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Top 10 Remodeling Solutions for Energy Savings

From energy conservation to green building techniques to new materials... water conservation and human behaviors -- important new trends and innovations are changing the roof over our heads.

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I started this article with the intent to identify the TOP TEN energy efficiency trends, but found at least 30 quality solutions -- and found that so many of the solutions found could be ranked as #1 that I decided to make a list of all the solutions and trends that are now being implemented in the energy efficiency and energy management sectors of remodeling and green building.  So here's a long list of options that can save money, improve indoor air quality, and improve the long term impact of our housing on our economy, our communities, and our environment.

EnergySmart Contractors

Labor is the largest part of the remodeling budget -- so don't overlook qualifications of your contractors! EnergySmart Contractors must be teamed with Comprehensive Energy Home Energy Raters and Building Performance Auditors. The provisions also create EnergySmart Comprehensive Energy Retrofit Teams. These teams must involve a energy rater, a qualified HVAC contractor and a qualified insulator/air sealer. RESNET National Energy Audit Standard will center on the new designations of Comprehensive Home Energy Rater and Building Performance Auditor.

Air Sealing Holes and Cracks

Holes are more abundant in a home than you would ever imagine. In roof / wall connections, around wires for cable, around air conditioning system components, etc. Rim joists and windows can be plugged with insulation sheathing,  Structural Insulated Sheathing and OSB sheathing can benefit from filling gaps and cracks on the sheathing surface. Joists and windows hide many types of cavity  one would frequently find in residential construction. Shooting foam into  window cavities and air sealing a rim joist is a new approach that offers an option to caulk products for air sealing applications. RESNET has developed a new standard that includes performance testing of homes. The standards address envelope leakage, duct leakage, IR Scanning and Combustion Appliance Safety testing.

Housing Weatherization

Weatherization is a term applied to low-income energy efficiency retrofits of existing homes. EnergyLogic has an innovative partnership with Veterans Green Jobs in servicing the largest weatherization agency in Colorado. This session will explore that journey and specifically discuss what Energy Raters can bring to the weatherization table and what perhaps doesn't work.  Major components of weatherization include plugging holes and cracks with caulking, weatherstripping of doors and windows, shading windows from direct sun and cold winds, insulation of attics and crawl spaces... and other basic strategies to improve conditioned spaces for energy efficiency and indoor air quality.  This can impact human health and wellness as well as save money on utilities.

Hot water distribution system efficiency

The water heater is located in one place. The hot water outlets are located all over the house. Some are close to the water heater. Some are far away. Some are close to each other. Some are all alone. It is relatively straightforward to determine the efficiency of the water heater, but what about the hot water distribution system? What are the best solutions available?  Evaluate hot water distribution systems based on the time-to-tap and volume-to-hot to different hot water outlets for “cold start” and “hot start” (the trunk line to what is likely to be the furthest fixture from the water heater is primed with hot water)

Drain Water Heat Recovery

Capturing waste heat from hot water before it leaves the building is one important way to improve the performance and efficiency of a hot water system. Drain water heat recovery systems have been available for several years and the technology now includes both vertical and (almost) horizontal products.

Combustion Safety: Do No Harm

Effective insulation and air sealing treatments can make a huge difference in the tightness of a home. In some cases, well-intentioned work can cause undesirable and dangerous consequences. Understand the conditions that contribute to backdrafting, spillage, or carbon monoxide production. Find out how to recognize visual indicators of combustion problems. Learn how integrating combustion safety testing can lower your liability and increase human health and... well, survival!

Home Energy Score

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched the Home Energy Score on November 9, 2010. This program focuses on existing homes and helps implement key recommendations of the Vice President’s Middle Class Task Force, as outlined in the report Recovery Though Retrofit. The Home Energy Score allows a homeowner to compare her or his home's energy consumption to that of other homes, similar to a vehicle's mile-per-gallon rating. This strategy is intended to support and compliment existing residential energy efficiency programs across the country. Home Energy Score is being piloted in 10 regions until summer 2011.

Misunderstanding About Energy Star Qualified Homes

Misunderstandings about the ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes perpetuate every expensive myths:

  • ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes no longer require a HERS rating;
  • Passive solar homes must use low SHGC windows;
  • HERS raters are not allowed to size equipment and ducts;
  • It’s extremely difficult for large homes to meet new Version 3 requirements;
  • Water management improvements do not contribute to energy efficient performance;

and the list goes on.

DOE's Builders Challenge Performance Scales

The construction industry has been one of the laggards in innovation for the past 100 years or so.  But that is changing due to compliance requirements brought about the energy crisis and climate change concerns. The U.S. DOE’s Builders Challenge has been a powerful  tool for home builders and energy raters since its inception in 2008. The program combines advanced energy efficiency and quality criteria for comfort, durability, and IAQ along with the EnergySmart Home Scale(TM) to help consumers easily understand and compare a home’s energy performance. As the housing industry landscape continues to change – such as energy code updates and new building research – the Builders Challenge will evolve as well. The program’s objective will remain clear: to provide market recognition for the top performing homes in the country.  EVERY homeowner might want to be a smarter buyer ... and make sure their contractors and housing providers watch their energy and waer Ps & Qs. 

Learn the IECC 2009 Code

Energy Codes are getting lots of attention. Thanks to ARRA funding every state has agreed to adopt and enforce the 2009 IECC and demonstrate 90% compliance. Don't get caught behind the times - Come and learn the important provisions of the latest energy code, including the crucial role played by Raters in terms of verification.
Participants in this session will learn
• the mandatory requirements (e.g., air sealing, duct insulation)
• the three pathways to demonstrate compliance (a Rater can perform all three)
• the common ways that homes fail compliance and what to look out for
The session will conclude with a review of financial opportunities for raters (inspections, compliance, testing and verification) and an overview of the tools and checklists available to help demonstrate compliance.

What Your HVAC Contractor Needs You to Know

Get to know the HVAC system and opportunities for improvement. This knowledge will help optimize the HVAC contractors time when you do. Some design and installation considerations can lower equipment efficiency and capacity, lower air filter efficacy, kill compressors, and create a chain for negative IAQ events.

NAHB National Green Building Standard

The National Green Building Standard™ can help builders successfully build and market green homes. As the first national green building standard approved by ANSI, this rating system is the setting the national definition of green for residential builders and developers. The basic steps involved in having a new home, multifamily building, remodeling/renovation project, and/or land development certified by the NAHB Research Center identify best (and worst) practices that accredited verifiers look for during inspections.

Measure Window Failures and U-Values

Window U-value information is critical to calculate overall energy load for a residential or commercial building. However, U-values of windows are difficult to obtain at sites because most of the time, NFRC (National Fenestration Rating Council) rated stickers on windows are taken off after installation. Further, it is almost impossible to detect any of a variety of window failures, such as the loss of insulating gases, leaky or cracked storm windows, and localized air leakage. A novel method to calculate window U-value by measuring three temperatures using an infrared (IR) thermometer.

ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes for Multi-Family

Multi-family housing is some of the most cost effective for community sustainability, but they are often the LAST to benefit from reycling programs, utility rebates and incentive programs.  EPA is expanding ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes to mid- and high-rise multifamily buildings.  ENERGY STAR has labeled 10 building projects (as of 2011) . Each of the buildings in these projects is designed to perform at least 20% better than ASHRAE 90-1 (2004). Current programs  include completed buildings in New York, Oregon, Georgia, New Jersey, and projects in the development phase in California, Colorado and Wisconsin.

Retrofit Guidelines

Remodeling and retrofit science has finally come of age. The US DOE, NREL, and several other groups have worked tirelessly to develop new national retrofit guidelines.  Make sure your contractors know about these programs and are adopting modernized techniques, materials as well as water and energy efficiency guidelines. Achieving mass market understanding and buy in of existing whole house retrofits has not been an easy road and many  efforts have been met with mixed results and failures.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is developing the National Residential Efficiency Measures Database on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy. The purpose of this project is to provide a national unified database of residential building retrofit measures and associated costs. These data will be accessible to software programs that evaluate cost-effective retrofit measures to improve the energy efficiency of residential buildings. This publicly accessible, centralized database of retrofit measures offers the following benefits:
• Provides information in a standardized format
• Improves the technical consistency and accuracy of the results of software programs
• Supports building science R&D
• Enhances transparency

Net Zero Homes

"Net Zero" refers to a building that reduces and produces as much energy as it uses. EPA is introducing a new label for leading edge builders called the ENERGY STAR Concept Home. Effectively this label defines a net-zero-ready home. This is achieved by ensuring a longer-term 100-year building life is used as the basis for selecting improvements to the thermal enclosure, HVAC system, and water protection system. Then critical measures are included to minimize the risk of indoor air quality problems and maximize water conservation inside the home. EPA will also be encouraging builders to apply practical design solutions that minimize size and maximize control of incident solar gain. Lastly, full consideration will be given to technologies and practices that address occupant behavior. Only after all these innovations have been fully integrated are homes truly ready for renewable power systems.

HUD’s New PowerSaver Loan Program

It takes a financial solution to make most energy retrofits affordable to a typical family's budget. Vice President Biden announced the Obama Administration’s Recovery Through Retrofit Program. A key element of the initiative is a new loan program to finance energy upgrade of homes. PowerSaver is a new financing option, developed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which will enable homeowners to make energy saving improvements to their homes through affordable federally-insured loans from private lenders. Homeowners will be able to borrow money for terms as long as 20 years to make energy improvements of their choice, based on a list of proven, cost-effective measures developed by FHA and DOE. FHA’s approval and monitoring procedures will ensure that PowerSaver loans are only offered by responsible, qualified lenders. PowerSaver will begin as a two-year pilot program. This session will provide the specifics of the new energy financing product.

Innovation for Diagnostic Reasoning into the 21st Century

Retraining the workforce for innovative materials and methods requires innovative training methods -- as does training consumers and building and operations managers.  New training options are growing with the use of the Internet and innovation in training methods. Use of viral learning and experience can boost education using simulated field experience and diagnostic mapping to more quickly and efficiently evaluate needs and opportunities in a home or commercial building. Learn how to  map diagnostic issues and solutions can cut time costs and eliminate paper. New diagnostic reasoning uses techniques such as interdependence, interaction, and sequencing to update and simply the learning process. Many energy efficiency gains are based on changed human behaviors.  Knowledge is power!

Forging Partnerships Between RESNET Raters, Auditors and the Contracting World

RESNET's new EnergySmart contractor program is opening a host of new opportunities for RESNET certified Auditors and Raters to align themselves with likeminded contractors who are versed in the language and skills that are unique and particular to the home energy retrofit market. With an ever growing demand for both energy efficiency diagnostic and retrofit/repair work for existing homes, the "Teams" approach created by the EnergySmart program will help create an extremely efficient and well coordinated offering of these services to homeowners.

Green Careers: HERS Rater Training for the Next Generation of HERS Raters

The Home Energy Rating Industry is a relatively young and fast-growing industry. As anyone who has taught a HERS rater class knows, trying to cram everything a new rater needs to know into a 5 day course is a significant challenge. Qualified HERS Raters need the necessary math skills, understands construction terminology and building science, can operate a Blower Door and Duct Blaster, knows the HERS Standards, can complete two home energy ratings, and pass the national rater test. Because most HERS trainers don’t screen their training participants, essentially anyone can attend the class. More students than ever before are entering HERS courses from outside the construction trades, making the challenge even greater. The amount of material required of raters  has grown, and  HERS training classes will expand and evolve to meet the demand.

Water Efficiency in Green Building

Water-efficiency is an integral but often overlooked part of green building. Although water is relatively inexpensive, the cost to repair our nation’s aging water infrastructure, coupled with recent droughts in unexpected regions such as the Southeast, have made water efficiency the next big environmental challenge. Just as saving energy was the hot green building issue of the past decade, water efficiency is becoming the newest concern for environmentally conscious home buyers. Building professionals, providers, and raters that are quick to add water-efficiency to their offerings will be well positioned to capitalize on this latest trend in green building. When the US EPA’s WaterSense program released its final specification for single family new homes in December 2009, it was the first time home buyers could easily identify new homes that offer all of the comfort and amenities of a traditional home, but use less water. In the first year of the program, companies ranging from small custom builders to large national production builders have partnered with WaterSense to build WaterSense labeled new homes.

"The New Normal" Economic and Social Trends

All boats float when the tide come in... and you can tell who's not wearing their swimming trunks when the tide goes out!  "The New Normal" is affecting both short and long term consumer and corporate strategies. New value metrics are affecting corporations and consumers. Population market drivers and the changing consumer psyche, as well as the concept of "Responsrugality" and consumer stewardship affect careers, business strategies and community resources that trickles down to family and local business. Trends in  "green" products, the near future of sustainable trends in housing, and how energy efficiency and energy security are changing in our attitudes and actions.

Fully Automated Energy Audit & Energy Rating Systems

Automated online systems are being recognized and utilized by an increasingly receptive marketplace. Electronically integrating all the key players involved; energy auditors/raters, real estate professionals, lenders, energy improvement contractors and material suppliers, is vital to grow the energy retrofit/improvement industry and create good-paying green jobs. Trends are connecting energy professional community with residential retrofit contractors & lenders. Rising resources include the EnergyARM online automated energy calculation tool and the Home Energy Retrofit Exchange for the national energy retrofit marketplace.

This combination of EnergyARM & Retrofit Exchange is now being referred to as the nation’s first “Online Energy Mortgage Origination Engine”. Energy auditors, especially energy raters & green raters, are being tasked with ever-growing responsibilities including the creation of cost-effective energy improvement analysis within constraints of specific programs, developing work orders, locating and/or tracking energy contractors, keeping detailed records, finalizing results, submitting multiple reports and archival of resulting files. Running a small business is hard enough without added administrative burdens. Fully automated audit/rating tracking systems can alleviate much of this.

Where there's change, there's opportunity for innovation and new business models!

Green Real Estate

Building new green buildings and retrofitting existing buildings are both dependent of the financial and consumer demand for more energy and water efficient buildings. The incentives, financing tools, and consumer education programs drive energy efficiency updates in the current market. Some programs result in actual improvements -- so it is important to observe and measure actual results that strengthen energy auditing and home energy contracting, as well as human behaviors.

Comprehensive Retrofits that Correct Ducts

Evaluation of existing duct systems and a proper course of action for systems that are in need of remediation can improve energy efficiency as well as indoor air quality. The quickest and most effective testing methods for quality  diagnosis are available to inspect and verify operation of forced air systems in order to prioritize duct repair work.

Retro-fitting Attics for Energy Efficiency and Durability

Attics can account for 30-50% of space conditioning costs. Retrofited attics can reduce energy costs, increase comfort and enhance durability of building components. Building contractors and retrofit contractors can now adopt the highly practical and effective means to reduce heat loss and heat gain in attics while avoiding moisture ventilation problem. New building science  approaches and techniques for air sealing and insulating, as well as new systems for cold roof ventilated sheathing for non vented attics are examples of effective retro-fit techniques. Best practices for attics include:
1. Understanding heat and moisture flow in attics
2. Reducing thermal and convective by-passes in attics
3. Attic ventilation with non-vented and vented attics
4. Understand how non-vented attics work.
5. Selecting insulation systems and installation mistakes
6. Understanding radiant barrier and cool roof technologies

Energy Improvement Mortgages

The Energy Improvement Mortgage (EIM) has been around for a while, yet they still remain a mystery to many energy raters. Complex steps are required to qualify and serve customers from the inquiry call from an interested party to wrapping it all up at test out. Because of all the rules set by FHA (one of the creators of the EIM), it's important to work with contractors, lenders, realtors, and homebuyers to implement this home energy rating work financial solution.

Batt Insulation

There are concerns surrounding fiberglass batt insulation and its ability to meet Grade I Installation. Data on insulation performance varies according to correct and incorrect installation.

Incorporate Renewable Energy into Remodeling

More and more consumers want Solar PV in order to be green and environmental…and a home performance contractor  can't responsibly install an effective renewable energy systems without first addressing load reduction, envelope tightness, and HVAC system sizing.  Effective sizing and operations depend on combining home performance with renewable energy solutions to develop comprehensive solutions to address energy needs.

Using Thick Insulation Sheathing over Wood and Stud Walls

Recent changes in the energy codes combined with higher energy prices have led to the use of thicker foam plastic insulated sheathings in stud wall constructions. But thick insulated sheathings are new territory for many builders and designers, resulting in issues that need well-planned solutions that include fasteners, penetrations, and both wood and metal stud wall assemblies.

Spray Foam Insulation

SPFA (Spray Foam Alliance) provides a credentialed applicator program and they encourage energy raters to team up with SPFA members. Five major topics to consider regarding foam insulation include:
• Different types of polyurethane foam products used for insulation and air sealing
• Benefits and drawbacks of spray polyurethane foam compared to other insulation materials
• Where SPF can be used within the building envelope
• Compliant application of SPF under ICC’s model building codes in regard to fire safety
• Basic chemical safety requirements during application of SPF
• Offgasing and indoor air quality

Performance Based Residential Efficiency Tax Credits and Mortgage Financing

Tax credits for energy efficient homes have been extended until December 31, 2011. RESNET is continuing to advocate for performance based tax credits for a minimum of three years and for the financing of the energy upgrades of a home in the mortgage loan and recognition of a home's energy performance in the appraisal. Watch for federal as well as state tax and incentive programs that can make energy and water remodeling and retrofits more affordable.... while at the same time, making your home and workplaces healthier with better indoor air quality, clean fresh water, and easy access to effective communications and transportation.  THAT's a sustainable community.

“Nudging” Decisionmakers to Action

The cutting edge of consumer marketing today is a combination of behavioral economics (Thaler and Sunstein’s book, “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness”) and the data-driven creative & message optimization possible on the internet. This combination of social psychology and technology has been applied to the challenge of pushing homeowners towards making decisions about energy efficiency. Qualitative and quantitative success depend on the intersection of behavioral economics, online marketing and energy efficiency.

RESNET's Comprehensive Energy Audit Software

A key element to a comprehensive energy retrofit is a modeling software program to calculate the energy savings from the energy improvement options. Working with BPI, the national energy laboratories and software vendors RESNET has developed a suite of tests to test the accuracy of comprehensive retrofit software modeling programs. Consumers can now draw upon this software for standardized measurement and analysis of their home's energy efficiency.  This is a good piece of software for decisionmakers to be famiiar with -- and to look for in the contractors hired to handle energy retrofits.


Edited by Carolyn Allen, Managing Editor of Solutions For Green

Publication Date: 2/11/2011

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