HomeStar Primer: The Issues & a Fix?

In our previous article on the HomeStar program, we provided a brief primer on the program, included a copy of the actual bill, and pointed out some of the good aspects of it. In that article we also pointed out some major issues with the program that we feel should be addressed. In this article I would like to concentrate on just two of them; the Gold Star Contractor requirement, and should some of the items listed in the Silver Star program actually be moved over to the Gold Star program?

The Gold Star contractor requirement:

SEC. 4. CONTRACTORS. (b) Contractor Qualifications for Gold Star Home Energy Retrofit Program- A contractor may perform retrofit work under the Gold Star Home Energy Retrofit Program in a State for which rebates are provided under this Act only if the contractor–
(1) meets the requirements for qualified contractors under subsection (a); and
(2) is accredited–
(A) by the BPI; or
(B) under other standards approved by the Secretary, in consultation with the Administrator. 

Oops, here is one of the biggest issues destined to brand the program as a failure; there quite simply are not enough BPI Accredited firms as shown below in the following chart. While the chart shows that there are at least 471 Firms already qualified to perform “Gold Star” retrofits, over 90% of those qualified happen to be located in New York & New Jersey only.  If you happen to think that it will not be an issue to accredit more firms in a very short order, I would kindly point out that it takes the BPI 2 to 3 months currently to grade the tests and accredit any new contractors. If you are wondering if all the “Silver” rated ones could upgrade any easier, the short answer is no. If you browse through the lists, you will notice that most of them are not contractors, but consultants, schools, and local Community Action Groups that are listed as Building Analysts.

State Gold Silver   State Gold Silver
Alabama 0 3 Nebraska 0 0
Alaska 0 5 Nevada 0 7
Arizona 2 45 New Hampshire 1 29
Arkansas 0 0 New Jersey 156 41
California 4 60 New Mexico 0 5
Colorado 0 43 New York 276 215
Connecticut 3 43 North Carolina 0 29
Delaware 0 7 North Dakota 0 0
Washington DC 0 2 Ohio 1 64
Florida 1 2 Oklahoma 0 0
Georgia 0 28 Oregon 6 42
Hawaii 0 0 Pennsylvania 3 95
Idaho 0 3 Rhode Island 1 8
Illinois 0 32 South Carolina 0 18
Indiana 0 42 South Dakota 0 0
Iowa 0 0 Tennessee 0 3
Kansas 0 8 Texas 2 42
Kentucky 0 3 Utah 0 2
Louisiana 0 1 Vermont 0 58
Maine 0 44 Virginia 5 30
Maryland 4 49 Virgin Islands  0 0
Massachusetts 5 22 Washington 0 52
Michigan 1 14 West Virginia 0 3
Minnesota 0 2 Wisconsin 0 4
Mississippi 0 0 Wyoming 0 7
Missouri 0 59 Grand Total 471 1274
Montana 0 3
Silver Star vs. Gold Star

I feel that certain items listed in Silver Star program, should be handled under the Gold Star program based not only on the intent of the act, but due to health, safety, and other concerns.  While one can never design a house to tight, one can permanently affect the health of the house and occupants by not properly ventilating it, removing moisture, and / or utilizing the wrong materials.

  • Whole house air-sealing measures (BPI)
  • Attic insulation measures (BPI)
  • Duct sealing or replacement (BPI)
  • Wall insulation (BPI)
  • Crawl space insulation or basement wall and rim joist insulation (BPI)
  • Installation of Storm Windows (Must be listed as a historic house???)
  • Window Replacement
  • Door Replacement

That would leave three items on the Silver Star program; Heating system, Cooling system, and Water Heater replacements as the bill sits now.

(BPI): These items are required to meet an existing BPI installation standard to receive the rebate and are subject to a possible verification check

The fix:

First, I would recommend that repairing older wood windows should be included in the Silver list.  Currently as a nation, we throw away too many of the older windows with those sash weights in the name of progress. If we simply repaired them properly, replaced the weight with either a track or spring sash, insulated the old empty pockets, and added a storm window to it, most of these units would actually exceed the performance levels on many of the newer windows produced. If the goal of this program is to truly promote energy efficiency and savings, this is a needed item.

Now before all my Window Replacement buddies, decide that I should be strung up alive, I ask you to consider a few things. First, I know many of you actually hate removing the older windows, but because a tax break or program is the only reason that Joe the Homeowner can actually get them done – what can you do? Next, this proposal actually can increase the amount of the rebate from $1500 to at least $3000 with a cap at $8000. This is of course assuming that the claims many manufacturers make about saving a Homeowner 30% or more of the energy costs are accurate. Even if you are off by a 50%, you have still made the 20% mark required by the program & already doubled the Homeowners rebate.  

 Second, the requirement that all “Gold Star” contractors should be BPI certified, should simply be removed as not only is it unattainable, but it is does not help solve any of the current issues out there. Currently, a BPI or other approved auditor is only supposed to perform an audit and figure out what the contractor needs to do to meet the levels listed. The project is then subject to a possible third party verification audit depending on a few factors. I suggest instead that there should be two paths followed here

  • For the existing and future Gold Star BPI contractors – they can be hired directly by a Homeowner to not only perform the initial audit but also do all the work associated with their audit. When the contractor submits their first rebate, their work and numbers are automatically verified by an independent third party. For all the additional properties they work on, a certain percentage is audited / verified per the act. In the long run, I feel that this will not only reward the contractor, but also increase the numbers of BPI accredited contractors as they have less hoops to jump through.
  • For the second group, the initial audit should be completed by an approved auditor of the Home Owners choosing. The auditor should then meet with the contractor that the Home Owner chooses to provide the results, what needs to be accomplished, and the best way to do it to meet the goals. Depending on the work, an additional checkup might be required to verify that the contractor is doing the work properly. Once the work is completed, the auditor should then sign off on the verification that the work was completed properly and meets the target numbers provided. This is similar to the program currently utilized by many of the Weatherization programs around the country. Utilizing regular construction firms to not only do this work, but training them on what the standards are, and allowing them to see what a difference a simple bead of caulk makes – can you imagine the good that will come from that? I can see this having far-reaching impacts on all the other houses that contractor works on.
  • Michael

    It should also be pointed out that, as an engineer explained to me a few weeks ago, the only reason BPI is required at all is politics. BPI is not the only organization out there with an energy audit and retrofit program and companion auditor/contractor training program. Nor are they even the best or biggest, which is why there are so few trained contractors available. But BPI has been the one in Washington lobbying for the bill — and for their program to be the standard, of course.

    In all fairness, HERS, EnergyStar, LEED, and any number of other state programs should also be allowed to participate. I mean, for crine out loud! How far down the rabbit hole do we have to go here before the number of credentials a company and employee has to carry to do the exact same job becomes untenable? Is there really any difference between a “Gold Star BPI Contractor” and a “HERS Building Performance Contractor”? I doubt it. But as written, the HERS Building Performance Contractor would not be able to work on a home seeking rebates under this bill. S/he’d have to pay thousands of dollars to repeat (essentially) the same training, under the BPI name, to work for those customers.

    Making the certification and testing requirements generic, so that any certified testing program is qualifies for the rebates, is the only way to end the race for certification dollars. A race that adds costs that end up being passed on to the customer.

    • Sean

      Morning Michael, just a few quick points:

      First I agree with most of your points but, an Energy Star Contractor is only dealing with “new construction.” As I recall, the third party verifiers they are required to use are only HERS raters. Also to my knowledge, HERS is only a rating program, they don’t have a certified contractor program.

      LEED also follows the same lines as Energy Star. They also require a third party verifier, which used to be a HERS or BPI auditor – that has since changed or is in the process of changing as I recall. As for the politics, nobody holds a candle to these guys in this area.

      I am not to sure on the generic test for certifications – I truly think the battle has been fought and won. Do we really want to have 50 different certification tests out there, like is happening in the green rating arena? Besides, Energy Star & LEED, most “green” programs & “state” programs recognize BPI &/or HERS raters and utilize them as consultants & / or verifiers.

  • Sean

    Well, well – it appears that RESNET (they handle the HERS raters), last week announced an 8 hour certification process for contractors.

    Oh this is getting good… I am curious though, how much information they can actually get across in 8 hours, when a weatherization contractor requires 3 full days. I think BPI, and quite a few others will call this a simple feel good money grabbing scheme.