We at Advanced Energy have been supporting and contributing to the residential market for 40 years. Thanks to our flexibility and partnerships with professionals from across the industry — from owners to contractors to builders to program implementers to electric utilities — we have helped ensure that new and existing homes are healthy, safe, comfortable, durable, energy efficient and environmentally responsible.
Building Codes and Standards
Some of our most influential work over the decades has been around market transformation, with our efforts helping to ease the implementation of new building codes and standards. This journey kicked off in 1989, when we hosted the Residential Energy Forum. The three-day gathering brought together representatives from 21 organizations — encompassing governmental agencies, academic institutions, utilities, trade associations and more — to define the characteristics of a high-performance home. Our residential mantra for all homes — healthy, safe, comfortable, durable, energy efficient and environmentally responsible — was developed at this event.
One year later, in 1990, we applied the standards established at the Residential Energy Forum in a five-home new construction pilot and then wrote up the guidelines in a field guide for builders. Fast forward a few more years, and we partnered with other building science leaders, including Louisiana-Pacific and the Masco Corporation, to help design the Engineered for Life and Environments for Living new home guarantee programs. (Guarantee programs offer assurances for high-quality installations through measurements such as comfort and heating and cooling energy usage.)
Given our leadership and expertise in the industry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached out to us about evaluating the performance of its ENERGY STAR® for New Homes program standard. In 2005, we took our research to Phoenix, Arizona, and in 2009 to Houston, Texas, where we compared ENERGY STAR homes with homes built to building code and homes built to the Environments for Living standards. The studies revealed that ENERGY STAR homes performed similarly to code-built homes, and based on this realization, ENERGY STAR improved its program specifications.
In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) required states to update their building codes. We recognized the importance of educating others about these changes, so we invested in instruction and outreach to support contractors, subcontractors, code officials, real estate professionals and others. For example, we worked with regional energy efficiency organizations to develop the Success with guide series. This resource took code requirements and other complex residential materials and simplified them with a visual, photo-based format. The tool has been customized for different components and audiences and has been delivered to building professionals throughout the U.S.
Around this same time, we worked with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to help outline Standard Work Specifications to increase the number of successful retrofit measures installed for various types of housing construction. We brought together subject matter experts from across the country to write the standards — which define the minimum requirements for ensuring that work performed during home energy upgrades is effective, durable and safe — from scratch, and they are still in use today.
One of our most significant efforts promoting market transformation concerned closed (unvented) crawl spaces. In the mid-2000s, we received a federal grant to study insulated crawl spaces without vents to the outside. We found that these spaces can significantly improve moisture control and energy efficiency in our state, and we worked with the NC Building Code Council to make them easier to install through the North Carolina building code. Other states have made similar changes to their codes to support closed crawl spaces, and they are now approved options for above-code programs across the country. This research has also indirectly supported economic development in North Carolina, as the acceptance of closed crawl spaces has resulted in a new local industry.
Recognizing the successes we had working on high-performance, market-rate homes, we decided to apply the same framework to the affordable housing market. Affordable housing was not a new arena for us — we had previously supported the industry by helping to craft energy efficiency guidelines for Habitat for Humanity and manufactured housing — but in the late 1990s we took our involvement one step further. Specifically, we partnered with the North Carolina Community Development Initiative and later the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency (NCHFA) to start the SystemVision program, which officially launched in 2001.
SystemVision helps ensure that new homes are healthy, safe, comfortable, durable, energy efficient and affordable, and it remains the nation’s only affordable housing guarantee program. The program supports developers, builders and skilled trades in designing, constructing and marketing affordable homes, and to date, it has certified nearly 6,000 in North Carolina. In 2015, we broadened SystemVision to include existing homes, and we also contribute to the NCHFA’s Supportive Housing Development Program and Home Performance with ENERGY STAR.
Another affordable housing initiative we have contributed to is the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Weatherization Assistance Program. For example, in the mid-2010s, we convened experts from across the country to gather feedback on the program, which we used to provide recommendations for how the DOE could incrementally improve its operation in the future.
Education and Outreach
Knowledge-sharing and knowledge-building have long been core components of our residential work. Since the 1980s, we have promoted understanding into specific home components, helping the marketplace (e.g., homeowners, contractors, manufacturers, code officials, health professionals and realtors) learn about and implement cost-effective and energy efficient water heaters, insulation, air sealing measures, HVAC equipment, smart home devices and more.
Starting in 2004, we began providing guidance to homeowners through public consulting, and in 2018, we launched the Advanced Energy at Home website as another way to share information about improving energy efficiency, comfort, moisture and indoor air quality.
For several years in the mid-2000s, we hosted the North Carolina Sustainable Building Design Competition to get younger generations involved in the industry. This event evaluated designs for sustainability and environmentally friendly residential buildings developed by college and technical school students. We also organized and delivered the Residential Construction Summit, formerly known as Rater Camp, which gathered local residential building science professionals to network and discuss updates and challenges in the new and existing homes industries.
In 2012, we launched our HVAC contractor credentialing program. This offering represents an affordable and supportive way for HVAC contractors to obtain the credentials they need to perform installations as part of the ENERGY STAR Certified New Homes program.
In addition, we have taken our expertise on the road to train electric utilities and co-ops, real estate professionals, builders, contractors, skilled trades and more. Our trainings combine classroom instruction with hands-on field exposure to provide a thorough overview of building codes, principles and real-world experiences.
In our early days, we provided multi-day HVAC trainings to technicians, utility field personnel and community college instructors, and we ran the Duct School, a two-week course for heating and air conditioning technicians on saving energy and improving homeowner comfort through HVAC duct diagnostics and repair. Furthermore, as new retrofit programs were starting up in the wake of ARRA funding, we worked with the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance to train contractors and conduct quality assurance on completed home retrofits. At the same time, we have provided statewide training and contractor support for a variety of Duke Energy, Progress Energy and North Carolina electric co-op residential programs.
We at Advanced Energy remain committed to the residential market. As our living conditions change and new developments and technologies arise, we’ll continue to be there for research, education and partnerships well into the future.