As Fuel Prices Go Up ENERGY STAR Improvements Pay Off
ENERGY STAR! You see this label on most every appliance and electronic item you buy, from refrigerators to computer monitors. Items with this label meet standards for energy efficiency set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 1995 the EPA turned their attention to buildings and defined ENERGY STAR standards for homes. An ENERGY STAR-certified home is 30 percent or more efficient than a conventional home. As energy prices climb, homeowners will save more on heating and cooling bills, decrease the amount of pollution released into the environment and place less of a strain on the energy infrastructure.
Calling a home "Energy Efficient" conjures images of homes with contemporary designs with no windows. Not so with the ENERGY STAR concept. The idea behind this program is to take conventional house designs and use software to evaluate the home's energy efficiency. The builder and energy analyst then make changes to components of the home to make it more energy efficient. Changes include improving the insulation in certain areas of the home, using the right type of insulation for the application, routing the heating and cooling ducts to be more efficient, and so on. These improvements do not change the look of the home but can have huge effects on how efficient the home is to heat and cool. ENERGY STAR certification is a collaboration between the builder, energy analyst, tradesmen, and the homeowner.
Not many builders have adopted the concepts of ENERGY STAR in southern New Hampshire. Over the last four years, demand for new housing has increased dramatically causing the price of land in New Hampshire to increase. During this same period, building costs have increased an average of 10 percent per year. This has forced new home prices to rise. Builders have struggled to keep costs low and build homes faster to keep up with the demand. Taking the time and effort to make the home more energy-efficient has not been high on the list of priorities. According to Horizon Energy, in July 2005 about 200 homes were being built to ENERGY STAR standards out of the over 4,400 new residential homes being built through July.
Not all houses being built are the same. So to meet the energy efficiency standards set by the EPA, each house is evaluated and built a little differently. This takes time and attention to detail. Furthermore, there are few subcontractors, such as heating contractors, insulators, and electricians, who are willing to take the time to learn the techniques required to contribute to the efficiency of the home. Without, a supply of knowledgeable subcontractors the job of the builder is more difficult.
Making a home energy efficient takes more than adding insulation and installing some ENERGY STAR-labeled windows. "You have to evaluate the living space envelope as a whole and make construction choices based on proven techniques to control air infiltration and heat loss. Concord firm often hired by Public Service of NH to evaluate and monitor ENERGY STAR construction. "There are builders who are using ENERGY STAR labeled windows and calling their home 'energy efficient,' but this is misleading. They are not doing the hard work to make the home really perform to high standards of efficiency." Even minor construction details, like the way electrical wires are run in the walls, can have an impact on the way a home performances. "Caulking holes where the wires enter electrical boxes and where wires pass between living spaces affects the performance of the home." Riley says. "These are details that can not be seen but they contribute to the performance. We try to work with the builder and the home-owner to achieve the efficiency rating required without running up the cost of the home."
Of course there are homes being built that go to the extremes of energy efficiency by incorporating exotic systems like geothermal heating systems, solar arrays and incorporating high tech materials. But these approaches are beyond the reach of most homeowners and have very long pay back periods. Riley says, "It's not about spending lots of money but spending money on the right things." Builders have not had much demand for energy-efficient housing. Energy prices have been going up and this trend is not expected to change over the long term. In September 2005, the price of home heating oil rose over 65 percent from where it was in 2004. At $ 2.67per gallon the cost of heating the average home cost about $ 800 more.
The cost benefits of owning an energy-efficient home will increase as fuel prices climb, but there are other benefits to an ENERGY STAR home. These homes maintain a more consistent temperature and have fewer drafts, so they are more comfortable. They use fewer resources and are less of a strain on our environment than conventional homes. This is evidenced by the fact that PSNH supports the ENERGY STAR program with cash rebates and technical support.
Although nowadays there is not much awareness of the difference between a conventional home and an ENERGY STAR home, it will not be long before homes with this rating will fetch a higher price in the housing market, especially if energy prices remain high. The ENERGY STAR program was created by the EPA and heavily promoted by it. It is a program that is not likely to fade away and so the value it encourages will also last. Look at the impact the program has had on the whole electronic appliance industry. Buyers now look for the ENERGY STAR label on the products they buy. So it is likely that a homebuyer a few years from now will also look for that certificate on a home and will pay less if it does not have it.
For more information go to http://www.EnergyStar.gov .