Homeowner: Frequently Asked Questions
What is home performance contracting?
Home performance contracting is all about making existing homes more comfortable, safer, healthier, more durable and energy efficient. With these projects, we use building science to examine the whole home and how different systems within it are interacting with one another. These systems include the building envelope (shell), heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and the occupants. Home performance contracting projects start with a comprehensive assessment of the house to identify problems and trace them to the root cause. Then the contractor prescribes and prioritizes improvements--from must-do to nice-to-have. Once all the work is done, a second comprehensive assessment checks that everything is working correctly.
Can I tackle a home performance project on my own?
There are some aspects you can probably tackle alone, but whole-home assessment is best performed by a trained and qualified technician for two reasons:
What you can do to prepare for the comprehensive assessment is conduct an initial audit of your own. Start by writing down all the symptoms, including when and where in the house you notice them most. Make a list of any work that's been done and when it was done--for example, you might note that you installed new insulation last fall, or converted the deck to a sunroom three summers ago, or changed from window A/C to central air five years ago. Pull together all your energy bills for the last year (the farther back you can go, the better) and look for usage patterns or changes that correspond with the symptoms, the previous work, or both. Double-check the age and rating on your HVAC equipment and household appliances and be sure you know the fuel types for each. Walk through your house and look for clues--taking pictures as you go. Are there damp spots? Is dust collecting or is the carpet looking dirty near the baseboards? Does the furnace make a funny noise or produce a strange smell when it's running hard? Is one room particularly hot or cold? Which windows seem to carry the most condensation? When you present your findings to your home performance contractor specialist, he or she should listen carefully, take good notes and ask follow-up questions as part of the homeowner interview before starting the physical assessment.
- Properly diagnosing home performance problems and prescribing solutions requires a building science specialist background that most homeowners just do not have.
- The job requires specialist (and often expensive) diagnostic tools, such as a pressurization blower door and infrared camera, that are not likely to be found in the average homeowner's tool kit.
We will also evaluate your energy bills and ask some questions about that third system (the occupants and their behavior) either before or after the physical audit. After the assessment, Owen Home can guide you regarding which fixes are suitable for your particular DIY skill level, and which will require expert help.
What services might be included in a home performance project?
The project will start with a comprehensive assessment, including an interview with you and a thorough walk-through both indoors and out. Our technicians may use an infrared camera to get a visual on temperature differences in different areas, conduct a blower door test to depressurize the house to assess air leakage levels, and test for leakage in the duct work of forced-air HV/AC systems. We may also perform other function and safety tests on HV/AC equipment, including carbon monoxide levels and combustion back-draft testing. At the end of the comprehensive whole-home assessment, your home performance contractor should be able to provide you with a scientific, objective view of the situation. We will be able to help you prioritize repairs in order from must-do to nice-to-do so you can solve the biggest problems without making smaller problems worse. These repairs may include:
The Home Performance with ENERGY STAR initiative from the Department of Energy (DOE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a great series of videos providing an overview of the home performance process .
- air sealing the building envelope, including compartmentalizing the attic or basement from the conditioned living space
- weatherstripping doors and/or windows
- adding insulation
- sealing ductwork
- tuning-up HV/AC equipment
- upgrading to energy efficient HVAC equipment and/or ENERGY STAR rated appliances
- upgrading to ENERGY STAR rated doors or windows.
Can a home performance project help make my house more comfortable?
Yes. In fact, that's one of the primary reasons to start a home performance project. Drafts, uneven temperatures (including hard to heat or cool rooms) and extreme (too damp or too dry) or inconsistent humidity levels are all problems best solved with a whole-home approach that examines the interaction between different systems in the house.
Can a home performance project help me lower my energy bills?
Yes. The house-as-a-system approach to improving the performance of existing homes is proven to reduce homeowner annual utility bills by as much as 20% or more. (See U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Energy, Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Brochure, EPA 430-F-09-001, January 2009) Frequently, indoor air quality and safety solutions lead to energy reduction and lower energy bills.
I'm worried about mold and indoor air quality... can a home performance project help protect my family?
Yes. One of the common problems home performance retrofits correct is uncontrolled air leakage through the building envelope. Warm, moist, conditioned air passes from the living space though the walls on its way outside. When that warm air reaches the cooler temperatures within the wall cavity or inside a window frame, it drops the moisture on condensing surfaces, which can help contribute to mold. The American Lung Association Health House guidelines require homes to be more airtight to improve energy efficiency and prevent unplanned moisture movement and state: "...Although many stories in the media attribute indoor air quality problems to houses being built too tightly, the reality is that homes need to be as tight as practical. Air leaking into and out of homes has created many of the problems. Moist air leaking out in cold weather can condense on wall and attic surfaces, creating mold growth and in some cases structural decay. This is a direct result of the home not being tight enough. Moist air leaking into a home in hot humid weather can have the same effect on finished surfaces of walls. Air leaking into a home from an attached garage has been shown to be a significant source of carbon monoxide in homes..." Owen Home will use a blower door to depressurize the house and locate air migration pathways as part of the whole-home assessment. Air sealing to close those pathways will be done as part of the retrofit improvement project.
Are there any incentives available to help me pay for this?
There are a wide range of incentive opportunities available across the United States right now-many of them funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Click here to find incentives that include whole-home assessments and home performance improvement projects.
How are BPI contractors different from regular contractors?
Owen Home is a BPI accredited contractor.
Anyone with a truck and some tools can call themselves a contractor. But BPI certified professionals have proven their skills and knowledge in building science and their area(s) of expertise-Building Analyst, Envelope, Heating, Air Conditioning, Manufactured Homes or Multifamily-as well as business ethics, conduct and communications. BPI accredited contractors (who employ BPI certified professionals) have made an organization-wide commitment to raising the bar in home performance contracting, including their participation in our nationwide Quality Assurance Program. Many trades license their contractors after apprenticeship programs or college courses. Some manufacturers require contractors to comply with extra standards while installing product. BPI certifications do not take the place of trade qualifications, apprenticeship programs or manufacturer requirements. They are meant to build on and enhance these qualifications, making individuals who hold multiple credentials even more valuable to homeowners.
What type of training do BPI certified professionals receive?
BPI training is administered by a coast-to-coast network of expert training affiliate organizations, including private companies, community colleges and local not-for-profit agencies. Individuals hoping to become BPI certified professionals learn the house-as-a-system approach that focuses on the relationships between different components within the home, how to identify problems at the root cause and prioritize and provide solutions that improve energy efficiency while enhancing important safety functions such as mold prevention, indoor air quality and carbon monoxide testing, as well as combustion appliance safety checks. After they are certified, they are required to participate in ongoing continuing education requirements to keep these specialists on top of emerging issues, technologies and best practices.
What is the difference between a certified professional and an accredited company?
Anyone with a truck and some tools can call themselves a contractor. But BPI certified professionals have proven their skills and knowledge in building science and their area(s) of expertise-Building Analyst, Envelope, Heating, Air Conditioning, Manufactured Homes or Multifamily-as well as business ethics, conduct and communications. BPI accredited contractors (who employ BPI certified professionals) have made an organization-wide commitment to raising the bar in home performance contracting, including their participation in our nationwide Quality Assurance Program.Many trades license their contractors after apprenticeship programs or college courses. Some manufacturers require contractors to comply with extra standards while installing product. BPI certifications do not take the place of trade qualifications, apprenticeship programs or manufacturer requirements. They are meant to build on and enhance these qualifications, making individuals who hold multiple credentials even more valuable to homeowners.
How are BPI contractors different from regular contractors?
BPI professional certification is for individuals and BPI accreditation is for organizations. BPI certified professionals are individuals who have passed stringent written and field examinations in their chosen field(s). BPI accredited contracting companies are organizations that have made a commitment to home performance work by complying with BPI technical standards, participating in our quality assurance program and employing BPI certified professionals.
How can I check the status of a company that represents their business as BPI accredited?
Beware of imitators and false advertising! Only current BPI accredited contractors with full credentials and active participation in our Quality Assurance Program are listed on the BPI Web site. If a contractor claims BPI accreditation, but is not listed under Contractor Locator, they are not up to date-whether their status has elapsed, they've failed to comply with continuing education requirements or they've been de-listed as the result of poor performance in the Quality Assurance Program. Don't see the answer you need here? Use our Ask an Expert tool!
What is HOME STAR?
HOME STAR, also known as 'Cash for Caulkers,' is a proposed nationwide incentive program for home performance retrofit and weatherization projects. It is intended to encourage homeowners to invest in improving the energy efficiency of their homes, while also creating sustainable jobs in local communities. HOME STAR is endorsed by the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB). This proposal is based on the Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) legislation that is included in the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act passed by the House of Representatives, and in the Building Efficiency title of American Clean Energy Leadership Act (ACELA) reported out by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Additional measures are drawn from leading state and local programs. This program also builds on investments made in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and on executive actions taken as a result of the Vice President's Recovery through Retrofit program.
What is the status of the legislation?
As of March 1, 2010, HOME STAR legislation is still being drafted. This FAQ is based on the draft legislation and will be updated if/when significant changes are made as the legislation moves through the government.
What is the budget for HOME STAR?
The current budget is $6 billion, with $1.8 billion reserved for whole-home projects offering deep energy efficiency improvements, $3.6 billion for specified energy efficiency improvements and $600 million for financing, administration and quality assurance programs.
Why do we need HOME STAR?
There are several reasons. Most importantly, HOME STAR is intended to create 168,000 jobs. In January 2010, the unemployment rate in the construction industry was 24.7% with a 38% drop in employment since 2006. Employment in construction-related manufacturing has dropped 24.5%, and employment in construction-related retail has dropped 14% since 2006. The housing crisis and resulting number of homes in foreclosure means very few new homes are being built, and the construction skilled trades and related fields are suffering. Creating sustainable, high-quality jobs in local communities is the primary motivation behind HOME STAR. The second motivation is to help families lower their monthly expenses. The average family literally throws away 20-40% of the money they spend to heat and cool their homes each year-about $750-because their homes are energy inefficient, burdened by faulty building shells with air leakage and insufficient insulation, as well as old, inefficient HVAC equipment with leaky ducts. More than 50% single-family homes in America were constructed before the advent of modern building codes, roughly 30% are more than 45 years old and another 30% are between 25 and 45 years old. It is estimated that more than 43 million existing homes need urgent improvements to energy efficiency, durability and occupant comfort, health and safety. This includes new and old homes of all styles, shapes and sizes in all climate zones. The third motivation is environmental responsibility. America's 128 million existing homes account for 20% of total energy use (10,888 trillion BTUs in 2008) and 21% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions each year-far more than transportation or industrial sectors. HOME STAR is expected to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 615,000 cars of the road. These factors make HOME STAR a truly sustainable program that helps to balance economy, ecology and society to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
How will the program work?
HOME STAR incentives will be split into two levels-GOLD STAR and SILVER STAR. GOLD STAR is a two-year program that offers the highest homeowner incentive amounts because it requires the whole-home, performance-based approach that delivers deep energy efficiency retrofit results. On a GOLD STAR project, a Building Performance Institute (BPI) Building Analyst Certified Professional or a Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) qualified rater (or an approved equivalent) conducts an energy audit and comprehensive home performance assessment before work begins, then develops and prioritizes improvement measures specific to the needs of the particular house. Those measures are then implemented by a BPI GOLD STAR Accredited Contracting Company-or another accreditation approved by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. When the work is complete, the certified analyst or rater returns to the house to conduct a test-out energy audit. This test-out assessment ensures that the installed measures are working properly and determines the modeled energy savings achieved. It also provides risk reduction for homeowners and tax payer dollars by creating a formalized quality assurance program that is hard-coded into the GOLD STAR incentive level. Under GOLD STAR, homeowners will receive $3,000 for modeled savings of 20%, plus an additional $1,000 incentive for each additional 5% of modeled energy savings, with incentives not to exceed 50% of project costs (capped at $8,000). The SILVER STAR level is a one-year program designed to jump-start job creation. It provides a near-term incentive for specific energy saving investments and is simple to administer and easily introduced into the existing marketplace. Homeowners will receive between $1,000 and $1,500 for each qualified measure installed in the home, or $250 per appliance, with a benefit not exceeding $3,000 or at most 50% of total project costs.
Qualified, covered measures include:
- air sealing
- attic, wall and crawl space insulation
- duct sealing or replacement
- replacement of existing windows and doors, furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, water heaters and appliances with high-efficiency models
Are there any restrictions on who can conduct HOME STAR projects?
Yes. GOLD STAR projects require recognized credentials. Only skilled, trained and qualified people and companies can perform various functions on a GOLD STAR project.
1. Energy audit and home assessment test-in/test-out procedures may ONLY be performed by a Building Performance Institute (BPI) Building Analyst Certified Professional or a Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) qualified rater (or an approved equivalent).
2. Energy efficiency improvement measures may ONLY be installed by a BPI GOLD STAR Accredited Contracting Company (or another accreditation approved by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy). SILVER STAR improvements may be implemented by any appropriately licensed and insured contractor, but all participating contractors will receive information about opportunities for accreditation and training programs. All Quality Assurance inspections may ONLY be conducted by a Building Performance Institute (BPI) Building Analyst Certified Professional or a Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) qualified rater (or an approved equivalent).
$6 billion is a lot of money, how will we reduce the risk of fraud and abuse under the HOME STAR program?
HOME STAR has a formal quality assurance program hard-wired into its system to help protect the investments of homeowner and taxpayer dollars. This system establishes industry performance standards, ensures that a portion of all jobs are inspected by independent, credentialed professionals, and offers an additional incentive to contractors that invest in a trained and certified workforce. For GOLD STAR projects, contractors must submit a job completion checklist and work scope for each project, along with testing data, before the incentive is disbursed. SILVER STAR contractors are only required to submit a job completion checklist. For both the GOLD STAR and SILVER STAR programs, field quality assurance is conducted within 30 days on a sample of jobs to verify quality installation.
Will there be any financing available to help homeowners afford these projects?
Yes. HOME STAR financing will create up to $1.5 billion in low-interest consumer financing, with $200 million for credit support and interest buy-downs. This financing will support a wide variety of existing financing products, including Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), Fannie Mae loans, non-collateral loans, secured loan products and on-bill financing. This financing is expected to allow American families to achieve positive cash flow results on most HOME STAR projects from day one.
Who supports the HOME STAR initiative?
HOME STAR is endorsed by the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB). In addition, a broad coalition has been built with representation from industry, labor, social justice, energy and environmental supporters. Click here to see a complete list of supporters as of March 1, 2010. President Barack Obama also personally promoted the proposed HOME STAR incentive program after touring an energy efficiency workforce development program at Savannah Technical College on March 2, 2010.
Where can I get more information?
Building Performance Institute (BPI) is deeply involved in the development of HOME STAR, as the program will leverage BPI's existing national standards for home performance retrofit work, as well as our existing infrastructure of training affiliate organizations, certified professionals, GOLD STAR Accredited Contracting Companies and our recognized quality assurance program.
Use the links below to find more information:
Homeowners, click here to find out how HOME STAR can help you improve the comfort, durability, safety and energy efficiency of your home or click here to find a GOLD STAR contractor.
Will new homes be eligible for the HOME STAR program?
No, this is about upgrading existing homes.