in the first place.  Replace your filter every month or two.

Ventilate to bring in fresh air and exhaust stale air.  The fresh air will reduce the concentration of pollutants in your breathing air.  This can be as simple as opening your windows when the weather allows.  However, that is only a limited solution as there are times during the year when you do not want to open windows; and those with allergies may want to just keep them shut all year-round.  There are several products available that can provide fresh air ventilation.  There are exhaust systems, supply systems, and balanced systems.  The most effective and least expensive to use are balanced systems which exhaust stale air and supply fresh air at the same rate at the same time.  These systems can also recover the heating or cooling from the exhausting air and use it to pre-condition the incoming fresh air.  Unfortunately, the purchase and installation cost of the balanced systems is more expensive up-front.  They are well worth it, however, because they provide fresh, filtered, and pre-conditioned air from a known air source and do not cause pressure differences in the structure which could lead to structural durability issues, comfort issues, and additional indoor air quality issues.

Take some time to learn more about indoor air quality and the pollutants that might be present in your home.  Think about how to eliminate, filtrate, and ventilate, so you can breathe easy.