EPA to tighten Energy Star standards for 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will tighten the standards for the Energy Star for Homes program in 2011.

Washington — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will tighten the standards for the Energy Star for Homes program in 2011.

The reason, the agency said, is that the building industry is getting increasingly green and the Energy Star program cannot stand still. Across the nation, increasingly-rigorous energy codes are being planned or implemented at the federal, state, and local levels. When codes approach or exceed the Energy Star Qualified Homes guidelines, it is critical that EPA increase the requirements for the Energy Star program to assure meaningful above-code performance for homebuyers.

Standard business practices are ramping up: In 2008, more than 17% of all homes built were qualified as Energy Star. As existing Energy Star guidelines become standard practice in many markets, it is necessary to increase requirements to keep the label relevant.

New equipment, technologies and practices are coming onto the market to increase the value proposition. There are a number of market-ready technologies and construction practices beyond what is required in the current Energy Star Qualified Homes guidelines that can cost-effectively improve the performance of homes that earn the label.

EPA is adding requirements for energy-efficient equipment and building techniques. The standard will include a performance path method that helps ensure a consistent bundle of technologies, including high-efficiency heating, cooling and water heating equipment.

It will also include new requirements for energy efficient lighting and appliances, and requirements for efficient water distribution systems and low-flow showerheads.

New construction methods will include new mandatory requirements for proper installation of insulation, reduced thermal bridging, and increased duct insulation. There will be new mandatory requirements for pressure-balancing and an additional Thermal Bypass Checklist requirement for sealing sheetrock at top plates. The standard will also require whole-house mechanical ventilation, spot local exhaust, and water-managed roofs, walls and foundations to address reduced tolerance to unmanaged moisture flow in tightly sealed and insulated homes.

Recognizing that mini-mansions use more energy, the 2011 requirements will include a size adjustment factor for large houses. And, in order to create a basis for that calculation, a reference point for the average home size is needed for making adjustments. EPA has introduced the concept of a “Benchmark Home” for this purpose with a table listing average home sizes for a specified number of bedrooms.

The strictest energy code will rule. State energy code requirements will be incorporated by reference into the new Energy Star Qualified Homes guidelines. Any state energy code requirements will take precedence over Energy Star Reference Design and mandatory elements and will replace those elements when the state code is more rigorous.

The 2011 standard will continue to have a choice of either prescriptive or performance based paths for a house to win the label.

EPA announced in July that nearly 17% of all single-family homes built nationally in 2008 earned EPA's Energy Star label, up from 12% in 2007. Both homebuilders and homebuyers are continuing to invest in high performing homes that save consumers money on their utility bills and help protect the environment.

“Every year more Americans decide to cut their energy bills and help keep the air clean in their communities by buying a new home that has earned EPA's Energy Star,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Features like properly installed insulation, high-performance windows and high-efficiency heating and cooling can reduce home energy needs by 20%-30%, saving American families thousands of dollars on their utility bills. Even in a difficult market, the interest in Energy Star qualified homes keeps rising. We're helping builders and homebuyers to protect the environment, safeguard our health, and move the country into a low-carbon energy future.”

In addition, market share for Energy Star qualified homes was 20% or greater in 15 states in 2008, including Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Vermont.

Nearly 940,000 Energy Star qualified homes have been built to date, with more than 100,000 of these constructed in 2008. In 2008 alone, American families living in Energy Star qualified homes locked in annual utility bill savings of more than $250 million — saving over 1.5 billion kWh of electricity and 155 million therms of natural gas while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of nearly 350,000 cars annually.

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