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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
There are two program versions that multifamily projects with any number of stories may use to earn ZERH certification:
- Projects permitted before 1/1/2025 are eligible to earn ZERH certification under ZERH Version 1, Revision 9 or ZERH Multifamily Version 2.
- Projects permitted on or after 1/1/2025 are eligible to earn ZERH certification under ZERH Multifamily Version 2.
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. While DOE ZERH Version 1, Revision 8 (which is limited to 5 stories) is in effect for projects permitted in 2023, projects certifying under Version 1, Revision 9 or Multifamily Version 2 (both of which have no story limit) are deemed to meet Version 1, Revision 8 where that revision is required. Version 1, Revision 9 is required for multifamily projects permitted in 2024, and Multifamily Version 2 is required for projects permitted after December 31, 2024.
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.
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.
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.