Want to save money on a green home renovation? Hire a HERS rater.

The best say to save money on a green home renovation is to hire a knowledgeable HERS rater.

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    The renovation of Sheep Dog Hollow is coming along nicely.
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Coming back to Sheep Dog Hollow after a two-week hiatus, I’m struck by how much progress has been made. Suddenly, the old farmhouse has begun to look as I imagined that first day I saw it last summer.

The cedar shake roof is on – although it still needs work, the new Low-E energy-efficient windows have been installed and trimmed, and the carpenters are now busily putting on the cedar clapboard siding.

It almost looks finished, like a real house someone could live in!

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During the second week of April, the insulation contractors arrive to start spraying in the foam insulation – just in time for tax day. And since April 15 is just around the corner, and the clapboard installation has produced a bit of a lull in the “greening” aspects of the renovation, I thought I’d revisit the various rebates and tax incentives available for those who take the green plunge.

Let me begin with a mea culpa. When I first started this project and blog I arrogantly thought I could do it without hiring a “green expert” – I was going to go it alone, do all the research myself, and save Martin and me some money.

Well, it turns out I was being not just penny-wise and pound-foolish, but at least $10,000 worth of foolish.

When I starting looking seriously at the available tax credits for installing energy-efficient materials, various contractors also started mentioning assorted rebate programs for which we were potentially eligible.

These were things I didn’t even know existed, such as the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund and cash – yes, cash rebates – from our electric utility for improving our insulation.

But to become eligible for any of them, as well as any tax credits, we needed to have something called a HERS rating.

HERS stands for Home Energy Rating System. It's based on a standard developed by the Residential Energy Services Network. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program uses it to qualify homes for Energy Star benefits (like the tax credits), and its website explains a HERS rating this way:

A home energy rating involves an analysis of a home’s construction plans and onsite inspections. Based on the home’s plans, the Home Energy Rater uses an energy efficiency software package to perform an energy analysis of the home’s design. This analysis yields a projected, pre-construction HERS Index. Upon completion of the plan review, the rater will work with the builder to identify the energy efficiency improvements needed to ensure the house will meet ENERGY STAR performance guidelines. The rater then conducts onsite inspections, typically including a blower door test (to test the leakiness of the house) and a duct test (to test the leakiness of the ducts). Results of these tests, along with inputs derived from the plan review, are used to generate the HERS Index score for the home.

Basically, the HERS rater is that vital “green expert” who knows the green standard and can give your house a score that’s accepted not just by the Internal Revenue Service, but mortgage companies, local utilities, and many state tax credit and rebate programs as well.

I mentioned our HERS rater, Robert Matto, in an earlier blog post about insulation. He has turned out to know his stuff better than some contractors – from quality ductwork sealing to best types of insulation for different parts of the house.

But he’s also an invaluable guide to help us save money and take advantage of all of the incentives out there designed to get homeowners to go green. I can honestly say that without his guidance, we may have left as much as $15,000 in rebates uncollected.

And Martin, who was not hot on the green idea in the first place – “It’ll cost a fortune!” – would not have been happy about that.

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Alexandra Marks blogs twice a week about her green and budget-friendly restoration of a 1902 farmhouse in Connecticut. Click here to find all her blog posts and articles.

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