The HERS Index is already the industry standard for measuring a home’s energy efficiency. In 2015, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) will allow the option for all new homes to use the HERS Index to comply. Considering that residential buildings account for approximately 36.5% (2012 figures) of the electricity consumption in the United States, it’s a good idea to pay more attention to how homes are designed and built, and how we live in those homes. The HERS Index, while not perfect (what is?), is for both new construction and remodeling, and it’s primarily used to help ensure that a house and it’s occupants are on the right path to using lower energy consumption.
Most homeowners have never heard of it despite many builders making it standard in every home they build. Architects are somewhere between homeowners and builders. Property appraisers and Real Estate Professionals are starting to see the HERS Index show up in MLS listings, but are mostly unaware of what it means. Mortgage lenders are seeing it in applications for Energy Efficient and Energy Improvement Mortgages (EEM and EIM), and almost every Green Building Certification in the U.S. requires it.
The HERS Index (Home Energy Rating System) is the calculated result of an in-depth audit, or HERS Rating, of an existing or proposed new home that includes evaluation, performance testing, and reporting of the proposed work scope. It’s baseline is set at 100, which represents the home as if it exactly meets the minimum requirements of the 2006 IECC. Every index point lower than 100 means the home is that much more efficient. For example, a home that earns a HERS Index of 77 (for everywhere EXCEPT California) means that it is 23% more efficient.
The index is determined by a certified HERS Rater, whom performs a HERS rating (some call it an energy audit) on the home. The rating includes diagnostic testing (air leakage in the home (blower door test) and it’s duct system (duct tester)), visual inspections, and energy modeling. The results estimate how the home compares to the same home built to the meet the 2006 IECC, and gives projections on the energy consumption of the home. Based on the utility rates, the rater’s proprietary software (REM/Rate, Energy Gauge or EnergyPro) generates anticipated energy consumption, heating/cooling loads, and energy costs based on the construction, mechanical systems and location of the home. The rater and his/her software can also perform cost benefit analyses to determine cost effective solutions to design and build efficiently.
AN ATYPICAL EXAMPLE, BUT AN EXAMPLE NONETHELESS
The recently completed Serenbe Lane Residence, a.k.a. Proud Green Home, achieved a HERS Index of -2. The HERS Index scale at the beginning of this post is from the official HERS Rating we completed on the home. That -2 means it is 102% more efficient than if it had been built to exactly meet the 2006 energy code. It also means that the home should produce more energy than it consumes, because “0” is considered “net-zero”. Attention to details, good design, and often installing an on-site alternative energy source like photovoltaics or wind powered generators were what really drove the low index. Though I’d love to see every home reach this level of performance, not everyone is ready. That said, we have several homeowner clients seeking at least 50% better than code (i.e. HERS Index = 50 or lower). In fact, our Athens, Georgia client is asking us to design their home to out-perform the Serenbe Lane Residence. Game on!
AGGRESSIVE INCENTIVES AND EDUCATION FOR ENERGY EFFICIENCY IN GEORGIA
This past week, Georgia Power Company hosted about 40 industry professionals (mostly HERS Raters) in Savannah, Georgia, for their annual EarthCents New Home Rater Conference. They presented updates to the Earthcents New Home Program, and shared the results of some interesting market research and campaigning they’ve done over the last year to increase awareness of the HERS Index and home energy efficiency.
As of January 1, 2014 (which is an improvement from 2013), builders building homes served by Georgia Power are being offered the following incentives:
Builder incentives available for each all-electric system listed:
- Electric heat pump (standard efficiency < 15 SEER) – $250 per system* (where available; please contact your local Georgia Power representative for availability, confirmation and details)
- High-efficiency electric heat pump ( > 15 SEER) – $100 per system
- Heat pump water heater or solar water heater – $250 per system
EarthCents New Home (HERS-rated home) – A whole-house approach to energy efficiency. The home must be tested and verified utilizing the national standard HERS Rating Index to validate the energy savings.
- Builder incentive – $600* per single-family home
- Energy efficiency bonus incentive – $25 per point below 77 on the HERS Index
If the Serenbe Lane Residence had been served by Georgia Power, the Imery Group (builder) would have been eligible for a $2,900.00 rebate! $1,950.00 of that would have been from achieving a HERS Index of -2.
IMPRESSIVE MARKETING CAMPAIGN TO RAISE AWARENESS OF THE HERS INDEX
In some of their research, Georgia Power Company (GPC) discovered that about 75% of the homeowners in their focus group indicated that energy efficiency is a factor in the purchase of their home, and that a few builders had actually been asked by a homeowner about the HERS Index.
GPC has also undertaken a concerted public education campaign on the HERS Index in their service area. The campaign includes radio ads, newspaper ads and billboards in the major urban areas of the state, as well as these two interesting videos that can be seen on their website:
GET READY FOLKS!
Designing and building more durable and energy efficient homes is happening. Don’t get left behind!
Written by Chris Laumer-Giddens