Energy Star Is Not Just for Refrigerators

Reader Contribution by Leigha Dickens
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In a previous post I mentioned the importance of air-sealing for energy efficiency in green construction. But you don’t have to just take my word for it—green building programs for new construction, such as Energy Star for Homes, require extensive air-sealing to achieve certification.

Many of us have heard of Energy Star certified lights and appliances. But did you know that the Energy Star is also a green building certification available for a new home?In fact, in its newest version, version 3.0 an Energy Star home is a true distinction from a conventional new home, offering 15%-30% reduction in energy costs—and most importantly of all—quality assurance that the systems in the home will work as they are intended.

If you want to build a new home, and you want to put a “stamp” on it proving that it is green, voluntary certification programs abound. One of the most well known is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes, and there are green building certification programs through the NAHB, through state programs, or even through utilities. Energy Star is quickly becoming one of the most distinguished certifications available for new homes.

 Getting any certification on your new home is a bit like earning a merit badge in scouting used to be—you have to follow certain checklists of requirements while building and pass certain performance tests once the home is built. And any of these programs are great. They insert green building practices into the homebuilding process from the design phase, in an organized way, sometimes educating the homeowner, the builder, and the sub-contractors about green building practices along the way.

Photo: Yours truly, air-sealing the wall panels of an Energy Star certified Deltec home. In typical new construction, this crucial step might not get done, after which an opportunity to make the home more air-tight is lost, buried under drywall. Energy Star certification requires caulking at many major joints in building materials. 

I think Energy Star is great because the main things it asks for are simple common sense. Energy an important green building goal because a home will continue to use energy its whole life—creating a profound impact on the environment. Part of energy efficiency is in the design: giving the house more R-value, specifying more efficient heating and cooling equipment—but a big part of it is in the follow-through of that design. Not only is there more insulation, but is that insulation installed well? Not only is the HVAC system efficient, but has it been properly sized for the house it’s going in, have the ducts been sealed against leaking their air out? Has the home been air-sealed?

What Does an Energy Star 3.0-Certified Home Look Like?

We recently completed an Energy Star 3.0-certified home here in the mountains of North Carolina. It was one of the first homes in our area to be certified as Energy Star 3.0. With features like an inch of exterior foam insulation on top of 2×6 walls, Energy Star-certified windows, a high efficiency (16 SEER) heating and cooling system, fresh air ventilation, a solar water heating system, and lots of air-sealing, the house was able to easily qualify for the requirements.

In some places, building Energy Star can earns the builder and the homeowner utility incentives: here in Western North Carolina, for example, we earned a nice builder rebate, and the homeowner got an extra 5% off of their monthly power bill.


An Energy Star 3.0-certified home in Western North Carolina.

The value that Energy Star Certification gives to homeowners—ongoing utility savings, that only grow over the life of the home as energy costs continue to rise, are starting to be recognized in the marketplace. Several studies are finding that green certified homes, such as Energy Star, sell for a higher price, and stay on the market for a shorter amount of time. The North Carolina Alliance for Energy Efficiency did a study on green homes in central North Carolina and found this to be the case, while studies in Oregon, California, and Atlanta, to name just a few, tell similar stories.

Green building only makes sense, and green certification programs offer builders guidance on green building practices while giving projects official, marketplace recognition for the above-and-beyond practices that have been done. Energy Star is becoming one of the most recognized and common-sense way to ensure that new homes are built to exceptional energy performance.