Builders Question Proposed Changes to Energy Star
Proposed changes to the Energy Star certification program for new homes go far beyond the voluntary program’s charge of promoting energy efficiency and duplicate green building rating systems, including the National Green Building Standard, says NAHB.
In a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency commenting on a proposal for the next iteration of the Energy Star Qualified New Homes program, NAHB urged program leaders to stick with what has made Energy Star a household name among new home buyers.
Specifically, NAHB took issue with five new checklists that would be required should the new Energy Star program be finalized as written. The checklists cover new requirements in indoor air quality, advanced framing techniques and water management that are important goals, NAHB said, but beyond the scope of an energy-efficiency program.
“NAHB has been a strong supporter of Energy Star, which we believe demonstrates that building with energy conservation is both practical and profitable,” the letter said. But expensive, time-consuming changes to the rating process could result in “a loss of traction for the program at a time when many envision the housing industry [will] rebound . . . by riding a wave of interest in energy efficiency.”
The current version of Energy Star has been attracting more home builders and buyers. About 100,000, or 17%, of the single-family homes built in 2008 earned the Energy Star label. The voluntary program is on track to certify more than 20% of this year’s new homes.
Earning the Energy Star label can help home builders meet the energy-efficiency requirements for the Bronze level of the National Green Building Standard; reaching the Silver, Gold and Emerald levels is expressed in percentages above Energy Star, at 30%, 50% and 60% over code, respectively.
In addition, home builders certifying to the standard must meet benchmarks in separate categories on water and resource efficiency, indoor environmental quality, lot and site development and home owner education and maintenance.
“NAHB fails to see the correlation between these new requirements and the improved energy performance of a new home, which has always been the stated goal of the Energy Star program,” the letter said.
Further, the proposed changes require Energy Star raters to verify installation requirements for heating, venting and air conditioning systems — which are complex systems that need specialized skills beyond the scope of most raters to be examined and rated properly, the letter said.
According to estimates provided by the Residential Energy Services Network, or RESNET, Energy Star verifiers are likely to charge an average of $1,200 more per home to administer and inspect the checklist items. The EPA estimates an additional $4,950 for the actual cost of the upgrades, the letter said.
Finally, the proposed changes may supplant, rather than align with, existing green building programs — including the standard, which EPA participated in creating.
Energy Star should follow the lead of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Builders Challenge program, the letter said. In a partnership with the NAHB Research Center, which administers the certification and verification process for the NAHB National Green Building Program, builders can score their homes to the National Green Building Standard and to Builders Challenge at the same time, saving time and costs.
The Research Center is also working with the EPA to see if the standard scoring system can be aligned with the federal agency’s Indoor airPLUS program on indoor environmental quality, which is another component of green building and a requirement for certification under the standard, the letter said.
“EPA needs to be focused on creating energy efficiency criteria that can easily incorporate into credible green building requirements rather than slowly morph into a standalone green building program,” the letter said.
Doing so “risks damaging the equity of the Energy Star for Homes brand. That equity, by right, belongs to the taxpayers who have come to rely on the label to identify energy-efficient buildings.”
In the letter, NAHB again reiterated its support for the voluntary energy-efficiency program. “NAHB and Energy Star not only share the same goals, but also the same committed builders who are dedicated to voluntarily building highly energy-efficient housing,” it said.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.
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