The best part of an Energy Star Home isn’t Energy Efficiency
For those only familiar with “Energy Star” as a label found on windows, refrigerators or lightbulbs, the Energy Star for New Homes label is a comprehensive certification program for new residential construction. The foundation of an Energy Star home is its HERS Rating – sort of a MPG rating for your home. Every Energy Star home will have this HERS Rating, typically on a scale of 0-100, 0 being zero energy (solar on the roof to offset all energy consumption) and 100 being a standard new construction home. An existing home is typically 120-140 on this scale. A home with a HERS Rating of 55 is 45% more energy efficient than a standard new home.
Any home can get a HERS Rating, even existing homes. It’s important to remember that this HERS Rating is only a “MPG rating,” and only has to do with the energy efficiency of the building’s components. It doesn’t tell you the whole story regarding the quality of construction practices (although any home with a rating below 50 will have been thoughtfully and carefully constructed). Contrary to its name, the Energy Star for New Homes label goes well beyond energy efficiency and attempts to be a symbol of quality and durability as well as occupant comfort and health.
The most important part about the Energy Star for New Homes program, in my mind, is not its energy efficiency or checklists guaranteeing quality construction practices, it’s that it’s more challenging to build an Energy Star home than a code built new home. It’s not that much more challenging, mind you. It’s just hard enough that bad builders can’t do it. It requires a builder to thoughtfully design the home and *gasp* be present during construction to ensure that proper building techniques are used during construction. So, even if you don't plan to certify your home as Energy Star, ask your builder about it. If he says he can't do it, find another builder!
The second best part about Energy Star is third-party inspections. A HERS Rater who is Energy Star certified handles inspections and certifications. This gives peace of mind that someone who doesn’t benefit from cutting corners is keeping an eye on things.
You may be thinking, “Wow, this is great! But how much does it cost?” A study in November of 2013 found that the incremental cost of an Energy Star home was about $2500. Annual energy savings were $400 per year, which means that your totally monthly bill (mortgage plus utility) actually goes down by $22. That means you get a better house for less money! It's important to keep in mind that this was a study performed by the EPA, who runs and promotes the Energy Star program. They also refer to increased cost, not price. A much more realistic price increase for a 2,500 sq ft home in Connecticut is about $10,000. The state will then give rebates of $4,000+ to help cover some of that increased cost. All-in-all, it's an insignificant cost increase for a better home.
If you want to go above and beyond Energy Star, look to the DOE’s Net Zero Ready program (See this brochure)
Other certifications that complement Energy Star are: Indoor airPLUS for indoor air quality, WaterSense for water conservation, PassivHouse for homes with extreme levels of insulation and airtightness, and LEED for homes. I’ll write articles about each in time, but feel free to reach out to me for more information until then.