In a tight market, remodelers can differentiate themselves and tap into a growing green remodeling market through home performance testing — a series of home assessment tests that can clearly demonstrate where energy losses in a home occur.
According to recent surveys, demand for “green” homes and more specifically, more energy-efficient homes, is strong.
In a National Association of Realtors® report, “Profile of Buyers’ Home Features Preferences 2007,” more than 90% of the home buyers surveyed said that it’s important to consider energy efficiency when buying a home. A similar NAHB study found that 64% of consumers would consider buying a green home or remodeling their home in order to reduce energy costs.
One Houston-based remodeler, Brothers Strong, uses home performance testing as a tool to sell green remodeling projects to this audience. While many remodelers use checklists when discussing green remodeling with potential clients, Michael Strong, CGR, GMB, CAPS, CGP, is a proponent of home performance testing because it helps him and his customers pinpoint where the losses occur.
Home performance testing is part of the prescriptive path remodelers can follow when earning points under the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines — which can add credibility and marketability to green remodelers.
Remodelers following this path must verify energy-efficiency improvements with performance testing in order to earn points under the guidelines.
Performance testing is not required under the guidelines if remodelers follow the performance path. With this path, remodelers must follow the instructions from the IECC 2003 code in order to earn points.
Details on NAHB Green scoring tool can be found at www.nahbgreen.org.
Home performance testing does not involve much more additional equipment than the remodeler usually already has, but Strong said it does take some work describing to the home owner what needs to be done and why. In the end, measuring the home’s performance to understand its overall health helps to shape the necessary remodeling work, he said.
Strong begins his home performance testing with a visual examination. He checks the weather stripping, assesses the insulation, inspects to see if the home has the appropriate ventilation and examines the heating and air conditioning systems for signs of age and lower energy efficiency.
Strong said that remodelers who find HVAC equipment that is older than 10 years or with a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) below 13 should encourage the home’s owners to replace it with more energy-efficient equipment on which tax incentives are still being offered. Remodelers can also explain that, in addition to the tax incentives, home owners will benefit from lower energy usage.
Remodelers examining the water heater as part of the testing can also point out energy savings the home owners can gain by installing a more efficient water heater and by increasing the insulation around the hot water pipes.
Strong also recommended that remodelers use a duct blaster to test for air leaks in the HVAC systems. The duct blaster pressurizes the air in the system so the leaks can be more readily detected — and sealed ― resulting in more energy savings and lower energy bills.
Strong also emphasized that remodelers should discuss proper ventilation and HVAC sizing with home owners as part of the remodeling because these are also areas where home owners energy usage can be reduced. Typically, once insulation and more energy-efficient windows are added, home owners can downsize their HVAC equipment.
To determine the size of HVAC equipment needed, Strong recommended that remodelers use the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s (ACCA) “Manual J” heat loss calculation, which is required by state and local codes to properly size the equipment.
While many remodelers are beginning to provide performance testing as a service, Strong subcontracts this work and incorporates it into all his remodeling projects.
Strong suggested that remodelers who are thinking about using home performance testing should begin by developing relationships with energy raters, many of whom can be found through their local remodelers council or home builders association.