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The First ENERGY STAR Version 3 Class for HERS Raters

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Yesterday we finished up our first two-day class on ENERGY STAR Version 3 for HERS Raters. We spent the morning of the first day going over the basics – the changes, the transition from V2 to V3 via V2.5, and how the new guidelines work. That afternoon we dove into the details of the Thermal Enclosure Rater Checklist (TERC).

Yesterday we finished up our first two-day class on ENERGY STAR Version 3 for HERS Raters. We spent the morning of the first day going over the basics – the changes, the transition from V2 to V3 via V2.5, and how the new guidelines work. That afternoon we dove into the details of the Thermal Enclosure Rater Checklist (TERC).

On the morning of the second day, the first thing I had them do was take a file that started with a HERS Index of 98 and get it to pass all three versions (2, 2.5, & 3). (Everyone in the class uses REM/Rate, so we didn’t have to worry about teaching this on other rating software.) Several were able to get there in the time allotted, but everyone got a feel for how the new guidelines are implemented in the software – and how difficult it will be for homes to qualify.

After that exercise, we dove into the details of the two HVAC checklists (one for the contractor, one for the rater). This is where the mood of the class sank. By lunch, they were wondering if anyone would ever qualify a home for Version 3 of the program, and what other kind of work they could do as raters since their ENERGY STAR business was about to disappear.

Here are the main problems they saw with the program as a whole:

  • The changes are so sweeping, they weren’t sure how to present them to builders.
  • HVAC contractors could not or would not complete their checklist – at least, not correctly.
  • The rater’s time involvement would double.
  • The cost of the program would be too high for builders.

Here are some of the concerns the raters had with their new responsibilities:

  • Their HVAC checklist requires them to check too many details of the HVAC contractor’s.
  • Measuring air flow of the ventilation system could put them on big extension ladders.
  • Understanding exactly what ENERGY STAR is asking them to do is sometimes difficult because of confusing language.

The ENERGY STAR new homes program has been the HERS industry’s bread and butter. Without it, there would be only a handful of HERS raters. What some of the raters in the room this week were wondering, though, is if the green building programs (LEED for Homes, NAHB Green Building Program, EarthCraft House…) may decouple from ENERGY STAR rather than risk losing a lot of their builders.

The concensus was that change is necessary, but these changes go too far. When I suggested, ‘Hey, maybe the building community will get excited about this program and be beating your door down,’ one of the students responded, ‘Yeah, but for the wrong reasons.’


EVER Rater Sean Lintow Sr., one of the students in this class, wrote articles about each of the two days, and you can read them here: Day 1 and Day 2.


If you haven’t read it yet, you can download our white paper on ENERGY STAR Version 3 now.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. ES v3 is the kind of step
    ES v3 is the kind of step that suggests government is really wishing it could step in and say, ‘quit screwing around people! You need to start taking home building seriously.’ Builders want the profits without responsibity, and have driven the cost of home ownership down so low, that they can no longer afford to do the due dillignece and quality control required. It is a catch 22, and one that government played a hand in creating.  
    I wish that the green building programs would hold their ground and stick with ES v3, but I doubt their financial resources or political spines are strong enough.  
    As for the cumbersome language in ES v3, what did we expect. DOE loves to make simple things hard. Just look at the hoops they put the Build America Teams through with NREL. It is a shame that they didn’t take a page from the marketplace playbook and include a ‘plain English’ version. Let’s be real here, the trades are not exactly the repository of the best and brightest. 
    ES v3 is a good thing, and we need to push the industry (builders, HVAC contractors, and raters) to step up to the plate. But, DOE missed the mark when it came to making that task even marginally easy.

  2. Let’s forget Energy Star. Why
    Let’s forget Energy Star. Why not go straight to Passive House, take the max energy efficient steps immediately, setting the stage for an incremental step to net zero energy. This way we get high IAQ and max comfort with the least checklist.

  3. Thanks for the recap of the
    Thanks for the recap of the class, Allison. I will definitely be taking it sometime soon, but need to set aside the time and I’m thinking that there may be a little more evolution in the program before everything is finalized. It is interesting that EPA made it as complicated to manage. I remember a conversation I had with Sam Rashkin (Head of ENERGY STAR homes program) about that I thought that LEED was so complicated that it felt like a government program, to which he responded “The government would never create anything that complicated.” Whether or not he was correct, it seems that he has now contradicted himself. As much as I hate to admit it, I agree with Michael’s point that builders want the profits without the responsibility, and now with the housing market down, they will be fighting harder for their money. ENERGY STAR assumed that they would lose some of their builders, and it will be interesting to see just how many walk away from the program. It clearly needed to step up to stay ahead of the building codes, but they probably could have done it in a way that won’t lose them too many participants. I am also concerned that it will drive up costs, although not as much as some people, and I do think that we will see a lot of homes that don’t get certified, leading to a combination of builders angry at their raters and some raters stretching their decisions to make homes meet certification.  
    It will also be interesting to see when and how existing green programs incorporate EStar V3. LEED for Homes is currently scheduled for a new revision in November of 2012, but no word yet on what happens on 1/1/2012. EarthCraft is scheduled to release a program update on March 1st that will address Estar, the word is that it will only be required initially at the higher levels of certification and they are working on figuring out how to integrate the programs fully in the future. No word on the National Green Building Standard out of the Research Center yet.  
    As a rater/verifier/technical advisor/whatever I am frustrated that as Estar 2.5 and 3 come on line this year and next, I don’t know exactly what to tell my clients and those I have spoken to are clearly not prepared for the changes.  
    I think that many of your raters are correct, now that there are thousands of newly trained HERS raters, suddenly there will be much less work – like there was enough to go around in the first place! 
    It should be an interesting ride.

  4. Puhlease… The only reason
    Puhlease… The only reason Passivhaus has any traction is because of it’s name. I can’t wait for it, along with its brother Deep Energy Retofit to recede into the annals of bad ideas.  
    I don’t see how jobs of HERS raters is important. If anything was adding to the cost of homes building it was the rater fees, which could range in the thousands of dollars for a single home. ES v3 puts control/onus back on the technicians and owners to a large extent.  
    I would love to see the home building industry go through a massive overhaul and come out the other side with auto manufacturing level knowledge and quality control.

  5. Excellent review! I don’t
    Excellent review! I don’t believe there is anything new here that isn’t already required of California’s HERS raters. (Remember, they have a different program than anyone else.)  
    One major difference though is that PG&E; (gas & electric utility company)trains them all. Perhaps we can get some insights from them on this. 
    I’ve learned how to do much of this. However, my rating fees will go up if I need to do them in Georgia too.

  6. Hi guys! As a newly minted
    Hi guys! As a newly minted HERS rater, so I may seem very naive to you. I own two successful businesses and am venturing into this field because I’ve always been passionate about energy.  
    The way I see it, HERS raters should be selling the benefits of their ratings and not relying on Energy Star or any other program to be their sole source of income. I’ve built over 100 homes as VP of a custom builder so I get the whole marketing and brand recognition concept. Those are features though, what are the benefits? Why does a builder or homeowner need me? 
    In the face of a difficult sales environment, do we lament the changes or do we adjust our sales presentation to the new benefits? 
    One thing is certain, costs are always going to rise for builders. Are we essential to their business or not? If it’s $1000 for a rating, who cares if it shows a net return of $2000 in sales price to the builder? Or sells homes faster? Or increases a customers’ perception of quality in a builder?  
    Remember, all of this stuff is part of a sales pitch. It has actual benefits of course but, what’s the point of it to a builder if he can’t close more homes? 
    I haven’t been through the new training yet and I’m sure there’s some ridiculous things in it but, all I can do is work to get it changed; and work to build awareness of the benefits of a HERS rating. 
    If homeowners were more aware of the benefits and were asking builders about it… this conversation would be radically different. I’m just saying.

  7. One of the best tools in my
    One of the best tools in my Rater bag is an IR camera. Yet in V3, if I scan any portion of the finished envelope and see that the Grade 1 insulation job (that I previously inspected)is not performing as specified after a less than a perfectly sealed sheetrock finish. Then what? Disqualify the house? Sell my camera?

  8. Michael – So you don’t like
    Michael – So you don’t like PassivHouse, you don’t like HERS raters, you don’t like LEED, and you don’t like ENERGY STAR. I suppose that the only acceptable standard that your narrow little mind can wrap itself around is MN Greenstar, am I right? And if HERS raters, Green raters, and other assorted 3rd party verifiers aren’t good enough, who is supposed to inspect and check on projects to make sure that they are done right? I guess you are the only one left, since no one else qualifies. If you get your way, you are going to be one busy little boy. Are you just lobbying for a bunch of new work for yourself? What’s the deal, isn’t anything good enough for you? How about a little flexibility, man?

  9. Allison, this is where the sh
    Allison, this is where the sh$# hits the fan. Although the new HVAC checklists don’t include anything not essential to good design-install practice, the sad fact is that most contractors skip many of these steps, assuming they even have the necessary know-how. And while ES realized v3 would be a challenge (Sam often acknowledges that some builder partners will be lost), I think the good folks who designed the HVAC checklists are a bit too far removed from reality. Seriously. 
    There is great value to having HVAC done right. However, most HVAC contractors who really know their stuff have abandoned the new construction market because they can’t compete with the status quo. As Dave Sheets pointed out, most builders simply aren’t going to pay for quality HVAC unless their customer demands it. In any case, most builders wouldn’t recognize quality HVAC if it hit them in the face. Homeowners have even less of a clue. This is the true value of 3rd party verification. 
    Unfortunately, this problem is so intractable that government intervention may be the only solution. That being said, I would much prefer to see public resources invested in consumer education than with mandates. But unless and until homeowners understand the value of 3rd party verification, most homes will continue to be built with poorly designed and installed HVAC systems. 
    BTW, I also am no fan of the Passive House concept, but that’s another topic.

  10. The ESv3 program is too much.
    The ESv3 program is too much. It’s such a drastic alteration, it’ll probably kill the program and we’ll see even more fragmentation of high performance building programs. Builders, raters and the assorted building programs all now have significant incentive to create their own standards. The great part of ESv2 it was simple -easy to explain and comply with- and it was the glue that kept various programs working to the same end. Now I fear all may be lost. 
    The DOE should have kept with the basic higher than code standards: improved ACH50, tighter ducts, higher efficiency mechanical equipment, etc. And maybe (and I mean MAYBE) add some other presciptive measure like adding mechanical ventilation and 100cfm minimum bath fans. Then, perhaps, a year or so later, add mandatory grade one insulation. Baby steps would be the key to successful implementation – not this instant jump to the deep end. 
    The program is simply economically unfeasible and unreasonably demanding. The simple fact that even after 2 days of great training and discussion, I still don’t know a good way to describe it to builders (and I am a builder!) The truth is, I don’t even want to tell builders about it.  
    Perhaps a better idea would be simply to get builders to actually build to code- that seems to be trouble enough.

  11. Thanks for all the great
    Thanks for all the great comments. You’ve all made a lot of really good points (and a few bad ones, too, Michael Anschel).  
    The basic problem has been hit on in several of the comments, I think most lucidly by David Butler. That is, we’ve got an industry that by and large doesn’t have the knowledge and skills to do their jobs correctly and a marketing program that’s been rewarding them for doing it less badly. Now the program wants them to do it correctly, and it looks to be too huge a huge leap.  
    What ES V3 asks shouldn’t really be that hard, but it assumes a much higher level of competence in the construction industry, especially on the HVAC side.

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