Why Homebuilders May Be Deceiving You on

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In researching the topic of green building, I realized two things. First, energy efficiency is only a small part of the overall practice of green building. True green construction factors in the entire building process to include recycled materials used in construction, recycling of construction waste, and the total carbon footprint left behind in the construction of the home as per Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)’s criteria for green building.

Second, numerous homebuilders these days are calling their new construction “green” or “energy efficient,” but many are vague on this point. I’ve spoken with dozens of homebuilders who want to have the appearance of building energy efficient housing but don’t want to pay the extra money to become formally Energy Star certified. This article explains all of this, and how you can ensure your new home is Energy Star certified rather than simply “Energy Star” or “Energy Star Compliant.”

1) Energy Star Qualification (Certification) Explained. Exactly what does Energy Star Qualification for new construction entail? From the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) energystar.gov website: “To earn the ENERGY STAR, a home must meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC), and include additional energy-saving features that typically make them 20–30% more efficient than standard homes.”

2) Energy Star Certified versus Compliaint. Of the dozens of homebuilders I surveyed in 2008, a majority claimed to be “energy efficient” or “Energy Star,” but they failed to go into any detail on how the home is energy efficient or whether it’s certified. Energy Star certification does require the homebuilder to spend more money to achieve the certification, so many try to skirt that cost by merely claiming “energy star compliance.” One homebuilder even told me up front, “We build energy efficiency into every home; why should we pay extra just for the sticker?” Check to see if the home is actually Energy Star certified by asking the homebuilder where on the home the Energy Star Certification Label is located.

3) Major Features of Energy Efficient New Housing Construction. In any new energy efficient home, you should find the following features: 14 or higher SEER A/C unit, 90 percent annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) furnace, Low-E windows, fully insulated walls and attics, radiant barrier reflective insulation in attic, low-flow water spigots, efficient air distribution, home wrap air infiltration barrier, and quality weather stripping around doors and windows. If appliances are selected for the home, they should all be Energy Star compliant.

4) Energy Star Certified vs. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) New Construction. While Energy Star focuses mainly on energy reduction in new construction, LEED’s approach is a more wholistic, truly “green” building method that focuses on things like overall carbon footprint; recycled materials used in construction; rainwater collection; and the recycling of construction waste. In terms of new housing construction, most is Energy Star compliant or certified. However, a growing number of local homebuilders are working with LEED in new construction.

5) What To Ask Your Homebuilder About the Energy Efficiency of Your New Home. First, ask the homebuilder whether the new home is Energy Star Certified. If they say yes, ask where the Energy Star Certification Label is located in the home (usually on or near the electrical box). Then ask whether each individual home is certified or whether a 1 home out of every 7 batch test is employed. Batch testing is standard practice and is okay; but the best scenario possible is when every home is inspected and Energy Star certified. Next, ask the homebuilder to explain to you the energy efficiency features of the home. The homebuilder’s response should essentially be a recitation of the energy efficiency features explained in Step 3.

Tips & Warnings

  • The absolute best energy efficient housing is that which is officially Energy Star certified AND individually tested rather than a 1 home out of every 7 batch test.
  • Energy Star certification adds to the value of the home and helps improve resale value.
  • Always ask the homebuilder sales rep whether the home is Energy Star certified. If the homebuilder says yes, ask them to show you the official Energy Star certification sticker, typically located on or near the electrical box.
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