For anyone who has suffered at home through drafty winter nights or sweltering summer days, you already know the hidden utility costs of poor insulation and energy guzzling heating, air conditioning, and hot water systems. Does that flyer from the electric or gas company urging you to conduct energy surveys always seem to find its way into your trash can simply because you believe that any fixes to ameliorate such inefficiencies will be too costly?

The green building movement in the U.S. is taking off, and for less than you might imagine, you can now take advantage of the many significant improvements in home energy design that can affordably and cost-effectively reduce your daily energy use, vastly improve daily comfort, and even add to the resale value of your home.

Energy efficiency integration is by no means a novel concept in building construction. The ancient Romans employed many simple construction techniques to take advantage of site locations and building orientation; insulation; passive solar energy; and masonry heat absorption, storage, and release just to name a few. Modern materials, products, and techniques have evolved to the point that green building contractors are able to update older building systems so that the return on investment is significant over a shorter time frame while enabling the homeowner to increase the house’s energy efficiency and enjoy greater comfort regardless of the season.

A green contractor knowledgeable about building science can consult, design, and improve the energy efficiency of a home while preserving the key architectural, and in the case of antique houses, historically significant features while simultaneously addressing the many important green building features that can refocus active and passive energy use by incorporating modern construction techniques and environmentally friendly and sustainable materials to achieve an ideal combination of building comfort, beauty, style, function, design, and efficiency.

For example, your green builder should be familiar with the Residential Energy Services Network’s (“RESNET”) Home Energy Rating System (“HERS”), a standardized energy performance grading system that can be used to measure and diagnose current construction and design inefficiencies contributing to energy waste and create a benchmark against which any new improvements can be measured. RESNET is a nationally recognized and independent non-profit organization that establishes standards for rating building energy efficiency and certifying raters to conduct these energy assessments.

HERS ratings are performed by an independent certified RESNET rater, who will review all of the home systems and assign a relative performance score. The lower the number, the greater the home’s energy efficiency. Thus, a home with a HERS Index Score of 70 is 30% more energy efficient than a standard new home, which would typically be scored at 100. HERS ratings are based on a series of scientific diagnostic tests using sophisticated instruments such as infrared cameras and duct leakage sensors to assess the location and amount of air leakage in the building envelope, leakage in the home’s duct systems, and the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of wall and ceiling insulation. Tested areas would include both the obvious and oftentimes overlooked energy parasites founds in many homes such as floor spaces over unheated garages and basements; attics and foundation crawlspaces; gaps around windows, vents, doors, ducts and light and electrical fixtures; hot water heating systems, and thermostat controls. The end result is a computerized simulation analysis using RESNET’s Accredited Rating Software to calculate your home’s rating score on the HERS Index. It also includes a detailed cost/benefit analysis for any recommended improvements and the expected return on investment so that the homeowner can be well-informed about what the major energy efficiency concerns are and, armed with this report, work with a green builder to correct these deficiencies and make related improvements that will further increase your home’s value while enhancing your daily comfort.

The green building movement is gaining momentum in the U.S., and now homeowners can readily access excellent tools and talent to take full advantage of modern building energy assessments, construction techniques, materials, and products to achieve an unparalleled combination of energy and cost-efficiency and comfort – all by consulting with a knowledgeable and experienced green contractor.