HERS ratings – waaaay more than an energy score

| by Melissa Baldridge
HERS ratings – waaaay more than an energy score

Photo via RESNET

The “Home Energy Rating Score” boils all energy users in a home down to a nifty “miles-per-gallon” number – like a window sticker in a car.   One point equals one percent energy use up or down.  But ratings do a whole lot more than that. 

In honor of David Letterman’s final show last month, I created my own “Top 10” list of reasons to get a HERS

BE ONE OF THE COOL KIDS – In 2014, 43 percent of all new-construction homes had HERS ratings.  Did yours?  If you plan to buy a new home, be sure to ask for the rating AND ALL DOCUMENTATION.  I’m floored by how infrequently people get this valuable paperwork, or are even aware it’s available.

SIZE MATTERS – Especially when it comes to energy users and contributors in a house like heating and cooling systems, ventilation for healthier indoor air, and even solar electric (PV) systems.  You can always work with a HERS energy rater to dial these systems in.  And then make sure that gets forwarded to the proper contractor for system sizing.  Not only do right-sized systems work better, they cost less when you buy them.

SO MANY CHOICES – Whether you’re building or remodeling a home, there are LOTS of choices to make, and energyefficiency (or not) is definitely one of those.  Good energy raters build into their pricing some flexibility so you can try out different systems and features to see how they impact your final HERS number - LED lights or no, a 97 percent furnace or a 90 percent? 

MAN UP – Green homes and buildings aren’t the province of girly girls, or even girly men any more.  Homes that use less energy performbetter than those that don’t – like a high-performance automobile.  Low HERS scores are the preserve of smart people making excellent decisions about an overall system efficiency.  VAA – ROOOOM! 

PLAY “HGTV” – If you’re doing a renovation to your home, pretend you’re the star of your own HGTV show, and look at pre- and post-installation costs and energy use of choices.  It helps you zero in on your choices, and skip the drama and commercial breaks.

BE AN OVERACHIEVER– Building code is usually the bare minimum that’s legal – “The worst home or building allowed by law.”  And yet some builders and remodelers use HERS ratings as one way to pass building code inspections.  Most folks using the ratings, though, far surpass the minimum, and the fact that there’s a rating at all usually indicates above-code performance.

ONE-UP YOUR NEIGHBORS – Utilities report that they get a HUGE number of requests for energy audits and improvements by comparing peoples’ energy use to their neighbors.  ‘Same goes for HERS ratings, which compare home performance house to house – apples to apples.

BEAT THE TAX MAN – If you build something special, you may get the added bonus of beating the tax man with the EPAct Tax Credit (2005).  To do that, your home must be 50 percent better than the 2006 energy codes.  And HERS ratings are the way to document that.  Ask your rater if you qualify for the tax credit, and make sure you get the documentation to hand to your accountant.[i]

Photo: LilacsandDreamsShoppeBlogspot.com

VALUE ADD – HERS ratings can compare the energy use in your home to … well, darn-near anything.  A code-built twin, a pre-existing home just like it, or homes in the area.  This energy savings stream over time can add value to your home in a sale or refinance.  That number often dwarfs the upfront cost of improvements.

… and lastly, GET GOOD KARMA & BE RECOGNIZED FOR IT – Few builders are going to provide HERS ratings on bare-minimum homes.  So if you have a HERS number, odds are you’ve got a property that’s above-code.  And better for the planet.  Also, there’s an on-line national registry for anyone wanting to check your home.  (Think HouseFax for energy when you sell or refinance.) 

A number of builders (and even some energy raters) assume you, homeowner, aren’t interested in all this.  You should be.  Ratings can run 100 pages easily.  And they’re every bit as important as clear title, a home inspection, and correct closing documents.

Good HERS raters can literally add tens of thousands of dollars in value to your home if they hand off the right information to you.  Make sure you ask for it. 

[i] Currently Congress has not extended this for 2015, but energy efficiency continually garners bipartisan support.  Stay tuned.

Melissa Baldridge is a green building consultant and real estate broker at GreenSpot Real Estate.


Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, Energy Audits

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