Rashkin has not been without critics. Some green building advocates say the original Energy Star requirements were too easy to implement and should have been rolled out with more stringent guidelines.
“It seemed like a superficial program that almost anyone could meet it. I would also tell him that you are building houses that might not be healthy,” LaLiberte recalls. “He said, ‘I completely agree, but ... I can only do the things that my mandate drives me to do.’”
LaLiberte commends the astute Rashkin for his street smarts: “If you alienated people, they would burn you at the stake. What he did was to empower people. It’s stunningly amazing what he’s pulled off.”
“He is acutely aware of the cost pressures on us,” says Larry Gotlieb, vice president of government and public affairs and associate general counsel for KB Home, which has participated in Energy Star since 2000. “Sam understands builders. He won’t mandate or dictate. He is grounded.”
As he got buy-in from builders, Rashkin upped the requirements but always with a strong commitment to adding value. “He’s never taken the easy path,” says Nate Kredich, vice president for residential market development for the USGBC, which operates the LEED for Homes program. “He’s damn the torpedoes and get the job done.”
Energy Star Version 3
Before he left Energy Star, Rashkin spearheaded Version 3, the program’s most ambitious guidelines that green building experts say greatly elevate the quality of qualified homes. “The United States is going to be right up there with Western Europe instead of following along and playing catch-up,” Wilson says of the new standards.
“For a government program to go to the home building community and say we have to ratchet this up in the worst housing market we’ve ever seen comes in the confident way he studies building science,” Kredich observes. “Then he says we are going to convince builders it’s the right thing to do.”
More than 4,500 builders are on board with Version 3. KB Home is committed because Gotlieb says they hope it can deliver further benefits to buyers in a highly competitive market. But he adds: “Buyers are extremely value conscious. Anything that brings up the cost is a challenge.”
Beyond Energy Star
In his new position as chief architect in the DOE’s Building Technologies Program, the objectives are much broader than with Energy Star for Homes. Rashkin says his goal is to link world-class federal research with the housing industry.
“The program’s assets are great, but hidden from industry. There is a lot of scrubbing of the raw materials that needs to be done so they’re accessible and understandable.”
His grand vision is a web- and mobile app–based tool that will allow industry users to quickly access tens of thousands of pages of research for the exact information they need to apply better building science practices, Rashkin explains. “The research tool is a game changer.” Additionally, Rashkin is retooling DOE’s label for leading-edge builders called the DOE Challenge Home, and is excited about taking the industry to ultra-efficient homes that are truly ready for net-zero energy performance.
The wiry, athletic Rashkin shows no signs of slowing his pace. He effuses about his extensive plans for new DOE initiatives and says he’ll be crisscrossing the country again to hawk their many compelling benefits.
In addition, Rashkin is collaborating with other industry thought leaders participating in EcoHome’s Vision 2020 research initiative. He is leading the group focused on Green Building Codes, Standards, and Rating Systems, which is exploring the dynamics between codes and voluntary standards and their impact on the future of environmental building.
“So much of what has been done has not been optimal for so long,” says the 2012 recipient of The Hanley Award. “The rules have changed. Housing has to go to the next level.”
Jean Dimeo is EcoHome’s former chief online editor.