The Value of An Energy Rater in Green Building
Green Building and Energy Star Certified
Most people who build a green home because they want an energy efficient and healthy home, with energy efficiency often taking the lead. A green home typically provides significant energy cost savings to the homeowner, and many homeowners will go so far as to have their home green-built and Energy Star certified.
Meet Our Green Building Energy Rater
When energy efficiency and indoor air quality is the priority for a client, our construction team expands to add an energy rater. Here in Asheville, we bring in Amy Musser of VandeMusser Design. As an energy rater, Amy is trained and certified to inspect and evaluate a home’s energy features, prepare a home’s energy rating and make recommendations for improvements that will save energy and money for the homeowner.
Brian: Very nice. So tell me about what some of the common issues you’re seeing. When people bring you a set of plans and asked you to do an interview, what’s something typical that people an assumption that people make that you find to be problematic. Amy: So when somebody brings me a set of plans, the first thing I do is I kind of start from bottom to top. And we’ll go through what you were planning to do for insulating each piece, or what we were planning to purchase for equipment for each piece. And then that’ll give me a basis to talk to them about, you know, here’s where you are relative to this above code program that I’m trying to produce. And sometimes there are good reasons to be a little bit behind in one area. And as long as we make that up in another area, it’s okay and sometimes there are things that people just haven’t thought about. But that could be a big problem and we’re able to catch it. So you know examples of things that we often have to have a talk with people about our slab insulation. So insulating a slab on either condition basement or if you have a house that has a slab that’s on grade, insulating slabs is really hard to do well. But unfortunately, it’s also really important that people do it well. because you can lose a lot of heat from the slab, and that increases your heating bill. But it also can decrease your comfort, because a cold slab floor isn’t on. So I spend a lot of time talking to people about strategies to improve their slab floor installation. Um, another area that we often talk about is just what type of insulation to use. Because there’s, there’s a lot of information out there in the marketplace. And a lot of it is sort of true, but not entirely true. And there are different products that work better for different types of construction. So you might be looking at fiberglass, or cellulose or rock wool or spray foam. And I just talked through with people, you know, when can each product work well, and what are the pitfalls of using each product. So you know, for instance, if you use spray foam spray foam is self sealing. In addition to being an insulator, it will also air seal the home to some degree. And for certain home designs, that ends up being really important because they can be really hard to air seal. If you use other insulation, it’s always possible to use other insulation. And if we do, then there are additional steps that we have to be ready to take. So I can pretty much make any insulation product work, it’s just given your design and the product, what are the steps we have to take to make sure that it will actually perform as intended. And sometimes as we talk it through, we realize that for a certain house, it’s gonna be way easier if we use this one installation product. Whereas for another house, we might discover that it would be just fine if we used a slightly cheaper installation product because that houses structure is going to be pretty friendly to that product working well. So that’s something we talk through windows are something that I’m often talking to people about. There’s so much choice in terms of windows and what glass you get in your windows. And a simple selection of a different type of glass can sometimes drop the size of your air conditioning system by a ton or even more. So sometimes. And often the the glass selection isn’t very expensive, as a thing to change. So sometimes by making relatively inexpensive change in terms of which glass you get in your windows, I can save you an offsetting amount of money or potentially even more on your heating system or your cooling system. So that’s one that we talked about a lot. Brian: Plus, you’ve helped us on a couple of passive solar projects that were the glazing requirements were very unique. And we had to understand that going into the project, Amy: yes, especially for passive solar, the way the building code is written. To use the higher solar gain windows, you actually have to have an engineer or architect, do an analysis and stamp it and you want, you definitely have to do that up front so that you, you know that you have a plan for your higher game windows on one side, and then an appropriate number on the other side of the house and that the whole package still needs the building code. So that’s a really important thing to do before you buy Windows.
Brian: Yeah, one thing I get, I get a lot of customers that want passive solar, they don’t understand how it impacts the rest of their home. And we’ve had some projects where they had, you know, some type of geothermal and maybe some hydronic floor heat. And then when you when you try to mix in passive solar to too many, too many variables. If there’s tubes in the floor, it just doesn’t, doesn’t go well. It can be okay, Amy: I actually live in a house that’s passive solar and I do have radiant floor heat. But it isn’t always necessary to do both. I think, you know, if I went back, I probably didn’t need the radiant floor heat because my passive solar keeps my floor warm. But you definitely want to talk to somebody who’s familiar with passive solar because you can get hotspots. If you get a really sunny day in February, you might be opening some windows to cool your house down. So it’s not for everybody. But if you really would enjoy wearing shorts in your house on on a sunny February day, it’s definitely for you. Brian: Yeah, well I have to say your slab insulation diagrams that you send us and information. We’re able to take that back to our contractors and into our film managers and talk that process through to make sure that moving forward we have a we have a Get a better process in place. Yeah. And it’s easy with those diagrams to when we issue a purchase order to require them to execute it a certain way. So I appreciate that. What, what are some of the common things that you’re seeing on job sites when you guys are coming up three different points. And so I want to maybe take a second here about some common issues that you’re seeing and some of the things that, that having you on the team on the project brings value to the client? Brian: Yeah, well I have to say your slab insulation diagrams that you send us and information. We’re able to take that back to our contractors and into our film managers and talk that process through to make sure that moving forward we have a we have a Get a better process in place. Yeah. And it’s easy with those diagrams to when we issue a purchase order to require them to execute it a certain way. So I appreciate that. What, what are some of the common things that you’re seeing on job sites when you guys are coming up three different points. And so I want to maybe take a second here about some common issues that you’re seeing and some of the things that, that having you on the team on the project brings value to the client? Amy: Yeah. So you know, my husband, I have this way of describing what we do that I think is like a really, really great way to describe it. So he says that, you know, if you were buying a car, and you had somebody that was really knowledgeable about cars, who could look at the car before you bought it, and go under the hood, and knew what they were looking at and say, Okay, this looks good, this might be a problem, you should get this fix. Most people would do that, especially if the cost was a pretty small percentage of the cars costs. And that’s really how we think about what we do. So we come out on site three times. Typically, the first time we come is around when the house is framed around when you’re putting the windows in. And honestly, the major purpose of that first trip isn’t to look for problems. But it’s to look for difficult areas to insulate, and make sure that we have a plan. Because sometimes when we look at your building plans, all of the little details of how things will be framed, aren’t always obvious. And sometimes once it’s up, we’ll see something where we say, oh, that’s gonna be really tricky to do, let’s develop a plan for that. So it’s easy when we walk through at framing to see oh, here’s something that’s going to be hard to insulate. Let’s make sure we know. So sometimes we’ll switch a little area to spray foam because spray foam is going to work better for us. Or sometimes, if something like if a wall framed really thick in one location, for some reason, we’ll increase that wall to like in our 30 back instead of an AR 19. Bat. So we want to talk through all those things so that people have have the insulators on board, knowing what their scope of work is, and so that when they come to the jobsite, they bring all the materials they need. One thing that I discover a lot at framing inspections, if people have can lights in a vaulted ceiling, you’ve got to have a certain amount of insulation above the candlelight, so that you don’t just have this hole in your installation where that recessed light is. So if you have cam lights and a vaulted ceiling, and there isn’t very much space behind them, they might have to actually bring a more dense type of insulation, usually it will be a rigid board insulation to cut and put behind those cam lines. So we want to discover that before the insulator gets started. So that we can give them a list of here’s all your tricky stuff to do. Make sure you bring the right materials and make sure you face your crew in a way that they you know, the the person who goes and puts the rigid insulation behind the recessed lights needs to do that before the rest of the ceiling gets insulated. So really, at the framing inspection, I am checking to make sure that you you know haven’t used too much framing that would displace insulation, and I’m making sure that you use the right windows. Another thing I found, especially in those passive solar houses is sometimes if you have the same size window on your south side and your other sides, I’ve had times when people put the south window on the west side and the west window on the south side. And you definitely do not want to do that. So we’re coming early so we can catch those things and they can get fixed. So then when I come back for my insulation inspection, which is my second trip, I’m hoping that it’ll be a really smooth trip where everything is just the way that I expect it to happen. And the way that my inspection for installation is a little bit different from the code inspector is the code inspectors predominantly just looking to see that an insulation product is there and that you know it has the right or value on I’m also looking I’m grading how well it’s installed. So with me neatness counts. So especially with your fiberglass installations or your fibrous installations like cellulose, neatness is really important. So we want to make sure that it’s filling the whole wall cavity for front to back, that it’s not compressed behind anything, they would if there’s a wire in the middle middle of your wall, they would actually cut the back and split it around the wire. If it’s silos are blown product of some kind, usually they’ll put up a net and they’ll blow the insulation in. And we want to see that it’s really tight behind that net, so that it’s not going to settle down over time and give you these gaps at the tops of your walls. with spray foam insulation we’re looking at so they spray the foam on and it’s never perfectly flat. But we want to make sure that it’s you know, there are too many low spots. And there are too many bubbles. Sometimes when it’s cold outside spray foam insulation can start to peel off your structural members, so you get some peel back. And that can give you some gaps. So we want to make sure that that didn’t happen or if it did, we want to make sure that those gaps get filled back in. So we’re really looking for consistency and neatness. And that nothing has gotten missed. So we want to have, we want to be able to connect floor insulation, to wall insulation to roof insulation, so that I can just draw a line around that house and it’s continuously insulated. So then, our final visit is when the house is all done. And that’s when we come and we do our blower door test where we test the air tightness of the house. We test the air tightness of the ductwork. And you know generally in our in the previous visits, I’ve been looking at the things and I have a visual checklist of air sealing that you have to do. So you know we don’t get that many failures. Because if people are taking us seriously as we go through that checklist, then when we get to the end, we should get a nice tight result. You know, sometimes we don’t and that’s when we start to go back and investigate. One good example of one that happened was I had a house that had just had a big attic, and the attic kind of connected to the top part of the garage. And they turned out the cable guy had come. And when he was trying to run the cable into the house, he just punched this giant a hole between like the above garage to the attic of the house. And since it was the attic, nobody went up there to look at it to see what he had done. So when our blower door test was was kind of bad. We started to look around and we figured out that the cable guy punched this big hole. So you know really the the air tightness testing is almost just a confirming that you’ve done your job. But then it’s also a way that helps us find the problem. If we don’t get the test result that we want.
Green Built Energy Rating Process
During the construction process, Amy’s work starts at the very beginning when the home or commercial building is an idea on paper in the form of plans. Based on the plans, Amy will make recommendations from the foundation to the rooftop on materials, construction techniques and systems that will achieve the desired energy savings.
In the video above, watch Amy explain what she looks for when she reviews plans, performs inspections during the construction process, makes recommendations for energy systems and conducts final tests on the building to achieve certifications.
Other Green Building Resources
See part two of the green building and energy rating video on our YouTube channel.
Read more about Green Building.
If you have questions or are interested in a Green Built home in the Asheville area, contact us.