by Steve Byers
According to RESNET, just 20% of new single-family homes have a HERS rater involved. When you consider that a rating is the most accurate way to gauge home performance, it's obvious that the industry has a long way to go.
Even those builders who regularly contract with HERS raters seldom take advantage of the full value these industry pros can provide. That's unfortunate. The best raters offer more than code or program compliance: they're extremely cost-effective quality assurance partners. They can even help reduce a builder's liability for health and comfort issues, something today's overworked site supervisors seldom have time for.
As CEO of a building consulting and training company with more than 25 years in the home performance business, I find that builders are more willing to take advantage of a performance-focused rater's services if they better understand how we work. The relationship is more like that with the architect or engineer than with the plumber.
What Raters Do
The most obvious job of a rater is to produce the HERS index score. A good enough score will demonstrate energy code compliance and can qualify the home for certification from programs like ENERGY STAR, Zero Energy Ready and LEED.
However, the HERS Index is the cherry on top of our work, not the work itself. When done properly, the rating process serves an important quality control (QC) function. For instance, if the home doesn't pass the blower door test, the rater can tell the builder where the air leaks are.
But QC is just the minimum we offer. Builders who want to leverage their rater's skills will make them part of the quality assurance (QA) program. The difference here is one of depth: while QC is a simple and straightforward pass/fail test, a rater who offers QA will find the underlying reasons behind that air leakage (or any other performance-related issue), suggest approaches for doing better next time, and train the builder's team on those approaches.
The most effective QA starts at the design stage. A performance-focused rater can look at a set of plans and see what's going to be difficult to get right in the field. For instance, the rater might spot areas in a complicated roof design that will be a challenge to insulate and air seal. The rater might work with the architect to determine the best locations for duct chases.
A good HERS rating organization will also likely have additional value-added services they can offer to builder clients. For instance, my company does HVAC Design and performance services like airflow balancing. We can train the builder's sub-contractors in high-performance building. We have even offered builder clients post-closing walkthroughs to train homeowners on performance issues like how to use the smart thermostat as well as how and when to change the furnace filter.
These quality control steps are above and beyond what most project superintendents have time to provide. When made part of the schedule for every home, they play an important role in lowering the builder's risk exposure.
Finding a Rater
Of course, builders who want to tap into the full potential of a performance-focused HERS Rater will have to find one first. As with any trade or profession, quality and competence vary widely from company to company.
A good start is the RESNET Rater Registry (http://www.resnet.us/directory/search), which lets anyone find HERS Raters in their area. However, it doesn't tell you how good each rater is.
Fortunately, every HERS Rater operates under the oversight of a HERS Provider, which performs periodic QA on the rater's work. The builder should ask the Provider about any issues, past or present, with a particular HERS Rater they are considering.
Things to ask the rater directly include their pricing, what valued added services they offer, what trainings they have attended, how long they have been in business and how many homes they have rated. And of course, get—and actually call— a few builder references. Production builders should also ask the rater about their capacity and determine if they can keep up with the builder's volume.
It's a good idea to go to the ENERGY STAR website to see if the rater is qualified to deliver certification (https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=new_homes_partners.locator&s=mega). Even if you don't need this, it's a useful filter—ENERGY STAR sets a relatively low bar for raters, so I would be suspect of a rater who hasn't at least made that effort.
You should also look for signs that they stay current with industry trends and practices. Do they belong to the local HBA? Do they participate in ongoing training events like the annual EEBA Summit? For instance, my company and others have formed a collaborative, Energy Professional Exchange (https://energyproexchange.com/) to advance the level of professionalism and performance in the rating industry.
Time invested in finding a good, performance-focused rater pays real dividends. This pro can help you solve problems, put more effective construction details in place and, ultimately, build better homes for your customers. It could be the best business relationship you never thought about.
Steve Byers is CEO of EnergyLogic, Inc., a building performance consulting company in Berthoud, Colorado.