What is an Energy Star Home All About?

When my husband and I built a cottage last year, we wanted to make the house as energy efficient as possible. We put in extra insulation, wrapped the ducts, sealed the drafts, and installed high quality windows which earned the house an Energy Star rating.

So what exactly is the Energy Star program?

At some point in the past 10 years, you may have purchased a home appliance or lighting fixture and noticed a blue Energy Star on selected merchandise. That blue star is a guide for consumers who are interested in purchasing energy efficient products instead of the usual run-of-the-mill.

The Energy Star program was started in 1992 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a way to identify energy efficient products. Computers and monitors were the first products that could earn the rating and in 1995, other categories of office equipment, and heating & air conditioning systems were added to the list.

In 1996, the EPA partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy to identify even more product categories. These days, the Energy Star can be found on nearly 50 product lines including home appliances, lighting fixtures, electronics, and more. The Energy Star label also has been extended to include homes and commercial buildings. An Energy Star home means the home was built to a level of energy efficiency that is up to 30% more efficient than more traditional construction.

How does a home qualify?

An Energy Star label doesn’t come automatically. The building contractor must follow a prescribed standard of construction that include certain features that meet the EPA standards for energy efficiency.

If you have ever stepped inside a drafty house, you won’t be surprised to learn that gaps in the construction and improperly installed insulation can increase a home’s utility consumption by 20% or more. Most people only think of leaks happening around doors and windows, but leaks happen any place there are pipes, ductwork, and electrical wiring in a home.

Energy Star homes are those that have a higher degree of insulation and tighter air seals throughout the entire house. Insulation for ceilings must have an R factor of 38; for walls, R-21; and for floors, R-30. In addition to the insulation, all the gaps and holes in the framework must be caulked or filled with expanding foam around wires and pipes, and tightly insulated around the lighting fixtures (especially canned lighting systems), electrical outlets, and the windows. Ducts should fit snugly and be sealed with mastic. Tighter insulation means fewer opportunities for air to escape, fewer drafts, and less noise.

Energy Star homes have superior windows. Higher quality windows are ones with a low U factor of which is a measure of how well the windows keep out the exchange of heat and cold. These windows are 33% more efficient at keeping the warm air inside your home during the winter months. The U factor isn’t all; a low e coating is also desirable. The e coating is what prevents ultraviolet light from entering your home where it can damage the carpet and furniture. These high quality windows also are incredibly efficient at blocking out exterior noise.

Efficient heating and cooling systems are also part of the high performance home checklist. Because these homes are so tightly insulated, the heating and cooling system can be downsized which saves money during construction. Furnaces with a 90% efficiency rating are best and can save significantly on heating costs.

Better windows, better insulation, sealed drafts, and superior furnace system aren’t all it takes to earn that Energy Star rating. Participating building contractors know their homes will be inspected and tested by a third party during the construction process. Home Energy Raters verify that the the exterior of the home has been properly sealed, the insulation installed correctly, and will even run an air pressure test to check that home’s envelope and ducting system are free of air leaks.

The benefits of an Energy Star home are rather amazing. We’ve discovered our cottage is extremely tight and draft free, with consistent temperatures across the entire house. The superior windows and extra insulation also help muffle exterior noise and keep dust and other pollutants outdoors instead of collecting inside. Best of all, the energy consumption is amazingly low which is not only good for the environment, but good for our budget as well.

To learn more about this program, visit www.energystar.gov for helpful tips and a directory of participating states and Energy Star building contractors.

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