Letters: September/October 2012
A version of this article appears in the September/October 2012 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
In Memoriam: Carol Markell
We are very sad to announce the sudden passing of our colleague, Carol Markell. Carol died unexpectedly but in the company of her closest friends. As Home Energy’s Advertising and Marketing Manager for over a decade, Carol developed relationships with scores of Home Performance industry professionals and advertisers, networking at conferences and in countless phone calls. In so doing, she helped grow the home performance community as well as the success of Home Energy magazine. The outside world cannot appreciate how much she contributed to the close-knit Home Energy family, sharing in all our own personal joys and sorrows. Carol held much of the magazine’s history within her very fine mind, and her good counsel will be irreplaceable. We have no doubt that she will be missed out in the community as much as she will be missed here at Home Energy.
Following are some tributes from friends and colleagues; read more at homeenergy.org/list/blog.
“Carol was born in New Jersey, graduated from Syracuse University and worked in New York. She moved exuberantly to California, where she established a vibrant life, a large network of friends and a variety of fulfilling activities, including running and rollerblading. She completed a masters degree in Sports Psychology at John F. Kennedy University, doing an internship at the Berkeley Police Department in community involved policing.
“Carol loved animals (especially dogs), roses, her garden (with the metal gates she made herself), movies, books, good television, hiking, Pilates, cooking, biking, people, music, and travel. She embraced new ideas and was consistently able to turn adversity into challenges and opportunities.”
—Julie Freestone, friend
“Carol was a wonderful collaborator on the launch of the Home Energy Pros community. From the very start, she was enthusiastic and made sure that everyone in the home performance world knew about our project. A team player and a good friend. She will be missed! My heart goes out to all her friends at Home Energy magazine.”
—Diane Chojnowski, Home Energy Pros
“I was very sorry to learn of Carol’s death. I’ve known her for ages and will miss her. We obviously talked a lot about Home Energy magazine and how to grow the industry. But we also talked about hiking and dogs and she seemed to keep better track of my family than I did. She often talked about hiking with her friends, and I’m glad she was doing something she enjoyed. This is a loss to the industry, and my heart goes out to her friends and family.”
—Mike Rogers, ABM Energy
“I remember a NASCSP Fall Conference in Charleston, South Carolina (2010 I think) when Carol brought me Meyer lemons all the way across the country from her backyard at home—what a delightful surprise and they were wonderful! I will never see another Meyer lemon, or Home Energy magazine, without thinking of her.”
—Lisa Kesecker, Energy Design & Services
“So satisfying to have a friend who is confident in her knowing. I could always count on Carol to tell it like it is! Conferences won't be the same without dinner and a drink with Carol. We'll make a toast to her life!”
—A. Tamasin Sterner, Pure Energy Coach, LLC
Home Energy occasionally receives and publishes letters from readers that do not refer to previous articles but reflect a common concern of the home performance community. We invite readers to send letters expressing opinions and ideas for this section of the magazine.
Energy Efficiency Modeling: A Rebuttal
In the HE May/June ’12 Readers Forum (p. 3), Matt Golden framed his concerns about energy modeling and disclosure. I’d like to take this opportunity to point out some misconceptions and incorrect assumptions made in that letter.
I agree with the assertion that energy disclosure is an important missing piece to the puzzle of home buying. Residential energy modeling is essential, not only to establish the appropriate real energy costs at the time of sale for a home, but also to remediate the high cost of the energy footprint of residential structures. Mr. Golden’s statement, however, that “no study has demonstrated the relative value of different approaches” is simply false. The 2010 RICS report out of the Netherlands found that “homebuyers are willing to pay a premium for homes that have been labeled as more energy efficient” (1). The report is based on the sale of more than 30,000 homes with energy labels. The average premium was 2.8%, with a 12% premium for the most efficient homes. Important to note was that the 12% premium easily eclipsed the present-day value of utility bill savings (7.2%), meaning “homebuyers are willing to pay a premium for homes that have been labeled as more energy efficient.” In addition, the relationship between market value and energy efficiency labeling can be demonstrated through “Value Beyond Cost Savings: How to Underwrite Sustainable Properties,” done by the Green Building Finance Consortium, which has provided over 400 pages of detailed guidance for underwriters (2). A key takeaway from that report is: “To date, most sustainable property investment decisions have been based on simple-payback or simple return on investment analyses that factor in development costs and operating cost savings, but fail to properly consider revenue and risk implications.”
In fact homes that have been green certified average a 5–9% higher resale value than homes that have not (3). Those outcomes required several years of data on thousands of homes before a clear analysis could be made. A similar amount of time will be required to analyze the relationship between energy efficiency labeling and market value.
The concern that asset ratings will produce erratic results because they are producing two different results is a misapprehension. If we use the auto industry as a comparison of energy efficiency ranking, it would be fair to say that the occupant of any particular vehicle will most certainly change the actual outcome in terms of miles per gallon efficiency. Prius drivers range from the clubs attempting to achieve the highest mpg ranking on their displays to the lead footed. This does not nullify the value to car buyers of the mpg ranking system. It still provides a fair and accurate baseline to measure their purchase against a car that has a different mpg rating. There is no reason why a similar standard cannot be employed for homes.
As for picking any two labeling methods based on good/fast/cheap requirements, there exists a demonstrated method that would make possible simple, accurate, and fast disclosure ratings using Michael Blasnik’s SIMPLE algorithm. DOE’s Home Energy Score (HES) is also striving to fill this gap. It is easy to agree that a $500 rating will make it difficult to move the market in a positive direction, but that price point is not the only one available. Embedding scoring into a home performance analysis allows for scoring to be performed at a marginal cost, which is basically just the cost of quality assurance (QA). Providing the score separately from a home performance analysis gives professionals the opportunity to apply their expertise to more homes than they would otherwise reach. These are real opportunities for contractors to use their skills to deliver more value to homeowners and move the market toward greater energy efficiency.
Energy Use Disclosure
Simply disclosing the previous years’ utility bills has its own inconsistencies. You need accurate homeowner behavior to remove behavioral effect on bills, and accurate homeowner behavior is hard to come by. The suggestion to normalize energy use by square footage undermines Mr. Golden’s assertion that Btu/ft2 is meaningless. Our research for the Energy Trust of Oregon led to the following simple suggestion: Portray a home’s performance as its estimated annual energy use. That’s what the Energy Performance Score (EPS) is—an estimate of total annual energy use at the home, plus the associated carbon emissions. Interestingly, this label allows homeowners to make direct comparisons to their utility bills; they can see whether their bills are higher or lower than the estimate had predicted for their home.
HES and EPS
Most importantly, I want to point out some glaring errors in the statements that Mr. Golden makes in reference to the EPS label. EPS is not reliant on Btu/ft2 but simply on total annual energy and the associated carbon emissions for the fuel mix of that particular home. To suggest that the EPS label based on Blasnik’s SIMPLE uses “little or no performance testing” is simply false. Blower door tests are required in the audit process for EPS labeling, and Duct Blaster use is optional; both of these are obvious forms of performance testing. Also, both HES and EPS utilize the home’s actual attributes to model energy use; they just focus on the attributes that have the greatest effect on use in order to provide both simplicity and ease. It is true that HES currently provides an application performing interface, and EPS will provide one within the coming months as well. If you’re discussing adoption within the marketplace, then it is fair to assume that intellectual property (IP) should be protected as well. Suggesting that proprietary programming developed at individual and organizational expense should suddenly become open source is contrary to a market-driven approach.
Finally, when Mr. Golden suggests that EPS or HES cannot generate work scopes or savings predictions, he is absolutely mistaken, and it seems he is unfamiliar with the tools in their current states. Although EPS delivers an energy label, it also allows users to develop proposals that have specific scopes of work and allows for calibrating to utility bills. EPS Auditor software both generates scopes of work and relays potential energy savings to the homeowners and contractors. The information provided in EPS reports clearly aligns energy bills with the outcomes of the audit and analysis. It also provides information against state mandates related to residential energy efficiency for those individual programs, so consumers understand the impact of their choices on the larger market, and the utility can clearly map upgrades against goals. HES is working to deliver similar functionality through its HES-Pro integration.
It is my firm belief that providing energy labels to homeowners is the right thing for contractors to do. There is more value at stake for a homeowner making energy improvements than just lower utility bills or comfort. When the labeling task is blended with the contractor’s typical work flow, the costs are low, but the benefits accruing to a homeowner could be high. The Netherlands study showed a premium of 5% above the utility savings for the most efficient homes. That’s the equivalent of $10,000 in higher valuation for a $200,000 home!
To be effective, these home energy efficiency rating systems need to be credible—the software, the individuals, and most importantly the label’s local sponsoring organization. BPI 2400 is a good start for calibration and National Renewable Energy Laboratory is working on a standard to compare modeling software to actual data. The industry already has a growing set of credentials for professionals, and homeowners tend to look to endorsements by local utilities or governments for a credibility check. The pieces are in place,
so let’s keep working on what’s important: delivering energy savings and delivering value to homeowners.
1. “On the Economics of EU Energy Labels in the Housing Market.” Dirk Brounen, Erasmus University, The Netherlands; Nils Kok, Maastricht University, The Netherlands. RICS Research, June 2010. P.23.
2. Value Beyond Cost Savings: How to Underwrite Sustainable Properties: www.greenbuildingfc.com.
3. High Performance Green Building: What’s it Worth? is available for download at http://cascadiagbc.org/resources/research.
EPS Program Manager
Earth Advantage Institute