The ENERGY STAR brand sets the standard for energy efficiency across several industries in the country. While we most commonly associate ENERGY STAR with appliances, they also regulate energy efficiency for homes as well.
For builders trying to obtain the 45L tax credit or to market their homes as green/sustainable, ENERGY STAR 3.1 provides the best framework to achieve significant reductions in energy usage for residential or commercial properties.
While gaining ENERGY STAR certification will not yield a direct payout from the government, it does provide extensive benefits for builders and occupants of ENERGY STAR-certified homes.
This guide will discuss ENERGY STAR requirements for new residential buildings to become certified and provide practical ways to reach those requirements.
What is an ENERGY STAR-Certified Home?
An ENERGY STAR-certified home is a residential property that performs in the top 25% of energy efficiency for comparable properties across the country. Using an Energy Benchmark, buildings are rated on a scale of 1-100 for energy efficiency. Buildings that score 75 or higher will receive certification, which builders can advertise to potential customers.
How to Become ENERGY STAR Certified?
Residential ENERGY STAR certification requires a rigorous third-party inspection by a certified home energy rater under the supervision of an EPA-backed Home Certification Organization (HCO) or a Multifamily Review Organization (MRO). Inspections are performed after a home has been fully built and is ready to put on the market.
Pros and Cons of ENERGY STAR Certification
- Lower Energy Costs: ENERGY STAR-certified appliances and homes consume less energy than their standard counterparts and will guarantee energy savings over time.
- Access to Tax Benefits: Energy-efficient homes may be eligible for the 45L tax credit for builders.
- Sustainability: Reduced electricity consumption from ENERGY STAR products promotes greater sustainability for the environment.
- Marketability: Lower energy bills and sustainability are hot selling points for many in today’s housing market.
- Steeper Costs: Installing energy-efficient heating equipment, insulation, and appliances comes with a steeper price that will raise the value of a new home but also its cost.
- Requires Renewal: Certifications for homes only last for a year and require renewal if a home does sell in that time.
- Outdated Requirements: Many government regulations tend to lag behind new data and private sector developments, meaning that ENERGY STAR is not the greenest standard available–though it’s a great starting point.
7 Crucial ENERGY STAR Requirements for Certification
ENERGY STAR provides much material to help builders and homeowners reach ENERGY STAR certification. However, we’ve broken down each ENERGY STAR requirement into seven categories for improvement based on mandatory guidelines found in version 3.1 and taken from the ENERGY STAR Reference Design Home.
1. Sealing the Air Envelope
A massive component of energy efficiency is not just what we heat or cool our homes with but how well we utilize the energy being expended.
It is recommended that insulation models for all new homes should conform to 2012 IECC levels. Performing a blower door test to uncover any leaks in your building envelope can help you create a tight air seal.
Additionally, using high-quality materials, such as closed-cell foam insulation that naturally seals tight areas and insulates your home, will help you exceed these levels.
2. High-Performance Windows
A massive source of heat loss for many homes is actually their windows. Using high-performance windows with insulated frames and high-performance glass will help you meet the insulation standards listed above.
3. ENERGY STAR Certified HVAC Systems
Most homes in the US in climate zones 4-8 will require an ENERGY STAR-certified boiler or furnace or an electric air source heat pump that meets an adequate SEER rating.
Likewise, cooling equipment will be required to meet a 15 SEER rating for hot climates or a 13 SEER AC rating for cool environments.
4. Proper HVAC Design
RESNET/ACCA Standard 310 system design requirements are required for all new heat pumps being installed to reduce energy consumption (or HERS rating) and achieve proper ENERGY STAR certification.
5. Thermostats and Ductwork
Programmable thermostats are recommended to help buildings achieve an ENERGY STAR certification, though they are not required.
All ductwork within a heating or cooling system should follow the same RESNET/ACCA Standard 310 listed above to eliminate any air leakage and achieve a better SEER rating.
6. ENERGY STAR Lighting & Appliances
Another way to meet ENERGY STAR certification is to simply install all new ENERGY STAR-certified appliances, including washing machines, dryers, and lights. High-efficiency LED lights are affordable and will help you best meet ENERGY STAR requirements.
7. High-Efficiency Water Heater
Finally, version 3.1 provides extensive targets for high-efficiency water heaters to help your home reach certification.
Meeting all of these ENERGY STAR requirements is not mandatory, though some, such as your heating system’s design and installation, will be required for certification. However, in areas where you may fail to meet ENERGY STAR’s prescribed standards, you can make up for in other areas by upgrading your insulation, switching to renewables, or even building your home with better ventilation.
Becoming ENERGY STAR certified may be difficult, but it’s well worth it for builders and homeowners in the long run–not to mention the environment.
FAQs: Energy-Star Requirements for New Homes
How long does an ENERGY STAR certification last?
12 months. Afterward, the certification must be renewed using the same process as before, or else it will expire.
Is ENERGY STAR certification region-specific?
There are some regional ENERGY STAR requirements, such as in Florida, California, Oregon, and Washington, but ENERGY STAR 3.1 provides national standards for all homes to follow.
Can Existing Homes Achieve EnergyStar Certification?
Yes, existing homes can undergo renovations to meet EnergyStar requirements and attain certification. Retrofitting with energy-efficient systems and materials may also qualify you for the 25C tax credit.
How Long Does the Certification Process Take?
The certification process varies based on factors like home size and complexity. On average, it may take a few weeks to a few months to complete.