On Earth Day 2022, more homeowners appear to be thinking globally and acting locally when it comes to home energy consumption, much of which is claimed by HVAC systems.

Organizations involved in auditing homes for energy use, grading them for comfort, healthfulness, and energy efficiency, or certifying that home builders are taking steps to turn out energy-efficient spaces, are reporting an increase in interest in their services.

The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), a not-for-profit corporation that develops nationally recognized standards for building energy efficiency, saw record activity in 2021, when more than 313,000 homes were rated according to its HERS (Home Energy Rating System) index. That was an increase of more than 4% from 2020, when 299,755 homes were rated; the 2020 total was a 24% jump from the previous year.

“It is inspiring to see how the residential new construction community continued to drive energy efficiency in 2020 and 2021, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, labor shortages, and the anxiety over the U.S. economy,” said Valerie Briggs, RESNET communications director.

As of 2015, 55% of the energy used in homes was consumed by heating and cooling, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

More than 3.5 million homes in the U.S. have been HERS-rated since RESNET introduced the system in 2006. Most home HERS ratings are completed for new construction, although the owners of existing homes can find a path to greater energy efficiency through a HERS inspection, Briggs said.

“Everybody deserves an energy-efficient, comfortable, high-performing home.”
Cynthia Adams
CEO and co-founder, Pearl Certification

“Everybody deserves an energy-efficient, comfortable, high-performing home,” said Cynthia Adams, CEO and co-founder of Pearl Certification, a company that helps homeowners, real estate professionals, and builders understand and document the value of high-performing homes and their assets, such as highly efficient HVAC systems or solar panels.

An inspection by a Pearl rater is often a homeowner’s first step toward major upgrades, such as a new HVAC system, better insulation, or new windows.

For Adams, who once worked as a “green” builder and was later the climate protection coordinator for the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, Pearl’s mission is also one of good stewardship.

“We’ve got one planet to live on,” she said.

Pearl entered the market in 2018, and more than 76,000 homes have been Pearl-certified since then. Adams said Pearl is “definitely seeing an uptick” in interest; she attributes some of that to what’s happening in a real estate market in which homeowners are increasingly concerned about the value of their homes.

Pearl is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the DOE as an administrator of the Home Performance with Energy Star program for existing homes.

At RESNET, the HERS index is designed to be an easy-to-understand grading system for energy efficiency, with a lower number representing greater efficiency. A home built to 2006 energy efficiency standards is rated at 100, representing the baseline; a home rated higher than that would be considered less efficient, and a home rated lower would be considered more efficient.

According to RESNET’s most recent annual report, the average HERS rating of a home scored in 2021 was 58, meaning that average home was 42% more efficient than the one built to 2006 standards.

“Homeowners are increasingly demanding energy efficiency in their homes,” said Briggs.

At the Building Performance Institute, a nonprofit resource center and certification agency for those working in building efficiency, comfort, durability, health, and safety, officials are also seeing greater demand.

BPI offers testing and certifications in more than a dozen building health specialties, including energy auditing, air conditioning, heating, and duct leakage. CEO Larry Zarker said that although they dipped somewhat at the start of the pandemic, the number of certifications issued by BPI has been climbing in recent months; BPI reported 256 certifications issued in January 2022 and 338 — a 32% month-over-month increase — issued in February.

Zarker noted that the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was recently passed, includes $40 million for energy auditor training, plus money for home weatherization and other programs intended to make homes more energy efficient.

“We need to weatherize homes, because buildings are a huge source of energy use in this country,” Zarker said.