On the 1st of this month, the Energy Star new homes program moved fully (well, almost) into the much more rigorous set of guidelines called Version 3. There’s been a lot of discussion on the the transition for the past three years, when the Energy Star team at the U.S. EPA first started vetting the update with HERS raters and home builders. In case you’ve ignored or haven’t heard much about it yet, here’s a quick overview of what’s new:
- Version 2 had a fixed HERS Index requirement of 85 (or 80 in the far North); Version 3 has a variable HERS Index target, which is usually in the low 70s.
- Version 2 had one checklist for the HERS rater: Version 3 has 4 checklists: 2 for the HERS rater, 1 for the HVAC contractor, and 1 for the home builder.
- Large houses have to get to a lower HERS Index because of the new Size Adjustment Factor.
- All parts of the building envelope must have Grade I insulation or continuous insulation.
- All Version 3 homes must have mechanical ventilation systems that meet the requirements of ASHRAE 62.2.
Since the Energy Star team first released the Version 3 guidelines over two years ago, they made several revisions and have adjusted the implementation schedule. Currently, they’re up to Revision 5 of Version 3, and some items have been delayed, but Version 3 kicked in for good on Sunday. Really! If the house you’re hoping to qualify for Version 2.5 was permitted before 2012 and had its final inspection by the end of Saturday, 30 June 2012, you’re golden. If you’ve slopped over into July, it’s Version 3 for you!
I’ve included the Energy Star Version 3 implementation schedule graphic here, and you can see that since we’re now in July, it’s all Version 3, no matter when the house was permitted or finished.
What to watch out for
So, now that it’s really here, what are the big issues with qualifying new homes under Energy Star Version 3? There are a few, and they add up. We’ve qualified a lot of V2.5 homes and a few V3 homes through Energy Vanguard Energy Ratings, our HERS rating providership, and here are three obstacles that we’re seeing:
- Bath fans – Energy Star Version 3 requires bath fans to be able to exhaust 50 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of air. The HERS rater has to measure it, too, so when builders put in 50 cfm bath fans, they’re probably not going to pass. The typical bath fan moves only half its rated air flow, so a 50 cfm fan generally won’t cut it for Energy Star. One problem is the duct that makes an immediate 180° turn (as shown in the photo below), but there are other reasons bath fans underperform, too.
- HVAC contractors – Energy Star Version 3 expects a lot of HVAC contractors. On the whole, they had great difficulty with the minimal V2 program requirements (Manual J, properly sized cooling system, coils matched according to AHRI standards). Now they have to do full HVAC design and commissioning and get certified through the Quality Assurance program of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). The fees for that are over $1000 to get started and then about $820 per year (not including ACCA membership) to continue. Not many have done it yet. There are only 12 Georgia HVAC contractors listed on the ACCA website as of today. Even in Texas, which has probably had more homes qualify for Energy Star than any other state, only 63 HVAC contractors are listed.
- Cost – Energy Star has a document that shows their projections for the extra costs and savings (pdf) associated with qualifying a home for Version 3 versus having it meet the 2009 IECC. They say it will cost a home builder in the range of about $3500 to over $9000, depending on location, to qualify for Energy Star Version 3. The problem is that the builder doesn’t realize the savings; the homeowner does. Also, they’re comparing Version 3 costs to the costs to build to the 2009 IECC, which not everyone is doing yet.
Of course, these aren’t the only things that builders are balking at and getting stuck on. The requirement that all homes must have mechanical ventilation systems and Grade I insulation installation (or continuous insulation) are a couple of others.
So, now that the new guidelines are here, what happens next? Energy Star Version 3 is no longer an entry level energy efficiency program. Getting the Energy Star label on your home will be a lot more meaningful now that Version 3 is mandatory.
What are you seeing out in the field? Builders, are you sticking with the program? HVAC contractors, why aren’t you jumping in yet? HERS raters, what other hangups have you found?
Allison Bailes of Decatur, Georgia, is a RESNET-accredited energy consultant, trainer, and the author of the Energy Vanguard blog.