Who Will Rate the Raters?

“The concept behind energy ratings for homes is simple. Buyers don’t know all the ins and outs of home performance. But with a rating system, buyers don’t have to be experts — homes can have a simple, reliable, one-number rating attached that lets the buyer compare one house with another without doing any research”

The key word in that sentence is “reliable.” It’s all fine and dandy if the ratings are accurate. But what if the ratings are bogus?

There was an interesting discussion on a LinkedIn forum for energy raters in February, kicked off by an anecdote from North Carolina building analyst Danny Gough. Gough went to look at a house bearing a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) rating of 55. However, the homeowner is paying $100 a month more for heat than his home’s energy sticker promised.

On inspection, Gough found roof sections that were insulated to R-19 instead of the promised R-38. He measured house leakage of 2,385 cfm(50) instead of the listed 2,014 cfm(50). He found duct leakage of 95 cfm(25), instead of the listed 38 cfm(25). Gough wondered about the source of the problem.

In the 1980s, when the Cold War was still on, arms control officials had a motto about disarmament agreements: “Trust — but verify.” As builders or remodelers, we don’t handle atomic bombs, but we do need clients to trust us. And, so our clients can rest easy, we turn to third-party professionals to verify our performance. But if the homeowners find out that they can’t trust those third parties … well, then who you gonna call?

—Ted Cushman, a regular REMODELING blogger, writes the Coastal Connection newsletter and frequently contributes to REMODELING’s sister publication THE JOURNAL OF LIGHT CONSTRUCTION.

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