To quote the ENERGY STAR website directly, “ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.” It’s easy to think of ENERGY STAR as a three-tiered system: responsible construction practices, energy efficient options and verification. A noble goal that results in significant savings on energy bills? Shouldn’t we all sign up immediately?
The answer is yes and no.
The “yes” answer is straightforward. ENERGY STAR ratings gauge the energy efficiency of newly constructed home. On average, homes with this rating are 20-30% more efficient than standard-built homes. The sound construction techniques and wise material choices that earn a home an ENERGY STAR rating are entirely worthwhile from both an environmental standpoint and a long-term fiscal one. The rating is legitimized through a stringent verification process and gives a buyer an added level of confidence in their purchase.
The “no” answer gets a little trickier. It boils down to the most important word in all of construction: communication.
A responsible builder will both consult and collaborate with a client on energy efficient measures. Some are purely a matter of good building practices and should be considered requisite. For optional energy efficient choices, such as choices of windows and appliances, your builder can help explain the long-term savings and value of installing efficient models from the start. Almost across the board, it’s worthwhile to spend the extra money upfront for ENERGY STAR rated lighting and appliances. Additionally, many appliances and other energy efficient upgrades are eligible for tax credits, at least through the end of 2011. (Check with your accountant.)
Ultimately, ENERGY STAR verification is a personal decision for the homeowner. The average cost of the verification process (in the Durango area) hovers around $1500. It is an added expense to building a home. However, a high score in verification may make the owner eligible for up to a $2000 tax rebate.
If you are building a home for re-sale, verification is undoubtedly an added selling tool and a recognized acknowledgement of the quality of the home. Either way, I encourage buyers with an interest in energy efficiency to come prepared with a list of questions to assess the home, with or without the rating.
As a builder, I recommend following the ENERGY STAR guidelines, regardless if the end goal is an official rating or not. To me, they are representative of solid and responsible building practices. As for verification and achieving the formally acknowledged rating on new construction, I recommend communicating with your builder to reach the decision. As for the bottom line: the Department of Energy calculates that due to increasing awareness and application of energy efficient practices, Americans saved almost $18 million on their utility bills in 2010 alone.