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Energy Efficiency: To HOME STAR and Beyond

Currently winding its way through the legislative hoops of Capitol Hill is HOME STAR, a highly touted piece of legislation by President Obama. The program is perhaps the most important piece of legislation, outside of the Recovery Act and will provide for direct energy efficiency incentives for homeowners.

HOME STAR’S potential benefit to homeowners is simple: money.  There are two proposed tracks: Silver and Gold.  Under the Silver Star track ($3,000 cap/homeowner), homeowners will be eligible for rebates from individual energy efficiency measures such as replacing air conditioning units, water heaters or adding insulation.  

The Gold Star track ($8,000 cap/homeowner), meanwhile, is performance-based. It would carry more money and allow for more innovation.  This track awards whole house energy retrofits.  To qualify, projects would require at least a 20% energy efficiency improvement as determined by a Building Performance Institute (BPI) contractor and verified by a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) rating for quality assurance.

Because the legislation is still subject to the legislative whims of Congress, exact rebate dollar amounts and contractor/energy auditor requirements are subject to change.

HOME STAR’S potential benefits to the industry could be dramatic.  By rapidly stimulating the home energy retrofit market, more work would be given to local construction industries that were among the hardest hit economically.  The program would also allow for market growth and innovation, a sector which has tremendous growth potential.  The program fosters energy independence and should save homeowners money by lowering utility bills.

Although Home Star will provide a boost, it will arrive with a stipulated time-frame or budget.  Looking past Home Star, we must also consider other ways the home energy efficiency market might become efficient.  Here are some initiatives that I would be very excited to see come to fruition.

Point of Sale Energy Audits: Imagine home buyers taking into account a home’s ‘MPG’ sticker before deciding on which house to purchase.  This scenario would help to create the steady volume of energy ratings needed to give confidence to HERS Raters to grow their businesses and begin to assign real value to energy efficiency.

Energy Efficient Mortgages: Heard of them?  Yes.  Do you know anyone who actually writes them, much less has one?  Probably not.  There are rumors of an overhaul for EEMs from the federal government but we need stronger incentives from the lending industry to support energy efficient mortgages.

Merging of BPI and HERS/RESNET: Communication is key!  In order for consumers to understand home energy efficiency, it needs to be as streamlined as possible.  Currently it’s hard for the industry to keep up with BPI vs. HERS/RESNET.  Even though HERS targets raters and BPI targets contractors have a responsibility to make this movement easy to understand for consumers and cost effective for those within the industry.  Consider the procedural nightmare of registration fees, courses, exams, continuing education, all times two!  With one label, one rating, and one certification body, we can achieve clarity!

Google in Home Energy Monitoring: Anything Google excites me, but I’m especially encouraged to know they see value in home energy monitoring.  Have you seen Google’s stock lately?  They usually make good decisions.  Home energy monitoring will allow for the facilitation of behavioral changes needed to reduce energy consumption even further.

Energy Efficiency Lobbyists: Yes, you read it correctly.  Energy efficiency now has two strong allies on Capitol Hill in Efficiency First and the National SAVE Energy Coalition.