Label Your Home Green!

by | Jul 9, 2021 | Energy Efficiency, How-To, Planning

We are all familiar with the Energy Star labels seen on computers, refrigerators, and other products. But did you know that the program also covers your entire home, from roof to basement? Like Brad and Daryl Thompson (see feature on page 40), you can design and build your log home using Energy Star guidelines to earn a five+ star rating and a home that has lower utility costs, optimum indoor air quality, and helps to reduce greenhouse gases and other pollutants in the environment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency created Energy Star in the early 1990s with the goal of reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Initially, the program began with labeling computers and printers then in 1995 introduced labels for residential heating and cooling systems and new homes. Today, there are thousands of Energy Star products on the market, from major appliances, lighting, and home electronics, to home office equipment. As of 2010, over one million Energy Star homes have been built. The 117,373 Energy Star homes built in 2010 alone eliminated emissions from the equivalent of 57,513 vehicles, saved 347,893,572 pounds of coal, planted 95,072 acres of trees, and prevented 682,289,249 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

To earn an Energy Star rating, a home must be built to strict EPA guidelines for energy efficiency. The home must be 15 percent more efficient than homes built to 2004 International Residential Code and have additional energy-saving features that make it 20 to 30 percent more energy-efficient than standard homes.

Finding an Energy Star Partner
The first step toward living in an Energy Star-certified home is to find a builder who partners with Energy Star. To maintain the partnership, the builder is required to construct at least one qualified home every 12 months and to place an Energy Star label on the home confirming that it was independently verified to meet the program’s guidelines. Some builders are 100 percent committed to building only Energy Star homes while others offer the service to buyers who want it. Currently, there are more than nine thousand Energy Star Home partners in the United States. A number of log home producers have partnered with Energy Star and can direct you to qualified builders. You can also consult the Energy Star website:

The builder you choose will work with a Home Energy Rater to select the proper energy-efficient home features. The rater will begin by analyzing the architectural plans for the home and make recommendations to ensure that the home will earn an Energy Star label. Some raters use an EPA-prescribed list of energy improvements and others customize their approach for each home using home energy modeling software.

Once the architectural plans have been approved, construction on the home can begin. The rater will make a number of inspections and conduct a variety of tests during the building process, ensuring that all of the elements meet the Energy Star requirements and are installed properly. When the construction is complete, the rater makes a final inspection and, if all the requirements have been met, gives the builder an Energy Star label. The label, which is placed on the circuit breaker box, documents that the home is Energy Star qualified, lists the builder’s name and address, the rater’s name, gives the date of the certification. The homeowners may also receive a paper certificate or a copy of the home energy rating report.

Energy Star Features
As a whole-house program, Energy Star focuses on all of the elements that contribute to a comfortable, energy-efficient home, from the insulation to the appliances. The program recommends proven methods in the following areas:

Insulation: Log home producers have developed methods of constructing tight walls with little to no air infiltration and the logs themselves contribute to energy savings because of their thermal properties. But, even in a log home, you still have to have effective insulation in the floors and attic spaces. Insulation blankets your entire home, leaving no gaps, voids, or compressions. Energy Star-approved insulation meets or exceeds national code requirements.

You can purchase top-of-the-line insulation, but it’s only going to do its job if it’s installed correctly. If it is not properly installed your home may experience excessive heat gain in the summer and heat loss in the winter, and your heating and cooling system will have to work much harder to compensate. Correctly installed insulation will keep the interior temperature at consistent levels no matter what the outdoor temperature. Your utility bills will be lower because your system doesn’t have to work as hard. Also in the plus column: properly installed insulation reduces the potential for condensation—infiltrating moisture that may rot some of the home’s building materials. And potential buyers for your home will value the guarantee that the home is airtight.

Heating and Cooling Equipment: Equipment with an Energy Star label is 15 percent more efficient than standard furnaces, boilers, air conditioners, and heat pumps. To get the maximum benefit from an Energy Star HVAC system, it must be the correct size for the home’s square footage and the number of occupants; the system load also dictates the size of the ducts. Furnaces and boilers should be located in a conditioned space, while compressors or heat pumps are installed outdoors, in an area with little sun exposure and with plenty of space around them for easy air flow. The Home Energy Rater will test the airflow and leakage through the ducts and adjust the airflow to improve the system’s energy efficiency and the home’s comfort and air quality. The air conditioner’s refrigerant line is also checked for the correct charge; if it’s wrong, the system will lose 20 percent efficiency and eventually will fail.

Ductwork: The ducts in a home are its air distribution system. They carry air from the furnace or air conditioner to all the rooms of the house and back again. A typical home loses 20 percent of warmed or cooled air through leaks, holes, and bad duct connections. And leaky ducts allow dirt, dust, moisture, pollen, insects and other pests, and fumes to enter the house. The Energy Star program tests the home for air tightness and verifies that the ducts are installed correctly and properly insulated. As a result, utility bills are lower and there is better indoor air quality, and your HVAC system does not need to work as hard to make up for the loss.

Windows, Doors, and Skylights: Energy Star-labeled windows, doors, and skylights have been independently certified to perform at levels that meet or exceed EPA energy-efficiency standards. The products incorporate the latest energy-efficient technologies, such as protective coatings and improved frames that help keep the heat of the sun out in the summer and inside the house during the winter. The low-e glass with solar shading will also protect your floors, furniture, and artwork from being damaged by UV light. Energy Star windows, doors, and skylights are designed for specific geographical areas, based on climate. Windows for northern climates reduce heat loss in the winter, while those for southern areas reduce heat gain during the summer. The climate zone is clearly marked on the product’s Energy Star label.

Like insulation, Energy Star windows, doors, and skylights are only as good as their installation. Retaining the warranty depends on following the manufacturer’s instructions exactly; in fact, some warranties require that you use a manufacturer-certified installer.

Appliances, Electronics, and Lighting: An Energy Star label on a product guarantees that it will use less energy and water than a standard model. According to Energy Star, “The average U.S. household spends $1,400 each year on their energy bills. By choosing Energy Star-qualified products, each household can cut this usage by 30 percent, saving more than $400 per year.” Energy Star appliances, such as clothes washers, dishwashers, and refrigerators, save an average of 25 percent above standard products. Energy Star-labeled home electronics—TVs, stereos, etc.—give a 38 percent savings over other, standard models. Light fixtures with the Energy Star label produce a 66 percent energy savings over standard, new fixtures. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFCs) that qualify for the Energy Star label use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. Also Energy Star-friendly, programmable thermostats can reduce home energy costs by 22 percent. They keep the inside temperature at a more even range, preventing the HVAC from working harder than necessary.

Benefits of an Energy Star Home
Working toward an Energy Star-certified home requires a great deal of commitment on the part of the homeowners and those who are involved in building and outfitting the home. It may cost a bit more to complete the home and it make take slightly more time to build it due to the various inspections and certifications required. But in the end you will have made a smart investment. It will cost less to operate and maintain your home over time. All of the Energy Star products that went into your home will contribute toward a healthier, more energy-efficient lifestyle.