I am a builder and I want to build and certify a Zero Energy Ready Home. What should I do first?
Most ZERH builders initially build and certify homes under the ENERGY STAR Residential New Construction program. Because ENERGY STAR certification is a prerequisite for ZERH certification, this is a good place to start.
Next, builders should review the ZERH program requirements, which include the mandatory requirements of ENERGY STAR and Indoor airPLUS from the EPA along with other requirements established by DOE. Once you understand these components, you can become a program partner by registering here. Next, find a rater to work with you throughout your design and construction process. DOE has a public list of program partners, including raters (called verifiers on the listing) here. Your rater will walk you through the process of building and certifying a Zero Energy Ready Home!
Finally, builders new to the ZERH can review program training resources on the program website.
I see that I need an ENERGY STAR certification to be eligible for a ZERH certification. Is there any guidance on ENERGY STAR?
If you're brand new to the ZERH program, it's great to first work towards an ENERGY STAR certification! EPA provides lots of resources for builders who want to get started with either a single family or a multifamily project. Take a look at the Introduction to the ENERGY STAR Single-Family New Homes Program and the Introduction to the ENERGY STAR Multifamily New Construction Program to get started!
How do I get my home through the ZERH certification process?
After you have designed a home according to the ZERH program requirements, work with your rater to ensure that the home will qualify for ZERH certification based on your design. After the home’s construction, the rater will come on site to perform site testing and inspections, ensuring that the as-built home matches the modeled design and meets all mandatory requirements. If the rater determines that the home fulfills these requirements, they will send their report to their rating company’s oversight organization (an HCO or MRO for ZERH). The oversight organization approves the rater’s documentation and will send the rated home information to DOE to be recorded. After the oversight organization approves the rater’s documentation, the rater may give the builder or homeowner their ZERH certificate.
Do I have to pay to participate in the program?
DOE does not charge fees to become a ZERH program partner or to certify projects under the ZERH program. Builders and/or developers will work with Raters throughout the ZERH design and certification process, and raters can charge varying amounts for their services related to ZERH certification. Raters perform a third-party verification, which is an essential part of quality assurance for ZERH certifications. While it is an added cost, this quality assurance allows builders to confidently market ZERH-certified homes to buyers.
Is ZERH a zero-energy program?
While achieving zero energy performance is not required for all ZERH certifications, the program's intent is to ensure that zero energy performance is feasible for certified homes at the time of construction or at any point in the future. Some (but not all) ZERH projects achieve zero energy performance beginning with completing the baseline program requirements for energy conservation, efficiency, durability, performance, and indoor air quality, which together ensure high performance and low energy demand. The next steps that many ZERH projects take, but which are not required, include converting to all-electric and adding renewables to offset any remaining energy use (e.g., rooftop solar, community solar, etc.). Ensuring that a building is highly energy efficient before adding renewable energy into the mix lowers the demands on the electrical grid (including peak demand) and paves the way for a smoother transition to all-electric (and all-renewable) energy.
How can multifamily building projects taller than 5 stories participate in the DOE Zero energy ready home program?
DOE is in the process of developing the ZERH Multifamily Version 2 program requirements in which multifamily buildings of any height will be eligible to participate in the ZERH program. While these requirements are not yet available for use, there are some steps that builders and developers can take now to prepare for the launch of the ZERH Multifamily Version 2 program requirements:
- Assess the ability of multifamily projects to meet the ENERGY STAR Multifamily New Construction (ESMFNC) program. ENERGY STAR certification is a prerequisite for DOE ZERH certification, so projects meeting ZERH-MF V2 in the future will also need to meet ESMFNC Version 1.2. Builders and developers not already participating in ESMFNC V1.2 can begin this process now.
- Assess the ability of multifamily projects to meet the EPA’s Indoor airPLUS (IAP) program (Version 1). ZERH-MF V2 is likely to require certification under the IAP V1 standards, just like the ZERH Version 2 program for single family homes does.
- Participate in the stakeholder comment process for ZERH-Multifamily V2. This will allow stakeholders to review the draft ZERH-MF V2 requirements and provide feedback. DOE will announce the draft program requirements and solicit stakeholder feedback in Q2 of 2023. To receive updates on the ZERH-Multifamily Version 2 public comment process, please sign up for the ZERH mailing list (at the bottom of the main program page).
Is the 45L Tax Credit limited to 3-story buildings and below?
No, the 3-story limit was for the old 45L tax credit ($2,000) which expired in 2022. The 45L tax credits active today are based on EPA’s ENERGY STAR and DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) certification programs, with higher incentives - up to $2,500 for ENERGY STAR certification and up to $5,000 for ZERH certification. Multifamily building eligibility for these programs is not limited to 3 stories. The ENERGY STAR Multifamily New Construction program has NO story limit. The DOE ZERH program Version 1, Rev.08 requirements effective in 2023 are limited to 5 stories. The new ZERH Multifamily Version 2 program, scheduled to go into effect later in 2023 (and the 45L requirement for 2024), is modeled after the ENERGY STAR Multifamily New Construction program and will also have NO story limit. The ZERH MF V2 draft program requirements are available for comment until May 15, 2023.
Why is ZERH multifamily Version 2 listed as the required certification for projects seeking the 45L tax credit in 2024 and 2025?
DOE understands that this is a short timeframe for industry to implement ZERH MF V2 in multifamily building projects. On the ZERH webpage 45L Tax Credits for Zero Energy Ready Homes, ZERH Multifamily Version 2 is listed as the required ZERH certification for dwellings in multifamily buildings acquired in 2024 and 2025. This is consistent with the approach for single family homes, with ZERH for Single Family Homes Version 2 being the required program version for projects acquired in 2024 and 2025. By requiring ZERH Version 2 program requirements for both Single Family and Multifamily buildings, there is a consistent level of energy efficiency required to qualify for the tax credit for both building types.
Additionally, 45L tax credit eligibility for dwelling units in multifamily buildings is based on ENERGY STAR Multifamily New Construction (ESMFNC) program requirements, including multifamily buildings of any height. The ZERH Multifamily Version 2 program requirements expand program eligibility to buildings of any height and have been aligned with the most recent version of the ESMFNC eligibility provisions (Version 1.2). Allowing ZERH Version 1 as the 45L certification requirement for some multifamily buildings in 2024 and 2025 would have introduced inconsistency compared with both ZERH SF V2 and ESMFNC. By requiring ZERH MF Version 2 for 45L for projects acquired in 2024 and 2025, there are consistent rules for building eligibility in both tiers of 45L and consistent levels of energy efficiency within the ZERH program.
Note that this FAQ is focused on the ZERH national program requirements, while projects in California will follow California-specific program standards. All ZERH program requirements can be reviewed on the ZERH Program Requirements website.
How much does a manufactured home certification cost?
DOE does not charge a certification fee for Zero Energy Ready Home certification. As with the ENERGY STAR for Manufactured New Homes program, the certification processes were designed to fit seamlessly with HUD Code inspection processes. Additional certification inspections required for ENERGY STAR and Zero Energy Ready Home certification are conducted by EPA/DOE recognized Quality Assurance Providers (QAPs). Fees for these services are negotiated between the manufacturer and their QAP.
How do DOE ZERH requirements for manufactured homes compare with ENERGY STAR?
DOE Zero Energy Ready Home requirements for Manufactured Homes (ZERH MH V1) are based on the new ENERGY STAR for Manufactured New Homes Version 3 (ES MH V3) program requirements and certification process. Both programs were launched in December, 2022. ZERH MH V1 requirements were developed to be about 8% more stringent than ES MH V3.
How much will it cost a manufacturer to build manufactured homes to DOE ZERH requirements?
The additional cost to build certified DOE Zero Energy Ready Homes will depend on a variety of factors that can only be determined by the manufacturer. DOE estimates the cost premium will be well below the $5,000 tax credit per home, once a manufacturer commits a factory to building to this new high-performance level and implements the required changes. The incremental hard costs – additional material and high-efficiency equipment cost premiums - can be below $5,000 and may be partially off-set by volume purchasing and process efficiency improvements. While the short-term costs associated with changing designs and production, QA process modifications, and training factory workers can add up, most of these “learning” costs are temporary and result in superior homes. With the $5,000 federal tax incentive, there’s never been a better time for manufacturers to improve their product lines.