By Ben Graham, RESNET QAD/Rater, LEED QAD/Green Rater, ICC Plans Examiner – Project Manager of Energy Ratings and Field Services
Energy Star New Homes certification has long been the first stop for builders wanting to go above and beyond code. The Energy Star program is a foundational piece for many other green rating and certification systems such as Enterprise Green Communities, LEED for Homes, DOE Zero Energy Ready, and Passive House Institute US (PHIUS+). Believe it or not, way back in 1995, Energy Star version 1 came out as a set of guidelines. Then in 2006, version 2 started phasing in with its now-infamous Thermal Bypass Checklist.
Version 3 kicked off in 2011, which once again raised the bar for the program. New to v3 was required annual quality assurance oversight. In the 10 years since v3 kicked off, there have been 11 revisions. The field verification criteria have evolved to provide a level of quality oversight worthy of the blue star logo. Version 3 also marked the release of the Energy Star Multifamily High-Rise Program (ES MFHR), which included multiple pathways for mid-rise and high-rise buildings.
As the program grew to open the certification up to more building types, the different pathways and requirements became more confusing to existing partners and deterred others from pursuing Energy Star. The EPA realized this, and in 2017 started an initiative to consolidate the rating systems into two main paths: the existing Energy Star Residential New Construction Program (ES RNC) and Energy Star Multifamily New Construction (ES MFNC).
ES RNC is now only applicable for single-family detached homes, duplexes, and row homes (earlier this could be used for apartment buildings up to 4 stories). All other permutations of multifamily projects of any height will follow the ES MFNC path as of July 1, 2021.
The ES MFNC program places importance on common-space efficiency and commissioning, so there are new mandatory requirements for all the systems present in the building. The program identifies a ‘functional testing agent’ as a new partner in the certification process who is responsible for commissioning the systems outside of the dwelling units that a HERS rater may not be capable of.
The new ES MFNC program borrows a little from the previous Energy Star New Homes Program and a little from Energy Star Multifamily High Rise Program to allow projects to choose one of three paths to certification: ASHRAE path, ERI path (HERS), and Prescriptive path. The ERI path is now allowed for buildings of any height as RESNET also now allows HERS Ratings on dwelling units in buildings of any size. You will still be working with a HERS rater but only with the ERI path will the Rater and their HERS provider be providing the QA oversight and final certification. Like the ES MFHR program, the ASHRAE and Prescriptive paths will submit to a Multifamily Review Organization for the final document review and certification.
In our industry, it seems that change is the only constant. Unlike complicated code amendments or new, bulky program roll-out, we at PCD believe this change to the Energy Star program clarifies, simplifies, and improves. Collectively our team has over 30 years working on Energy Star projects and we are happy to see the sunset on the old ES High Rise program and welcome this change to our favorite residential energy efficiency program. We love to share our expertise so please contact us to help you with ES MFNC on your project.