In the quest to meet new energy code requirements of the 2012/15 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), some builders are finding that passing that all-important blower door test is their biggest challenge. As we’ve reported earlier this year, only 40 to 50 percent of new construction homes that must now meet the 3 ACH50 blower door target will pass the first test, but builders can increase the initial pass rate, according to Cosco Jones, owner of Jones Sustainable Solutions Group. Jones is a HERS rater who’s worked with more than a dozen builders to improve the energy performance of their new construction homes. He offered his advice to builders on how to not only increase the pass rate for blower door testing but also reduce their costs in the process.
On Codes: Taking Training Seriously
Like many other building science and energy efficiency consultants we’ve spoken with about the challenge of meeting new blower door testing requirements, Jones is adamant that getting a better pass rate on an initial blower door tests means that builders must take training seriously. He advises that builders work with a HERS rater and subs in the pre-construction process to hammer home the details and objectives.
Routinely, building scientists say that framers are critical to getting tighter home construction. Asked if framers are aware of their role in getting tighter homes though, Jones said, “it depends on how strong the builder’s team is. In some cases the team has already met with and trained the framers, electricians, and insulation contractors beforehand. If that’s not done, the builder may have to duplicate effort that will not only cost time but money, since failing a blower door test can mean paying another fee to have the home tested again.”
Builders Should Witness the Test and Meet with the Trades
Builders shouldn’t stop at training the trades. Jones also thinks that builders need to experience the blower door test for themselves.
“Experiencing a blower door test is a great opportunity to teach and show builders the value of the test as well as the level of scrutiny that HERS raters typically bring to inspecting the job,” Jones said. “I always like to walk the house and find examples of air infiltration and let the builder/super feel the air movement with their own hands so that they’ll know where the problem areas are.”
That’s a great way to educate the builder, but as the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s where the pre-construction training really makes the difference. “The rater should meet with the builder and their subs during the pre-construction process to cover their respective roles in achieving whatever the target is – whether it’s a green construction certification like Energy Star or HERS, or a code-built home in a state that has adopted new, more stringent energy codes,” Jones notes.
Thinking Beyond Codes
To gain a competitive edge, Jones keeps informed about the latest energy efficiency technologies and is a regular presence at industry meetings, including RESNET’s annual Building Performance Conference. These days, he’s particularly interested in technologies that can help advance the home building industry, including building information modeling for smart homes and blockchain technology to monitor energy usage and distribute tokens for saving energy. He also believes there’s room to reduce the administrative costs for green building programs.
“Energy efficient building is continuously evolving, and there’s plenty of room to leverage new technology to help cut the cost of green building programs,” he said. “Scale and efficiency always play a part in cost reduction and using new technologies in home building will benefit builders and buyers in the long run.”