Interview: Southface’s ENERGY STAR Training Will Prepare Raters for Rule Changes

Recorded September 22, 2021
Education

Watch the live interview here.

Tricia: My name is Tricia Embry. I am manager of communications and content here at Southface. We have some upcoming ENERGY STAR trainings, and I have two Southfacers here with me to talk about what those changes mean. So first, let’s do some introductions. Nathan and Mike, can you introduce yourselves and let us know what kind of work you do at Southface?  

 

Nathan: My name’s Nathan Bessette. I’m the program director for Southface’s fee-for-service programs, which include EarthCraft, BIT Building, and Southface Energy Rated Homes. And so, my role is about growing these programs helping raters in the marketplace understand the different services available to them and help grow the programs within their companies as well.  

 

Mike: And I’m Mike Barcik. I get to do a lot of our technical training at Southface, and so I work for you, Nathan, and I’m fine with that. This is kind of exciting because ENERGY STAR is making some big changes, some of which we literally learned about yesterday. Nathan and I were both on a webinar learning about some of the big changes that are coming, and I think it’s exciting and it’s good. It’s good to see, you know, the kind of the bar get moved along. So, thank you!  

 

Tricia: Well, thanks for talking to us! Who can benefit from being an ENERGY STAR rater just in general? As far as different job titles… what career level… who can benefit from this?  

 

Mike: I would say the ENERGY STAR is a very well-recognized national program. It’s got the little logo. The ENERGY STAR logo is very well identified by consumers in all walks of life, probably because it’s on a lot of appliances. And I should say, fewer consumers know that it can be applied to houses, but that’s a pretty well-established program, and even commercial buildings are a very different type of program. Southface has been involved in these programs for many, many years, but to me, the people that would benefit directly are obviously [builders]. If a builder wants to build better than basic code, this is great recognition, and a number of people in the verification world that we do lots of training on — for example, home energy raters, EarthCraft’s technical advisors — they all need this credential, essentially what this class is. I would say there are kind of our target audience. What do you think, Nathan?  

 

Nathan: Absolutely. And then also one other credential within the HERS rater world, that’s the rating field inspectors, and then in the future, energy modelers as well will need this training. So anybody involved in the program or the verification side of things, really, that’s absolutely the target audience.  

 

Tricia: Sounds great. So, I assume that there are a lot of different benefits for individuals who gain these ratings or gain these certifications and are able to offer this to their customers. What are some of the benefits to people for maintaining or gaining this certification?  

 

Mike: If I can jump in, I’ll say one thing I really like is that in the past, the EPA said, “Somebody from your company needs to take this training.” So, whoever drew the short straw had to go take this training, and they were not necessarily the one that was actually involved on that project. And you know, that represents a disconnect because the thing about this is that it’s very much a house-as-a-system program, and you want the people on the ground to have familiarity with it and understand why this is important. That’s a huge benefit — that essentially, the EPA is changing the rules, saying that if you’re going to be involved in this, you have to have taken this training. Nathan?  

 

 Nathan: Yeah. Broadly, a few of the benefits to be aware of is that ENERGY STAR is this nationally recognized program. It is, in essence, a green building certification. It’s got a lot of brand recognition with the ENERGY STAR brand, so there’s a lot of good promotion behind the program and a growing marketplace for the elements of the program, including indoor air quality and high-performance building. And then one other thing is, there oftentimes are incentives or tax credits that might tie into the ENERGY STAR certification, and the latest and greatest on that is the new 45L tax credit that might be a part of a package going through Congress right now. The latest is, it could have ENERGY STAR as a minimum-level requirement, which gives a $2,500 tax credit to builders that have an ENERGY STAR-certified home. So, the demand for this credential is likely going to increase with the tax credits that may be available. It will light a fire for demand for these buildings and therefore, the people that participate in rating the buildings.  

 

Mike: That’s good! It is definitely significant. And what’s interesting is that this tax credit has been around since, I think, 2006. It wasn’t always called 45L, but it’s the same tax credit, and it’s currently based on demonstrating that you essentially have beat the reference home by 50% on the energy used for heating and cooling only. It’s not looking at things like more efficient hot water and things like that. And that tax credit, it just won’t go down. It will not die. It’s Congress, you know. Sometimes they are a little bit proactive, and they say, “Yeah, it’s good for the rest of the year.” But a lot of times, they go, “Well, we’re just going to make it retroactive for last year,” but that’s happened for 15 years. So, this tax credit is still around, and I love that they’re trying to enhance it. I do like the idea that they’re being more holistic and tying it to ENERGY STAR. I think these are all great ideas, so we’ll wait and see if that happens. But even if it doesn’t, most likely, this tax credit that I just described will still be in place. And the work you’re doing for ENERGY STAR dovetails really nicely into helping you earn this tax credit, even though they’re kind of slightly looking at one that’s more holistic. But great incentive and thanks for mentioning.  

 

Tricia: So, we’ve been talking a little bit about the EPA issuing updated guidance, going through some changes, even some late-breaking ones that we heard about yesterday. Can you go into a little bit detail about what the changes are, what the deadlines are, and what that means?   

 

Nathan: As many people may know, there’s ENERGY STAR’s conversion through the program right now, and there’s version 3.0 for much of the country and a version 3.1 for states that have a higher adoption of a later energy code, and the biggest news is that ENERGY STAR is really going to try to push everybody up to version 3.1. So, it’s really good if you haven’t looked at ENERGY STAR in a while. It’s really good to come back and understand the elements of the program. Even if you have been ENERGY STAR trained, change is coming, and so it’s good to get refreshed on the elements of the different checklist and the program requirements because you’ll likely have builders asking about it and asking you for information on how to reach the RI targets, which are lower in version 3.1 versus version 3.0. The role of the rater role, of the RFI, is going to increase, and the knowledge and expertise is going to be as important, if not more important than ever.  

 

Mike: To hit the key target dates here, Tricia, one is the end of this year. Basically, January 1 of next year — of 2022 — is when everybody that’s involved in ENERGY STAR projects has to have gone through this training so that the rater is not just someone in your company that no longer works there. Then, the next date six months after that will be July 1 of 2022, which is when three states — Utah, New Mexico, and Georgia — will be transitioning to version 3.1. And it’s because our state’s current energy code is a little more advanced than the baseline. Then six months after that, July 1, 2023, they kind of said, “We’re going to make the whole country go to version 3.1.” So, Georgia is six months ahead of the game, but you can see where it’s going. I think Nathan did a good job of summarizing — if you’re already doing ENERGY STAR, great. No problem. But it’s going to get a little bit more stringent, and you should know that this is coming, once again emphasizing the importance of taking this training.   

 

Tricia: It sounds like Georgia is an early adopter, but since ENERGY STAR is a national credential, this would be a good training for kind of anybody throughout the country because everybody is eventually going to need to be on 3.1, correct?  

 

Mike: Yep. Pretty much in just over a year from now. So yeah, absolutely that is coming.  

 

Tricia: Okay, and then the January 1 is the deadline for everybody working on a project versus just one person, correct?  

 

 Mike: Yeah. 

 

Tricia: So, let’s talk about the details of the training we have offered. I have some dates and times and costs in front of me, but what do y’all want to tell us about Southface’s training?   

 

Mike: Well, we have taught the ENERGY STAR for homes training traditionally in live training format. We’ve taught it for a long time — probably a decade or more and much more recently. I think, Nathan, it might have been January of this year. We taught one of the first ENERGY STAR multi-family new construction trainings, and part of that is if you want to do that training, one of the prerequisites is that you also have to do the residential training, so another great benefit of this training. In the past, this was typically a two-day effort. It was more or less a full day of live training and then a half day and then in the afternoon, people took a test. I think it’ll look something like that in the online format. We have honestly not completely nailed down what the time is going to look like, but I think it’s probably going to be that it’s Tuesday and Wednesday, and then the test, we’ll either offer it Wednesday afternoon or will just say take it on Thursday, and it’ll be an online format so you can do it all virtually and knock it out. Sound good, Nathan?  

 

Nathan: Yeah, and I just wanted to emphasize it is live online, so anyone can join from anywhere in the country and really benefit from the course. Mike is an amazing educator and an amazing trainer. He keeps students engaged through an online format for a long period of time, so really, really high success rates because of that with people who take the course. It’s a very, very high success rate of passing that allows for people to ask questions and really engage [and] make sure that they really thoroughly understand things versus a recorded option where you don’t really have an option to ask questions. You might be able to send an email, and you might get a response, and it might answer your question, but there’s a lot of “mights” there, whereas you get a guarantee of that on the live online format. Yeah, it’s going to be a really good course in October. We’re hoping to get as many people registered as possible so that they can meet with January 1 deadline for everyone in their company that is involved in any way with rating an ENERGY STAR home having the credential. And as Mike was saying, it’s going to be two days of online class, and then we’ll have the test, so it’s going to be a good course.  

 

 Tricia: And this is for single family residential, correct? But y’all are considering doing multifamily and commercial with it? 

 

 Nathan: If we get some interest, you know, we’re never ones to say no to anything, and we’re all natural problem-solvers who will figure out a way. But yeah, we did a multifamily course in January of this year. I think we had a 100% pass rate with students who took the course, so that that’s really phenomenal.  

 

Mike: We had, like, 18 people in the class too. I don’t remember exactly how many people.  

 

Nathan: If we can hit numbers like that, we would be happy to run that course once again.  

 

Mike: And again, that course focused very, very heavily on the multifamily side of things, but a requirement was that you also had to pass the residential one, which is what this one is. And so, it’s all the more reason why this is an appropriate training, whether you’re doing single family or multifamily. You still need this training.  

 

Tricia: Yeah, and I’ve been told it qualifies for 18 RESNET continuing education units (CEUs) and that the cost includes the EPA-provided exam and one retest.  

 

Mike: Well, they’re not going to need a retest! Right, Nathan?  

 

Nathan: I agree! From a cost per CEU standpoint, it’s very affordable as well.  

 

Tricia: In closing, what would each of you say to somebody who is on the fence about investing in this training and certification?  

 

Mike: I personally think that the ENERGY STAR program — I watched it over the years, the ENERGY STAR homes program, and I’ve been involved with it. We’re in version 3 now, and I remember version 1, believe it or not, many, many years ago. You know, inevitably, a program that’s designed to sort of lead the industry has to push hard, and then people start getting more and more acclimated to it, and then code starts to catch up to it. A big push has to happen, and that is, I think, what we’re looking at — the forefront of something like that occurring. And I also think that ENERGY STAR is going to start addressing larger issues such as decarbonization, and I think you’re going to see that you want to be positioned for this because this is the wave of the future. More and more programs are going to start to look at a more holistic effort, not just energy. And they already have a great program, Indoor airPLUS, about the indoor environment, so we’re going to see advances in those programs. It’s not going away, and I think the relevance is going to become more and more in the fairly near future, so I think there’s a lot to be said for that.  

 

Nathan: Just to reinforce what Mike said, this is ENERGY STAR really becoming a platform to achieve a lot of different efforts from a high-performance building standpoint. It’s the most officially recognized program from the government, so they’re tying the government incentives that will layer in, most likely, utility incentives as well. So really, this is just the first step but the critical step in order to engage with the program.  

 

Tricia: Okay, those were fantastic answers. Thanks again for joining us, and I’ll let you scamper off to your next meeting or work or whatever exciting things you have going on.  

 

Mike: That’s perfect. Thank you. Thanks, everybody. And please, please do sign up for this training. I think it is a really good opportunity and very pertinent. So, thank you again, Trish, for helping us to put the word out.  

 

 

ENERGY STAR Certified Homes Live Online Training 

Date: October 19, 2021 – October 21, 2021 

Time: 10am-2pm EDT 

Cost: $450  | $405 Member Price

Venue: Online 

 Register now 

20% off discounts available: email nbessette@southface.org for more details.

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