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Energy Star Homes
The Environmental Protection Agency started the Energy Star program in 1992 to promote energy-efficient products nationwide, with the overall goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced by power plants. In addition, the program has lessened the need for new power plants and helped consumers lower their energy bills. You probably first noticed the familiar blue Energy Star label on a home computer or maybe a home appliance. Now you can find that blue label, which ensures above-average energy efficiency, on more than 50 types of products — and maybe even on your home itself.
More and more, homeowners are taking advantage of the Energy Star program. A couple in Ithaca, N.Y., for example, was paying exorbitant heating bills for their 1930s-era Colonial home, but the house was still cold and drafty. Then the homeowners heard about a program called Home Performance with Energy Star, and solved both of their problems with one phone call.
The Home Performance with Energy Star program uses a whole-house approach to improve energy efficiency and make a home more comfortable. Performance Systems Contracting, an Ithaca-based company participating in New York’s Home Performance with Energy Star program,� evaluated the home’s heating system and used infrared cameras and a blower-door test to detect leaks in the old Colonial’s building envelope. After the energy audit, which found the furnace working at 53 percent efficiency and the building envelope was more like a doorway for cold air, the same contractors upgraded the heating system, sealed the leaks and added insulation to the walls and attic. The result was a nearly two-thirds reduction in the heating bill and a more comfortable home overall.
The refurbished Ithaca Colonial is just one of many Home Performance success stories. And the Home Performance program is just one of the ways Energy Star’s reach is growing. “There’s so much new stuff, the program is expanding like crazy,” says Karen Schneider of the EPA. “It’s becoming much more mainstream.”
Schneider herself used the Home Performance program to update her 1950s-era home in Bethesda, Md. While energy audits are nothing new, having a program where the same contractors do the auditing and repair work has evolved the process.
“What we found in the past is you have an independent auditor come in and give a recommendation but that auditor isn’t necessarily motivated to sell the improvements, so no one pushes it, and then the homeowner never gets around to doing it,” Schneider says. “And in some cases they can’t even find someone to do those improvements.”
Finding that right someone may still be a problem for homeowners in some areas of the country, since the Home Performance program is available in only 20 states (see sidebar). If a contractor is available in your area, he or she will evaluate your house as a whole — including the windows, insulation, ductwork, building envelope, heating and cooling systems, lighting and appliances — and identify improvements that can result in maximum energy efficiency. Making these upgrades or renovations will help lower utility bills, ensure uniform temperatures throughout the home, result in fewer drafts and provide enhanced ventilation and humidity control.
Any contractor who audits and upgrades your home through the Energy Star program will be well trained and accountable for his work. A local Home Performance with Energy Star sponsor (a state energy office, utility or nonprofit energy efficiency organization) provides partnered contractors with specialized training and conducts quality assurance inspections to ensure the work meets Energy Star standards.
Energy Star Homes
If you’re purchasing a new home and energy efficiency is important to you, look for an Energy Star-rated home. For a new home to receive the Energy Star rating, it must be at least 15 percent more efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code, and include additional energy-saving features that typically make it 20 to 30 percent more efficient than a standard home.
Nearly 12 percent of the new homes built by the end of 2007 qualified for Energy Star approval, and more than 20 percent of new homes in nine states — Arizona, Hawaii, Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont — are Energy Star rated. In addition, there are nearly 50 metropolitan areas where the percentage rates are about the same. And in some cities, like Houston, about 40 percent of new homes built in 2006 qualified as Energy Star homes.
Any home three stories or less in height can earn the Energy Star label, including single-family, attached and low-rise multi-family homes; manufactured homes; log and concrete homes; and systems-built homes, such as modular homes or those built with structural insulated panels (SIPs).
Common features in new Energy Star homes include effective insulation in walls, floors and attics; high-performance windows with protective coatings and improved frames; tight seals in the envelope and interior ductwork to reduce moisture, drafts, dust, pollen and noise; efficient heating and cooling equipment to keep your bills low and your comfort high; and energy-efficient products ranging from light bulbs to washing machines.
Currently, more than 5,000 homebuilders are partners with the program, up from 3,500 at the end of 2006. “Homebuilders are the largest growing partnership we have,” Schneider notes. To find a home or homebuilder partnered with Energy Star in your area, visit the Energy Star website at www.energystar.gov and click the New Homes navigation tab.
Energy Star Products
The list of Energy Star-qualified products continues to grow. In particular, televisions and their associated devices (like DVRs and cable boxes) have recently been subject to renewed scrutiny by Energy Star. Taken together, these devices can account for as much as 13 percent of a household’s electric bill. Some of the largest high-resolution, direct-view televisions use as much electricity as a new refrigerator — about 500 kilowatt-hours per year. And those numbers figure to keep rising.
In fact, the Energy Information Administration predicts that by the year 2015, space heating, water heating, air conditioning and appliances will all consume smaller percentages of energy than they did in 2006, while televisions and electronics will consume more.
“In the past, the [Energy Star] TV specification [focused on] standby power, because that had been very high and we were able to get a lot of savings [by reducing energy use in standby mode],” Schneider says. “But now TVs are getting bigger, people are watching them more, there’s more gaming and, with recording devices like TiVo, TVs are constantly on. So it’s now the active power that’s much more important” as a target for reduced energy use.
Starting November 1, Energy Star-qualified televisions will be 30 percent more efficient than standard models. A wide range of sets will receive the rating, including flat-screen and high-definition models. “Energy Star’s new specifications for televisions are turning the channel on energy-guzzling sets, making them go the way of rabbit ears and black-and-white TV,” says EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson.
That’s not the only television news. Effective January 1, 2009, there will be new specifications for cable, satellite and Internet protocol boxes, also known as set-top boxes. In addition, those who don’t have cable or a television with a built-in digital tuner will need a digital-converter box to view free television starting February 17, 2009 (due to Congress’ order that all broadcasts must be digital). But homeowners can take comfort in the fact that some of those converter boxes will be Energy Star qualified as well.
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) have also received renewed interest from Energy Star, but not necessarily for the right reason. There’s been some concern (and some overreaction) to the fact that there are small amounts of mercury (less than 4 milligrams on average) in these bulbs, but there’s no need to panic. Yes, the bulbs can be recycled and yes, you can clean them up yourself without donning a radiation suit. Better yet, reduced-mercury CFLs are now available, with at least 20 percent less mercury than bulbs manufactured just a year ago. Energy Star provides more information on CFLs (and cleaning up broken ones) on its website under the Products/Lighting tab.
CFLs aren’t the only lights Energy Star has recently focused on. Starting this holiday season, you will be able to buy efficient decorative string lights complete with the iconic blue label. Now you will truly be able to wrap your home in Energy Star.
Energy Star has launched a number of efforts to better educate the general public about the benefits of energy-efficient products. For instance, a new campaign called Change the World: Start with Energy Star is asking consumers to take basic, common-sense steps toward improving energy efficiency. Typical steps include:
��� • sealing and insulating homes
��� • enabling power management features on electronic equipment
��� • making sure heating and cooling systems are running at optimal levels
��� • opting for Energy Star appliances.
These seemingly small steps can have a big impact. Schneider notes that if every household in the United States committed to the Change the World initiative, we could save $18 billion in annual energy costs and prevent the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 18 million cars.
There is evidence that this type of campaign can work. Energy Star’s Change a Light campaign in 2000, which encouraged people to “change the world one light bulb at a time” by replacing their old incandescent bulbs with Energy Star-qualified CFLs, resulted in four million light bulb changes. This equated to a savings in excess of $100 million and the prevention of more than 1.5 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.
Two other recent initiatives are the Low Carbon IT campaign and a drive to get homeowners to use programmable thermostats to lower their cooling and heating bills. The IT Campaign, which encourages companies and individuals to put all their computers in sleep mode when not in use, could save $50 per computer per year in energy costs. The EPA provides tips on programmable thermostats on its website.
In other efforts, Energy Star is reaching beyond the home to municipalities, school districts, hospitals, hotels and the military, as well as commercial and industrial companies, in its energy-efficiency efforts. For example, more than 35 manufacturing plants for cement, auto assembly, corn refining and even petroleum are partnering with Energy Star to reduce energy use.
The efforts appear to be working. According to an April report, more than 70 percent of American households are favorably influenced by the Energy Star label, up from 50 percent in 2003. “Consumer awareness and understanding of Energy Star continues to increase,” says Bob Meyers, principal deputy assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air & Radiation. “Greater awareness empowers Americans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by selecting more energy efficient products at home and at work.”
Tim O’Sullivan profiled the 21st Century American Home in the January/February 2008 issue. He’s based in Concord, N.H.
Home Performance with Energy Star
The Home Performance with Energy Star program is sponsored locally by various utilities, institutions and organizations that certify contractors and monitor their work. Contractors participating in the local programs can help you cost-effectively improve your home’s energy efficiency. These specially trained contractors will
evaluate your home using state-of-the-art equipment and recommend comprehensive improvements that will yield the best results. They can also help you take advantage of Federal tax credits for energy-efficiency improvements. The program is available in the following states:
��� • Arizona (sponsored by FSL Home Improvements)
��� • California (California Building Performance Contractors Association and Anaheim Public)
��� • Colorado (E-Star Colorado)
��� • Florida (Gainesville Regional Utilities)
��� • Georgia (Southface Energy Institute and Jackson EMC)
��� • Idaho (Idaho Office of Energy Resources)
��� • Illinois (Tri-County Construction Labor-Management Council)
��� • Massachusetts (National Grid-Mass.)
��� • Maryland (Maryland Energy Administration)
��� • Maine (Maine Home Performance with Energy Star)
��� • Missouri (Missouri Department of Natural Resources)
��� • New Jersey (New Jersey Board of Public Utilities)
��� • New York (Long Island Power Authority and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority)
��� • Ohio (FirstEnergy Corp.)
��� • Oregon (Energy Trust of Oregon)
��� • Pennsylvania (West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund and the Energy Coordination Agency)
��� • Rhode Island (National Grid-R.I.)
��� • Texas (Austin Energy)
��� • Vermont (Efficiency Vermont)
��� • Wisconsin (Wisconsin Focus on Energy)
��� • Wyoming (Wyoming Energy Council)
If the Home Performance program is not offered in your area, you still can take steps to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Contact your local utility to see if it offers free or discounted energy audits. If not, you can hire a home energy professional, such as a certified Home Energy Rater, to evaluate your home’s energy efficiency. You can learn more about recommended steps to improve the energy efficiency of your home by visiting the Energy Star website at www.energystar.gov.
4 Must Have Features of an Energy Star Home
Air sealing and insulation that works. � Well-sealed and properly insulated walls, floors and ceilings can save you up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs. A tighter home also reduces the amount of humidity, dust, pollen, pests and noise entering the home.
Ducts that don’t leak. Tightly sealed and well-insulated ducts will increase the energy efficiency of your home and help keep your family more comfortable.
Advanced windows for comfort. Energy Star windows, doors and skylights will keep your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. In addition, they will reduce moisture condensation on windowpanes and sills, and minimize interior fabric fading.
Independent testing and inspection to ensure quality construction. � Energy Star-qualified homes are inspected and tested by an independent Home Energy Rater to meet the EPA’s rigorous guidelines for energy efficiency, and ensure a quieter, more comfortable home.
— Source: Energy Star