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2023 Recap: RESNET® HERS® Index Builders of the Month

Nov 22, 2023 BuildersGeneralProvidersRaters

We begin and end the class of 2023 RESNET® HERS® Builder of the Month series with builders that are not only providing homes but also building towards the future. In between, we have large production builders with over 5,000 homes built annually, and custom builders averaging a couple of homes per year with HERS Ratings.

The class covers almost half of the country, in 21 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington). In addition, some builders have achieved zero energy and beyond, including one with a HERS Score on a recent build of -13.

Massachusetts builder Stephens and Company describes its team as “fiscal environmentalists,” who take their impact on the sensitive environment of our beautiful island very seriously, while never losing sight of ways to save their customers money. Additionally, HERS ratings are required by Massachusetts’ building energy Stretch Codes, which emphasize energy efficiency and push builders across the state to consider the carbon cost of every project carefully. To further counter their carbon footprint, Stephens & Company recently announced its commitment to plant one tree for every square footage of homes they build via RESNET and One Tree Pledge. To date, the company has pledged to help plant 32,401 trees worldwide.

February’s profile was of David Weekley Homes, the number 18 builder on the Builder Top 100 list in 2022. Headquartered in Houston, TX, the company currently operates in 19 cities and 12 states across the nation and has closed more than 110,000 homes since its inception. With the HERS score, “Going beyond claims, we can show actual evidence that their energy-efficient home will help [their customers] save on utility bills every month”.

Founded in 1988, Arizona’s VIP Homes is family-owned and operated, and builds around 30 homes a year. They like to highlight the fact that “VIP Homes consistently outperform the averages in the Home Energy Rating System (HERS)” and say that their homeowners often report their utility bills have never been lower and they haven’t had to raise their thermostat to get there.

Many builders know of the value of HERS from their previous jobs. Owner Rob Howard of Howard Building Science is a HERS Rater with over 20 years of experience in the construction industry, working as the former Sustainability Building Specialist at Habitat for Humanity International, and the former Director of Construction at Habitat for Humanity of Catawba Valley. After working on ENERGY STAR homes for years, he decided to go off on his own as an independent builder-developer. His goal is to build 20 to 30 HERS-rated homes a year.

Another experienced owner is John Jamison, President of Kansas builder First Choice Custom Homes. Together, John and his staff have over 60 years of combined construction experience. Building HERS-rated homes not only meets the requirement of many local jurisdictions in Kansas, but First Choice believes it is their responsibility to do their part in providing each customer with an energy-efficient home and to help save resources. To date they have built and re-modeled over 100 custom homes in the Kansas City area.

Some custom homes are smaller in size, while some are quite a bit bigger. In business for over 30 years, Indiana custom home builder O’Connor Builders builds homes ranging from $150,000 to $1.5 million with dimensions of 1000 – 5000 square feet. Regardless of the house size, the team at O’Connor Builders knows that energy isn’t cheap and will continue to cost more. They believe HERS ratings really do give a good perspective of energy usage prior to purchasing a home.

Instead of purchasing, many consumers are choosing to rent. The Build-to-Rent market is growing, and those builders are also interested in cost savings and sustainability for their customers. The July RESNET HERS Builder of the Month, AMH, is a real estate investment trust focused on acquiring, developing, renovating, leasing, and managing homes as rental properties. Robert Broad, AMH SVP of Development shared in their profile, “As a leading national builder of single-family rental homes, we recognize the importance of implementing environmental sustainability into the design and construction of new homes. By submitting our homes to HERS® rating, we can quantify our sustainable development efforts and develop homes built for long-term performance and endurance.” The average HERS® score among the 2,183 AMH single-family rental homes built in 2022 was 61.9.

As mentioned, some builders in Massachusetts and Kansas use the HERS Index to meet local or state code requirements. In Texas, legislation was signed in late 2021, allowing builders to use HERS Index scores for energy code compliance across the state. George Mock, General Manager at luxury custom builder Everlasting Homes Building Group believes the legislation will increase awareness of the HERS Index. He believes appraisers will be a big part of HERS® ratings and getting higher appraisals based on energy efficiency will be on everyone’s mind.

We featured another Texas luxury custom home builder, Thoroughbred Custom Homes, in the September RESNET HERS Builder of the Month profile. Evan Kozak, President of Thoroughbred Custom Homes notes that while energy efficient homes are frequently looked at from a cost savings perspective, however, there is more to it. Homes that are built tighter, with better insulation and high-efficiency appliances also provide the occupants with a more comfortable and healthier home as well.

Pearl Homes of Florida believes that ultimately, a home that is HERS®-rated delivers to the homeowner a healthy and comfortable indoor environment, durability for the lifetime of the home (resulting in lower long-term maintenance costs), and a home with maximized operational efficiency. Their recent development, Hunters Point is a community of 86 solar-powered, net-positive homes.  The homes are designed to create more power than they consume, with excess energy stored in a battery in each home, and the battery powers the home every day after sunset. The HERS index score for the Hunters Point home is -13. They also plan to use the new RESNET Carbon Index to communicate how homeowners can help lower their environmental footprint for the lifetime of the home.

While some parts of the country embrace HERS ratings, not every part of the country is focused on energy efficiency, but that is changing. We end the year’s Builder of the Month roundup with Homes Inc., a nonprofit builder providing affordable and efficient housing solutions to distressed communities in Eastern Kentucky through new construction, home repair, solar system installations, and rental opportunities. Executive Director Seth Long notes the impact of their work, “Historically, energy efficiency has not been a priority in our region, and there tends to be a general skepticism towards green building techniques and sustainable housing efforts. We have seen families move into a new HERS-rated home and save nearly enough on their energy bills to pay the principal payment on their loans. Our customers are surprised by how affordable our homes are to operate and how comfortable they are to live in. Seeing is believing, they tell their family and friends about their homes, and our customers can be our best salespeople.”

As we head into the fifth year of the Builder of the Month profile series, we at RESNET are pleased to continue to see how builders of all volumes, from across the country, are using the HERS Index to serve their customers, and the environment, while helping to lead the path to net-zero energy future. Stay tuned for more builder profiles in 2024.