Energy Star Has Upped the Ante and We’re on Board

by on January 28, 2011 » Add more comments.

How South Main is Sustainable, Part 1:
Energy Star Version 3

This is the first in a three-part sustainability series. Please click here for my introduction to the series.

With home energy usage accounting for 17% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (source), South Main has always embraced green building as an important element of what makes the neighborhood sustainable. Particularly in our colder climate, a well-insulated, tight building envelope is crucial.

We began by requiring that all homes in South Main be Built Green Colorado certified. Our home, with its high-performance spray-foam insulation, top-of-the-line Kolbe windows, rapidly renewable cork flooring, etc, more than tripled the minimum required checklist points for Built Green Certification.

We thought Built Green was pretty good, so naturally we were a bit disappointed when it went out of business. So we started to research other options and certifications. We looked at doing our own checklist but feel a third-party certification is an important part of ‘keeping honest people honest,’ and in the absence of blower door tests, HVAC tests, etc, honest mistakes can be made that make a home less efficient.

The EPA’s Energy Star for Homes certification has always been an option, and it was actually a requirement of the Built Green certification, so most homes in South Main are actually Energy Star certified. But until recently, Energy Star was considered by experts to be ‘slightly better than code’- in other words not very rigorous.

Then I discovered version 3.0…

Energy Star has raised the bar in a number of ways with version 3.0. First, the new system not only requires homes to be more energy efficient overall (20%-30% more efficient than a standard home), but it also penalizes inefficiently designed homes (those with lots of square footage and not many bedrooms) and requires them to meet even more stringent efficiency targets.*

This is nice since so many homes in the U.S. waste lots of square footage on formal dining rooms and other under-utilized space. As an example, if a 2 bedroom home is bigger than 1,600 square feet or a 3-bedroom home is bigger than 2,200 square feet, it is penalized under Energy Star for Homes 3.0. Efficiently designed floor plans have always been a priority for us. 910 South Main Street, for example, is an 1,152 square-foot 2 bedroom home and the Hoffman home is a 1,536 square-foot 3-bedroom home.

The other major area of improvement has to do with improving HVAC efficiency. HVAC contractors will now have to complete a mandatory Energy Star training to be approved for HVAC installation in Energy Star homes. This is a good thing since a home can be super well-insulated and tightly sealed but still have leaky ductwork which translates to more natural gas consumed for heating.

Under Version 3, duct leakage allowed to the outside has been reduced. This has little impact on South Main Building Company since we don’t install ductwork in unconditioned spaces, but it was a good move by Energy Star.

Another new HVAC standard is that there is now a maximum allowed duct leakage figure which is tested by a 3rd party energy rater, in our case Chris Martin of Headwaters Energy (Check out the video below of our first duct leakage test at the Herzer home). This wasn’t even tested for before. So if an HVAC system is installed with leaky connections, these are caught before the drywall is installed and problems can be corrected. The end result is a more efficient HVAC system and less gas burned to heat the home.

We can’t actually get our homes officially certified as 3.0 until 2012 but we can certify under the interim version 2.5, and we will be meeting the 3.0 guidelines for several of the homes South Main Building Company is currently constructing, even though they are not required to (because they were permitted before 1/1/2011). So we’re getting ahead of the curve and complying today with what we believe is a step in the right direction.

Green building is certainly just a part of the sustainability puzzle, and unless and until our country changes its car-dependent development patterns, we’ll be missing the point. But we are happy to embrace a program which in 2010 certified 107,227 homes, the equivalent of eliminating emissions from 52,541 vehicles, saving 317,820,828 lbs of coal, planting 86,854 acres of trees, and preventing 623,310,551 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere (source).

Here’s the EPA’s list of the features and benefits of an Energy Star Home, including Effective Insulation, High-Performance Windows, Tight Construction and Ducts, Efficient Heating and Cooling Equipment, Efficient Products and Appliances, and Third Party Verification

*In technical terms, they have switched from a fixed HERS (Home Energy Rating System) index threshold of 80 or 85 (depending upon climate zone) to a variable HERS index target (our home received a HERS rating of 69, which means that it uses 31% less energy than a ‘reference home’ based on the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code).

Related posts:

  1. How is South Main Sustainable? Intro to a Series
  2. A Truly “Green” Home Is One that Is Loved
  3. Sundance Sheepskin & Leather Comes to South Main

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Mal Sillars
February 2, 2011
8:39 am

Great effort here. I teach the GRI Environmental class to real estate brokers around the state and it is great to see South Main setting the pace. In fact I use South Main as an example in class. Well done as always!

Dustin Urban
February 2, 2011
9:57 am

Hey thanks, Mal! I really appreciate that. Cheers

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