Today’s ENERGY STAR Certified Home: Better is Better

By: Brian Ng

Earlier this month, the new, more rigorous guidelines for homes to be certified as ENERGY STAR® became effective.  In recognition of this milestone, we’re reflecting on the history and work behind the new guidelines, and highlighting the major features and benefits of homes built to these new guidelines that are the basis for our “Better is Better” outreach campaign.

In 1995, EPA first offered a labeling program for homes constructed to be significantly more energy efficient than prescribed by code.  Since then the program has been adopted by more and more builders, who’ve constructed more and more ENERGY STAR certified homes.  In fact, in 2011, nearly one in three new homes constructed in the U.S. has earned the ENERGY STAR label.  That’s an amazing accomplishment by our partners and a tremendous benefit for homebuyers – and the environment.

Over the years, EPA has updated its guidelines in response to improvements in national building codes and equipment standards, changes in the marketplace, and to incorporate lessons learned from previous iterations of the guidelines.  We began developing our latest set of energy efficiency guidelines, commonly referred to as”Version 3,“ back in 2008, issued the first draft for public comment in 2009, and released the final requirements in 2010. Since then, we’ve continued to make refinements and adjustments in response to stakeholder feedback and market factors.

Today, when a home earns the ENERGY STAR label, it means that it’s at least 15 percent more energy efficient than one built to the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code, and includes additional features that make it up to 30 percent more efficient than a typical new home.  All ENERGY STAR certified homes are now constructed with:

  • A complete Thermal Enclosure System with comprehensive air sealing, quality-installed insulation, and high-performance windows to deliver comfort and low utility bills;
  • A Heating, Ventilating, and Cooling System designed and installed for optimal performance, comfort, and lower bills; and
  • A comprehensive Water Management System to protect roofs, walls, and foundations from moisture damage.

These features are inspected using a set of quality assurance checklists that can dramatically reduce the chance that critical details are overlooked and that can greatly improve the efficiency, comfort, durability, and quality of homes that earn the label. That’s why we say that an ENERGY STAR certified home is built better from the ground up.

Together with stakeholders, we’ve put a lot of effort into developing and deploying a host of new training materials, webinars, and other resources to aid builders, trades, and Home Energy Raters so that they can successfully implement the new guidelines.  Many builders, including some who initially expressed concerns about increased costs to build to the new guidelines, are reporting significant cost decreases as they become more familiar with best practices for implementing the new guidelines.

We’re excited to continue supporting our partners, including more than 6,700 home builders in designing, constructing, and promoting the next generation of ENERGY STAR certified homes. We know that the new guidelines are challenging. But they are also critical to ensuring that the bar is continually raised so that the promise of the ENERGY STAR brand is delivered. Simply put: Better is better.

Mr. Brian Ng is the communications manager for ENERGY STAR’s Residential Programs. Mr. Ng has been with the U.S. EPA for 15 years supporting a wide range of initiatives related to the protection of human health and the environment, including the improvement of energy efficiency in new and existing low-income housing.

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