Energy Star labels more than appliances. One out of five new homes built in the U.S. in 2009 bore the Energy Star label, says Jonathan Passe, communications coordinator for Energy Star Residential Programs. According to Energy Star, its additional energy-saving features make homes 20 to 30 percent more efficient than standard homes — a selling point that some builders use to their advantage.
“It will take a couple of houses to figure out all of the details for building Energy Star homes,” says Mark Ivey, co-owner of Augusta, Ga.-based Ivey Residential, LLC, which has built roughly 150 Energy Star homes.
For a home to qualify for an Energy Star label, an independent, third-party rater runs tests on the home after framing, after sheet rock is hung and upon completion, he says. That means all parties working on the home have to get their construction methods up to the Energy Star standards to pass these inspections.
It may be a challenge to sufficiently tighten your insulation techniques. When his company began building the homes in 2007, Ivey found that he was already following many of the guidelines. Still, on his first home, the rater required builders to go back and add air barriers behind tubs and showers and in attic walls to meet sealing requirements.
What’s In a Label?
“Some builders have committed to building all of their homes to Energy Star guidelines, while others offer Energy Star as an upgrade package, which allows them to increase the sale price of the house,” Passe says. Initially, it may cost $3,000 to $5,000 more for a builder to meet Energy Star requirements, he says, but as builders become more familiar with Energy Star construction techniques, these costs will go down. Passe says the label distinguishes builders as leaders in energy-efficient construction, while offering customers a way to get more home for their buck, lower utility bills and improve comfort and durability — all while helping the environment.
Typical Energy Star home traits:
- Energy Star-qualified refrigerators, dishwashers, ceiling fans and exhaust fans
- Radiant barrier or Energy Star-qualified roof product (in hot climates)
- Insulation > R-8 in supply ducts in unconditioned attics
- Air barriers aligned with interior surfaces of ceilings, walls and floors, including supports to ensure permanent contact and blocking at exposed edges — which may include staves for batt insulation or netting for blown-in insulation
- Energy Star-qualified CFLs or pin-based lighting in 80 percent of fixtures
- Appropriately sized HVAC systems
Energy Star raters check everything from air barrier and air sealing requirements to water heater efficiency and window performance. Ivey’s Home Energy Rater (HERS) also runs a Manual J to properly size all of his HVAC equipment.
If you’re weighing your options, here are some steps to expect along the way:
- The Energy Star guidelines might appear confusing to newcomers. “Find someone in your utilities company, another builder in your market or a HERS rater that can walk you through it,” Ivey says.
- Consider taking a class. Dozens of utilities companies across the country offer classes to familiarize local contractors with Energy Star requirements.
- Expect to spend a few months retraining your trade base. “The program is big on air sealing,” says Ivey, who was trained through his local utilities company Georgia Power. He took the information back to his contractors and trained them on the methods needed to comply with the Energy Star requirements.
- Send your floor plans to an Energy Star rater, who returns load calculations for you to follow. “When you run a Manual J for the HVAC equipment, you take into account window ratings, square footage, the layout of the house, what kind of insulation you’re [using], the orientation of the house to the sun and the type of equipment that will be installed,” Ivey says.
- After the framing and mechanical rough-ins are complete, an insulation contractor or your third-party certifier ensures all the necessary air barriers are in place by following the thermal bypass checklist provided by the EPA, Ivey says.
- Once the house is finished, the HERS rater conducts door blower and duct blaster tests to ensure the house is sealed tight with minimal duct leakage, Ivey says.
- To maintain use of the Energy Star logo, builders are expected to produce at least one Energy Star home a year, Passe says.
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