July 29, 2004

Energy Star label now ready for homes

  • New program is designed for builders of energy-efficient houses
    Energy Star Homes Northwest

    Consumers are reading the label. Whether in the grocery store poring over ingredients and nutritional value, or at the car dealership comparing miles per gallon, consumers are expecting more from their purchases. They're assessing the overall value of the products they buy and increasingly reflecting on the impacts of their purchasing decisions — not just on their pocketbooks, but on the environment.

    That same appetite for value and environmental sensitivity is carrying over to the way consumers evaluate new home purchases. That's good news for the planet. A typical home in the U.S. produces more air pollution than a car each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, residential homes collectively account for 20 percent of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

    With consumer demand for energy efficiency on the rise, the building industry is ready to deliver, thanks to a new program offered by participating local utilities and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a nonprofit corporation supported by electric utilities, public benefits administrators, state governments, public interest groups and energy-efficiency industry representatives.

    Energy Star, the national symbol that helps consumers quickly identify the most energy-efficient lighting and appliances — from compact fluorescent light bulbs to clothes washers — can now be applied to newly constructed energy-efficient homes certified through the Energy Star Homes Northwest program.

    The program fosters construction of some of the most energy-efficient homes on the market through high-energy-efficiency requirements and a certification process that verifies building practices. Compared to conventional homes, Energy Star homes use 70 percent or less of the energy typically required for heating, cooling and hot water, and individually keep 4,500 pounds of greenhouse gasses out of the air each year.

    Energy Star Homes Northwest uses a higher standard of reliable technologies already familiar to the building industry: air-tight duct systems, insulation and windows; high-efficiency heating and cooling systems; and Energy Star-qualified appliances and lighting. While they may cost a little more, they've proven to attract home buyers willing to make the additional investment to reap the long-term savings. To help builders adopt Energy Star requirements in their new homes, some local utilities also offer incentives.

    For many builders, stepping up to higher levels of efficiency is a simple process; and the added savings for consumers are measurable. Homes built to the Energy Star Homes Northwest requirements are expected to be at least 15 percent more energy-efficient than homes built to Washington state codes.

    The benefits of building to Energy Star Homes Northwest specifications include:

    • Market differentiation. The Energy Star symbol gives newly constructed homes a stamp of quality and efficiency consumers recognize and trust, and will help attract the ever-increasing contingency of home buyers interested in energy savings and resource conservation. Plus, home buyers who had not yet considered energy-efficient construction are likely to be attracted to the added benefits of high-quality features and long-term savings.

    • Building support. Homebuilders who participate in the program can tap into free support from specially trained builder outreach specialists, who help make the process straightforward and simple. In the planning stages, specialists help builders incorporate energy-efficient features. During construction, they provide information on correct methods of installation and building practices.

    • Marketing and sales support. Builders can use built-in marketing and sales tools to help reach potential home buyers, including cooperative advertising funds, model home signage, home branding materials and realtor/sales agent training.

    • Third-party inspection. Homes built under the program are independently certified by approved technicians, promising greater quality assurance to home buyers and reducing the number of customer call-backs to the job site. Technicians visually inspect homes, verify relevant component and equipment specifications, and ensure the HVAC system installation and performance meets program requirements. In the process, builders are made aware of any adjustments needed, which can be completed in advance of the sale. High-quality, performance-tested construction enhances the builder's reputation for producing top-quality homes and provides home buyers with dwellings that have long-term marketability.

    While designed to contribute to a healthier environment, the program goes far beyond its intended purpose. Already, builders in other parts of the country have found that building to Energy Star specifications enhances their reputations for quality construction, helping attract customers and ensuring long-term satisfaction. For consumers, the benefits are even more long-lasting — year-after-year savings on home utility bills.

    For more information, see or call the toll-free builder line at (877) 298-2172.

    Mike Guerard is the homes program manager for Energy Star Homes Northwest. He has been managing energy-efficient new home construction and Energy Star homes programs for 12 years.

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