ENERGY STAR: Learn more at energystar.gov

The ENERGY STAR® for Homes Program

For over 20 years, the ENERGY STAR Program has been the flagship brand for energy performance in commercial buildings, products, and residential construction. Since the launch of ENERGY STAR for Homes in 1995, over 2.2 million dwelling units have earned the ENERGY STAR certification. Now, both Single-Family and Multifamily projects have specific program requirement to earn the ENERGY STAR certification.

Earning this certification grants builders, developers, and owners access to energy efficient mortgages, higher tier rebate programs, and more.

Not only are there some great financial incentives associated with the ENERGY STAR for Homes Program, but homes certified in the program are more comfortable and have lower bills. Best of all: it’s backed by a robust and nationally-recognized brand.

What does it take to get an ENERGY STAR-certified home?

The process starts even before the design is finalized. The ENERGY STAR Program requires three distinct parties to become partners: builders/developers, HVAC contractors, and energy rating companies.

The builder/developer attends training and officially signs partnership agreements with the program. This opens the door so the builder can design and construct a home the meets the rigorous standards of the ENERGY STAR Program. They are solely responsible for complying with the Water Management System requirements. And if the energy rating company approves, they are allowed to verify up to eight line items on the Rater Field Checklist.

That’s not all – the HVAC Commissioning agent is overseen by an EPA-approved HVAC oversight organization, where they undergo quality assurance as part of their partnership agreement. They provide the commissioning services like the installation and start-up of the unit, as well as ensuring the unit is moving air and refrigerant appropriately.

The third pillar of the program are the energy rater companies – certified to perform the tests, verify construction elements, and more. These are the partners that perform the verification work necessary to ensure every dwelling unit meets the high standards of the ENERGY STAR Program. It’s these companies that work with Building Science Institute, Ltd. Co., as verification organizations.

What do Verification Organizations do?

Our Verification Organizations review the design and use energy modeling software tools like HouseRater, powered by NREL’s EnergyPlus calculation engine, to verify the design will meet the program requirements. 

After that, at the pre-drywall installation phase, certified Verifiers inspect the framing and insulation – making sure everything meets the high standard required by the ENERGY STAR Program. As construction moves along, verifiers will return to the project at the final phase – typically once the home has been completed but before the handoff to the homeowner.

At the final phase of construction, verifiers will inspect the different elements of the home. They capture information on the mechanical equipment, like water heaters and the HVAC units. Verifiers will also gather information on appliances, like refrigerators, dishwashers, and more. And if the verifier is certified to grade the installation of the HVAC system, they may also complete HVAC commissioning tasks. But the key element at the final inspection are the performance tests.

These performance tests are the air infiltration test (also known as a “blower door test” thanks to the equipment used), the duct leakage test (which actually involve two different tests), and the mechanical ventilation test.

The air infiltration test involves the certified Verifier setting up a large fan called a blower door, then pressurizing or depressurizing the house to 50 Pascals, with respect to the outside. Testing at this specific pressure point helps verifiers find gaps in the “thermal envelope” of the house. These are places where hot air leaves in the winter and comes into the house in the summer.

The duct leakage test, as already noted, is actually two separate, interrelated tests. The first is the total duct leakage (TDL) test. Like the air infiltration test, this test is performed by setting the pressure between the duct system and the outside to 25 Pascals, but using a different device: a duct blower. This test measures all the leaks that exit your HVAC duct system – leaks that come back into the house, or leave it entirely. 

The second test is the leakage to outside (LTO) or duct leakage to outside (DLO) test. It’s performed using a combination of the blower door and duct blower. The blower door induces a set pressure of 25 Pascals with respect to the outside. At the same time, the duct blower brings the duct system pressure with respect to the house to zero. What this does is measure all the leaks in the duct system that leave the home entirely.

The final performance test measures the whole house mechanical ventilation system, and local mechanical ventilation like bath exhausts and kitchen range hoods. While the actual test method depends on the equipment installed – be they Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERVs), Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRVs), or Air Cycler systems – this test is critical to making your home comfortable and healthy.

After working with ENERGY STAR New Homes, what do you get?

The final product is a home that’s energy efficient, comfortable, and has had third-party verification that makes sure the home meets the requirements of the ENERGY STAR Program.

There’s no other program that has the national scope and effect of improving energy efficiency. In 2019 alone, the ENERGY STAR Residential New Construction program helped homeowners save over $400 million in energy costs, and reduce production of nearly 4 million metric tons of greenhouse gases.

Want to see how much the ENERGY STAR Program affected your state in 2020? Find out here!

If you’re in the market for a new home or multifamily dwelling unit, it’s worth your time to find a builder or development that’s earned the ENERGY STAR certification.

You’ll save money, be more comfortable, and have a hand in reducing greenhouse gas production.

Why wait? Find your partner today!