Colin Lenton

Ryan Meres got deeply involved with energy efficiency and codes during college. He studied civil engineering at the University of Buffalo before transferring to the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2006, where a yearlong studio focused on sustainable design. “That got me interested in energy efficiency,” he recalls.

After graduating in 2007, Meres joined the Atlanta-based Southface Energy Institute, which deepened his knowledge of high-performance and green building practices. A year later, Meres was working for the state of Georgia, leading all of the development on energy and green codes for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. Following a one-year fellowship at the DOE’s Building Energy Codes Program, Meres became a senior code compliance specialist at Washington, D.C.–based Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), where he led the advocacy group’s work on building energy codes for almost six years.

Meres has now been program director at RESNET for just over a year. His top task is to increase the number of HERS-rated homes in the U.S. above the current rate of 200,000 a year. “It’s a multipronged approach,” he explains. “How can we ensure that HERS-rated homes are properly valued in the market?” He believes this can be accomplished when more builders and real estate professionals see the benefit of using HERS ratings. Meres is trying to get HERS index scores into real estate listings by educating appraisers to recognize the value of HERS-rated homes. In a new partnership with the Chicago-based Appraisal Institute, residential appraisers now have access to HERS data for their area.

The 35-year-old has been pushing for a move toward performance-based codes, noting that the prescriptive path has developed to a point where it’s difficult to get efficiency gains across the board. “The prescriptive code process gets focused on individual products,” he explains. Manufacturers influence that and get certain products, whether they be insulation or windows, included. “With the performance path, you’re talking about total performance,” Meres explains. “What performance level can a home realistically, and cost effectively, achieve?”

He points to a Leading Builders of America study that found that builders could save $1,700 per home by using an energy index option rather than the prescriptive path in the energy code. “You need to meet a score, but the energy index gives a lot of options about how you get there,” he says. “Energy ratings will stay in the code when more states continue to adopt it.” The 2018 IECC has an option that allows builders to use a HERS rating for energy code compliance.

While builders and designers may complain about additional costs involved with more energy-efficient construction, Meres believes that using a rating—like HERS—can help achieve the goals in the most cost-effective way. “The projected HERS rating is based on plans and specs,” Meres explains. “We can provide different solutions than the builder may have thought of—by switching out windows or using a different kind of insulation to achieve the same R-value.”

One of his current projects involves developing a whole-house water efficiency rating with RESNET, which will be an ANSI standard when it’s finished. The proprietary version, called HERS H2O, will be ancillary to the current HERS rating.

It’s become clear that more consumers are demanding an energy-efficient home, but Meres notes that not every consumer is focused on their electric bill. “What really sells—I believe—is comfort,” Mere says. And that fact just might lead to more efficient, and resilient, homes.

“As there are more and more natural disasters, more home buyers are going to become interested in the resilient aspects of the home they’re looking to buy," he says.

“Natural disasters are real and tangible,” Meres adds. “I believe that will have an impact on the codes.”

But there’s an inherent lag in implementation, he notes. There are studies and findings that still need to be completed about recent events. And even when data has been identified, code authorities need to ask what has been learned so that better homes can be built in the future. Combine this with the three-year code development cycle—plus the fact that many states wait one or even two cycles before adopting a new code—and you’re looking at six, nine, or 12 years before implementation.

But Meres is in the battle for the long run, knowing that change in building codes comes slowly. “Other than getting the energy indexes in, there hasn’t been any really big change in energy codes since 2012,” he says. _edward keegan