Efficiency Rules Begin Soon

by bkrigbaum@solagroup.com

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency announced more rigorous Energy Star guidelines for new homes, and the stiffer regulations, which take effect January 2011, call upon designers and builders to comply with new products and practices.

In terms of performance, which is the metric I have always advocated in any green building standard, the Energy Star program is dollar-for-dollar the most efficient use of your time and resources. When enacted, the new Energy Star requirements will make qualified new homes at least 20 percent more efficient than homes built to the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code. Energy Star claims this will slash utility bills by 15 percent.

One of the reasons for Energy Star’s success is its focus on energy consumption, whereas other programs have requirements in many other construction and performance categories, which complicates compliance and drives up costs.

However, in addition to its focus on energy savings, I believe the Energy Star program for new homes will continue to succeed for another reason. As I have written in the past, there is a trend in house-valuation methods away from appraising homes just on square footage. It’s only common sense to leave the square-foot pricing method behind, because appraisers need to take a detailed look at the home’s components and operational efficiency — not just its size — to rightfully assign its value. Only then will the designer and builder’s premium work and investment in high-quality products and systems be rightfully recognized. If you get an Energy Star designation, you can ask a slightly higher price, and point to a third-party rating system if you are challenged to justify the premium. Then, the homeowners subsequently can recover the premium they paid to you when selling the home years later, because it is certifiably built to a higher energy standard.

Fast, easy way to learn new regs

The new, tougher Energy Star whole-house standards may very well be in response to public pressure to tighten the program’s requirements, most notably from Consumer Reports. Regardless of motivation, the new guidelines offer a clear road map for baseline green practices, especially in terms of the thermal envelope.

An easy and fast way to learn about the Energy Star standards is to think back to taking reading comprehension tests in school. Someone shared this tip with me; Read the questions first, then read the paragraph, which at the time I thought was similar to cheating. Applying this trick to your business, start your Energy Star research by reading the Energy Star compliance checklist and work back toward your practices. Go to the Inspection Checklist Ver. 3.0 and familiarize yourself with what’s required to earn the Energy Star rating. Here’s the link: energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=new_homes_partners.locator.

Highlights of the new requirements include those listed below, which many of you are practicing already, so why not get credit for them?

  • Polyethylene sheeting that is >6 mil and lapped 6-12 in. may be used for vapor barriers, but the sheeting must now be attached to the bottom of walls or piers with furring strips;
  • For backing behind tubs and showers, cement board or equivalent moisture-resistant backing material will now be required, not paper-faced backerboard;
  • Raised-heel trusses or equivalent framing method must be used in attics;
  • All headers above windows and doors must be insulated;
  • Foam gaskets and/or caulk are required beneath sill plate and foundation;
  • Sheetrock must be sealed to the top plate at all attic/wall interfaces using silicone caulk, latex foam, or equivalent material. Construction adhesive cannot be used;

Rough opening around windows and exterior doors must be sealed with caulk or foam.

Verifiable outcomes

An Energy Star home won’t get the designation simply on your say-so. The structure needs to be third-party verified by independent Home Energy Raters who must conduct a comprehensive series of detailed inspections and use specialized diagnostic equipment to test system performance. The Energy Star site offers a handy resource here, too, with a list of local Energy Raters who can conduct energy audits. Enter “Energy Star Home Energy Raters” into Google to get a state-by-state list, or please visit: energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=new_homes_partners.locator.

The Energy Star program is dollar-for-dollar the most efficient use of your time and resources.

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