SmartRegs is an energy efficiency program that was implemented by the city of Boulder to take action in reducing the amount of energy and water used in the city’s rental housing properties. This was an update to the housing code, requiring all rental units to pass the SmartRegs inspection before December 31st, 2018. SmartRegs supports the climate commitment that the city has made to reduce pollution and energy usage. So if you own or manage rental properties as part of Boulder’s Rental License Program, you are on the radar for this program. Not to fear! At Scott Home Inspection, we have performed thousands of SmartRegs inspections and we can help you gain compliance in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.
What is involved in a SmartRegs inspection?
A SmartRegs inspection is essentially a home energy audit. It breaks down the house, condo or apartment into different categories, and analyzes each one to see how energy efficient the unit is as a whole. Boulder has simplified the process by creating point values for each category. The higher the points, the more energy is being saved. Here is a breakdown of each category with the most common point value ranges:
- Wall insulation/layout (10-24)
- Window and door quality (0-14)
- Attic/ceiling insulation (0-26)
- Flooring construction/insulation (6-15)
- Ducting/heating distribution construction (5-7)
- Heating system (13-17)
- Cooling system (0-6)
- Fan systems (0-2)
- Energy Efficient lighting (2-7)
- Hot Water systems (1-3)
- Refridgerator (1-3)
- Solar systems (40+)
- Occupant/other (1-2)
Additionally, there are 2 categories that have to do with air leakage that we will keep separate for now.
- Infiltration (Air tightness of your home) (2-6)
- Duct leakage (0-17)
The combination of all these categories has to add up to at least 100 points to achieve SmartRegs compliance.
During the inspection, we use the different categories to determine the score that each area will achieve, with the goal of achieving 100+ points or more. The inspector will visually inspect each component of the home and determine the amount of points for each area. For example, if you have new double-pane vinyl windows all throughout your rental unit, in most cases you will receive 13 points for the window category. This energy assessment of each category and associated scoring of energy efficiency features constitutes the bulk of the inspection.
As you can see, many of these categories have to do with the overall construction of your home. Upgrading items such as wall insulation, window types, and heating systems are pretty expensive improvements. These are sometimes necessary, but we tend to leave those as a last resort when consulting on how to gain more points. The best way to pass SmartRegs is to gain points where it is easiest first and then go from there. Let’s break down a few of the essential categories.
The most important make or break category: Attic insulation.
The largest point value category in the SmartRegs handbook is attic insulation. If you have a basic amount of attic insulation which is R-19, you get 24 points in this area. If you have less than that, you get 0. In our experience, if you get 0 points in this category there is almost no way to make it up anywhere else. So if you know that your unit does not have any attic insulation, we would advise you to add at least R-19 or more. Recommended levels of insulation in this area is at least R-38. Increasing insulation to this level or greater will give you the maximum SmartRegs points in this category. Not to mention this is one of the best ways to save energy and have a more comfortable home for your tenants.
If you are not familiar with R-values, it is an energy rating for insulation. The more insulation you have, the higher the R- Value. In this case, R-19 is about 6 inches or more of “blown-in” insulation products like fiberglass. So be aware of this category. If you are not sure how much insulation you currently have, we will find out during our baseline SmartRegs inspection. If you are looking for an insulation company, you can find some on our contractor referrals page.
The one exception to this rule is if the rental has a unit or heated space above it. This would give you shared ceilings and full points in SmartRegs since the space above the unit is heated.
The easiest and cheapest way to gain points: Lighting
One of the basic ways a home consumes energy is through the lighting, especially in a rental home where the average college student does not pay attention to whether the lights are turned off. The good news is not all light bulbs are created equally, and there have been serious advancements in light bulb technology over the years. The SmartRegs program awards points for the percentage of energy efficient light bulbs installed. These include fluorescent bulbs, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), and LED style bulbs. You can gain up to 7 points in this category just by switching out bulbs.
We recommend that you replace all the bulbs in the house with newer LED bulbs. SmartRegs points aside, LED bulbs usually last for 10+ years with regular usage, and they have the look and color of a regular light bulb. This will help with your SmartRegs inspection and give you the added benefit of never having to change bulbs for your tenants. To get started, here are LED light bulb recommendations:
Getting the most out of the Cooling Category.
Central AC units and other similar cooling devices use a ton of electricity. Older AC units bring down your SmartRegs score because they have very low energy efficiency ratings. If you have an older 10 SEER AC unit, you receive 0 points in this category. If you have no AC at all in the home, you gain 6 points.
A lesser known fact is that a window AC unit is likely rated lower than 10 SEER as well. This means that you are losing 6 points for having a non-permanent AC system installed in the home during the time of the inspection. If you permanently remove window AC units from the home before the inspection, we can give you the 6 extra points in this category. This can be an easy and effective way to gain points if you know your tenants are using window AC units.
The Air Leakage Categories:
If you have an initial baseline SmartRegs inspection performed on a unit, and you are still short on points, there are 2 additional testing services which can be performed to obtain more points.
Infiltration (AKA Blower Door Testing for SmartRegs)
The infiltration category is based on how air tight the rental property is. The fewer air leaks there are in the shell of the home, the more energy you will save on heating and cooling. As air escapes from the building “envelope” you are pulling in exterior air. In most months of the year, this is not energy efficient.
The way you test the air tightness of a home is by performing a blower door test. This is essentially a fan and a door assembly that is placed in an exterior doorway. The fan runs to depressurize the home, and a sample of how much air is being pulled out is taken. It is a fairly simple process that can take less than 20 minutes.
There are 7 available points in this SmartRegs category. When the city was creating the program, they understood that many of the homes would be older, and therefore likely less air tight. Because of this, you do not have to have the tightest house to gain points. Most homes tested gain between 4-6 points on average.
Scott Home Inspection offers Blower Door Testing as a separate service that can be performed after a SmartRegs Inspection, or to gain more points after you have your initial inspection with a different company. Find out more about our blower door tests here.
Understanding the Duct Leakage Category
The duct leakage category is just as it sounds. The more air tight the ducting is in a home, the more efficiently the heating and cooling system will operate. This is a general rule of thumb when it comes to homes that use forced air furnaces for their heat system.
That being said, not all homes or multi-unit properties have furnaces. Many have either a boiler or electric baseboard heating system. These systems do not have duct systems and they use radiators of some kind to distribute heat. So if you have a radiant heat system you get the full 17 points this category has to offer.
It is much more common for a home to have a furnace and duct system. For homes that need extra points, performing a duct leakage test can be one of the least expensive ways to gain several more points.
The test that the city uses for SmartRegs is called a “Duct Leakage to Outside” test. This takes into account that your ducts may not be air tight, but as long as they are leaking into the home and not outside you are still retaining that heat. If most of the duct system is within the heated areas, the home may be a good candidate for this test.
The way a duct leakage test is performed is by sealing the entire duct system at the heat registers, and connecting a fan to the return air side of the system. The ducts are depressurized while we depressurize the home with a blower door fan simultaneously. The operator will then take readings of how much air is being lost through the ducting.
Scott Home Inspection performs Duct Leakage tests as a separate service to help gain additional SmartRegs points. We can also evaluate your SmartRegs report and help decide whether or not your home would be a good candidate for this test. Contact us to schedule or ask a question about the process.
The Wild Card: Don’t forget about your water points.
The last category of the SmartRegs inspection is the Mandatory Water Conservation section. Water conservation points are calculated separately from the 100 energy points. Along with the 100 energy points, the city requires you to have 2 water points. As you can see in the table above, there are 6 different ways to achieve this.
Energy Star appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines get you both points needed and low flow or dual-flush toilets get you two points as well. If you have one of these installed already, then you are good to go. If not, the easiest way to get the points needed is to install low flow shower heads and faucet aerators in your bathrooms. These need to be rated below a specific GPM. (gallons per minute)
- Shower Heads: Below 2.0 GPM
- Faucet Aerators: Below 1.5 GPM
You can find out if you already have these by looking for rating labels stamped on the shower head face or aerator side. If not, replacing these items is very simple and relatively inexpensive. Here are links to some good replacements products:
The end of 2018 is coming very fast! Get your SmartRegs Inspection done ASAP!
We recommend you get your SmartRegs inspection done sooner rather than later. During our SmartRegs inspections, we break down the best ways to gain compliance and answer any of your questions regarding the point system. After your SmartRegs inspection is done, you can always provide us pictures and/or documents showing that the improvements were made. We will then update and re-submit your report for the city’s approval.
We hope that this article will help you understand the SmartRegs requirements, so that you can be as prepared as possible.
If you need a SmartRegs inspection performed on your rental property in Boulder, we hope you will consider using our services. Give us a call or schedule your inspection online. If you have any other questions, leave a comment below. We check these posts frequently.