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Getting Started–Building an Energy Star Home

Throughout the next series of articles, we will be chronicling the steps to build an energy efficient home based on a current project here in Flagstaff. We are building a house for a professor just north of NAU who is prioritizing energy efficiency. This first article covers the basics of getting started, and the next few months will dive deeper into the details.

To earn the ENERGY STAR label, a home must meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), making them 20 to 30 percent more efficient than standard homes. Homes achieve this level of performance through a combination of energy–efficient improvements, including:

• Effective Insulation Systems

• High–Performance Windows

• Tight Construction and Ducts

• Efficient Heating and Cooling Equipment

• ENERGY STAR Qualified Lighting and Appliances


To ensure that a home meets ENERGY STAR guidelines, third-party verification by a certified home energy rater (or equivalent) is required. This rater works closely with the builder throughout the construction process to help determine the needed energy-saving equipment and construction techniques and to conduct required on-site diagnostic testing and inspections to document that the home is eligible to earn the ENERGY STAR label.

Step 1: Builder Chooses to Partner with ENERGY STAR

Through a Partnership Agreement with EPA, a builder agrees to affix an ENERGY STAR label on homes that are independently verified to meet program guidelines and to build at least one ENERGY STAR qualified home every 12 months to maintain their partnership. Through the Partnership Agreement process, the builder also selects a home energy rater to work with to qualify their homes.

Step 2: Builder Works with Rater and Homeowner to Select Appropriate Energy–Efficient Home Features

The builder submits their architectural plans to their home energy rater for review and analysis. The rater looks for key information on the plans to help the builder and homeowner choose the best combination of energy-efficient features to ensure that the home will earn the ENERGY STAR label when constructed. Some raters rely on a prescriptive package of energy improvements developed by EPA, while others develop a customized approach for each home using specialized home energy modeling software. This is the time in the project that the homeowner strikes a balance between the total construction cost vs. the life cycle cost of the completed home. As an example, in our case, the owner thought it was appropriate to put attention into the overall building efficiency, upgraded insulation, and mechanical system, but to only pre pipe for future solar power and wait on the actual panel installation.

Step 3: Builder Constructs Home and Rater Verifies Features and Performance.

With the energy-efficient features selected, the builder then proceeds with construction of the home. Throughout the construction process, the rater performs a number of inspections and diagnostic tests to verify the proper installation of the selected energy-efficient features and overall energy performance of the home.

Step 4: Rater Qualifies the Home as ENERGY STAR and Issues an ENERGY STAR Label

After the rater completes the final inspection and determines that all requirements have been met, the rater will provide the builder with an ENERGY STAR label, which is placed on the circuit breaker box of the home. This label provides the homeowner with documentation that the home is ENERGY STAR qualified, and includes the home address, builder name, rater name, and date verified. Some builders may also provide a paper certificate or copy of the home energy rating report.

In our next articles, we will start to focus on the details like foundations, waterproofing techniques, framing, air sealing, and high efficiency mechanical systems. You can follow the progress of the home on our blog at: http://hopeconstructionaz.blogspot.com/. FBN

David Carpenter is the owner of Hope Construction, a general contracting and construction management firm with an emphasis on sustainable building. He can be reached at 928-527-3159



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