The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, through its Energy Star program, enables consumers to easily identify homes that meet strict energy-efficiency guidelines. In addition, the agency offers a program to assist consumers in identifying energy-efficient house plans.
Energy Star Labels
More people are getting familiar with the Energy Star label as they look for ways to save money. Those buying or building a new home especially should learn about the blue label and its uses. The Energy Star-qualified home sticker or certificate, for example, means a house has been independently verified to meet the EPA’s strict guidelines for energy efficiency.
When builders use the Energy Star Partner logo or are listed on the Energy Star website, it means that they have signed partnership agreements with the EPA that govern the proper use of the Energy Star name and logo. “EPA does not ‘certify’ builders and a consumer should not assume that all homes that the builder constructs are Energy Star,” says Enesta Jones, EPA spokesperson.
However, some builder partners have made the additional commitment to build 100 percent Energy Star qualified homes. Consumers can identify these builders by looking for a special “100 percent” Energy Star partner icon.
Some homes may include Energy Star qualified products that feature the blue logo. However, says Jones, just because a home includes qualified products, does not mean that the home itself is qualified. The house has to have a separate Energy Star qualified home sticker or certificate for that designation.
Strict Efficiency Standards
To earn Energy Star designation, a home must meet guidelines established to make it at least 15 percent more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC). The IRC is a comprehensive, stand-alone residential code that creates minimum regulations for one- and two-family dwellings of three stories or less. It provides a set of measures and a performance approach to determine compliance.
A qualifying home should also include features that typically make it 20 to 30 percent more efficient than standard homes. The Energy Star designation follows six guidelines. They are:
- Effective insulation systems. Properly installed, climate-appropriate insulation in floors, walls and attics ensures even temperatures throughout the house, less energy consumption and increased comfort.
- High-performance windows. Energy-efficient windows employ advanced technologies such as protective coatings and improved frames to help keep heat in during winter and out during summer. These windows also block damaging ultraviolet sunlight that can discolor carpets and furnishings.
- Tight construction and ducts. Sealing holes and cracks in the home’s “envelope” and in duct systems helps reduce drafts, moisture, dust, pollen and noise. A tightly sealed home improves comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills.
This feature is an important one and often a sticking point, according to Michael L. Berry, an associate of ICF International of Fairfax, VA, who facilitates the Massachusetts New Homes with Energy Star program.
“The number-one way a home fails Energy Star is in duct leakage,” he says. “Proper duct sealing and educating HVAC contractors to perform proper duct sealing continue to be a challenge.”
Although Massachusetts’ code has a standard for duct leakage, code officials do not test duct performance like the program. When the Energy Star program changed in 2006 and the Thermal Bypass Checklist (TBC) was added to the technical specifications, many builders struggled to meet the TBC. Success in the program comes down to training and engaging all subcontractors to conform and adhere to the technical specifications.
- Efficient heating and cooling equipment. In addition to using less energy to operate, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems can be quieter, reduce indoor humidity and improve overall comfort. The equipment is typically more durable and requires less maintenance than standard models.
- Efficient lighting and appliances. Energy Star-qualified homes may also be equipped with Energy Star-qualified products—such as lighting fixtures, compact fluorescent bulbs, ventilation fans, refrigerators, dishwashers and washing machines—to provide additional energy savings.
- Third-party verification. Independent Home Energy Raters conduct on-site testing and inspections to verify the energy-efficiency measures. Certified raters can be found, for example, through RESNET, Residential Energy Services Network.
Benefits for Homeowners
Besides better protection against cold, heat, drafts, moisture, pollution and noise, an Energy Star-qualified home provides consistent temperatures, improved indoor air quality, and better durability. It also helps save money.
Ceci Anderson, director of marketing for Veridian Homes in Madison, WI, says that “on average, our homeowners save $813 per year on utility bills compared to a new home built to code. Over a five-year period, they save $4,065. In addition, if a homeowner replaces light bulbs with CFLs, they could save an additional $200 annually.”
Energy Star Program Evolves
The interest in Energy Star new homes is growing and the program continues to evolve. Here’s why:
- More homes qualified. More than 100,000 Energy Star qualified homes were built in 2009, bringing the total number of qualified homes in mid-May to over a million.
- More builders to choose from. More than 8,500 builders were active Energy Star partners in 2009, up from 6,500 in 2008. In addition, several national production builders committed to building 100 percent of their homes across all divisions to Energy Star guidelines.
- Home plans now can be verified. Those who prefer to build new rather than buy new will want to check out EPA’s “Designed to Earn the Energy Star” program, which provides a designation for home plans that have been checked for energy-saving features and construction practices. Once built, the home still must meet field verification requirements to earn the qualified home label. Consumers can locate an Energy Star builder partner by visiting the Energy Star website, clicking on the link for partners and searching by builders.
Guidelines being updated.
The EPA is revising guidelines. The new guidelines, called Energy Star 2011, will help EPA meet its goal of transforming the housing industry to build homes with less environmental impact and increased homeowner benefits, including greater affordability. It is expected that homes permitted on or after January 1, 2011 will be required to meet Energy Star 2011 guidelines to earn the designation