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Recognizing the importance of energy-efficiency

by Debra Gelbart on Apr 3, 2015

Buyers looking for energy-efficient new homes will have an easy time finding them in the Phoenix market. That’s because at least 60 major production homebuilders in the Valley build new homes to the standards of the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program.

Verified efficiency

Though the ENERGY STAR program was established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1992 and many appliances have been energy-efficiency-certified since then, homes didn’t officially become part of the program until the early 2000s. Verification of a home’s energy-efficiency by a third-party organization is mandatory for earning the ENERGY STAR label — a third-party is typically an independent rating organization that assesses and values the energy-efficiency of a newly built or existing home.

Since 2001, Arizona Public Service (APS) has promoted high-efficiency construction practices for new homes and endorsed builders who build to Energy Star performance standards, said APS spokeswoman Anna Haberlein.

“Our program is available to homebuilders that produce five or more homes each year,” she said. “Participating builders are trained to apply building science principles to ensure that high-efficiency homes also have superior comfort and performance.”

While the majority of new single-family construction in the service territory of Salt River Project (SRP) is certified by the SRP ENERGY STAR Homes program, “there are builders that choose to not participate for a variety of reasons,” said Nathan Morey, SRP’s manager of energy-efficiency programs. “Custom homes and small communities are tough to test and certify to the ENERGY STAR specification cost-effectively, so they may choose to build efficient homes, but forgo the official ENERGY STAR process and certification.”

Builders’ perspectives

Most new-home buyers seek out homes that operate efficiently — and homebuilders’ enthusiasm for building energy-efficient homes stems, in part, from that “change in buyer sophistication,” said C.R. Herro, vice president of environmental affairs for Meritage Homes. The ENERGY STAR program “is an opportunity to demonstrate how well our homes can operate,” he said. “Buyers can count on lower utility costs, more comfort and a healthier indoor environment.” 

ENERGY STAR certification “speaks not only to energy-efficiency, but also to overall quality of construction,” said Ken Kulinowski, vice president of purchasing for AV Homes. “We want potential homebuyers to recognize our 100 percent commitment to building energy-efficient homes and doing our part to reduce carbon footprints.”

Trey Bitteker, general sales manager for PulteGroup, Arizona’s largest builder of ENERGY STAR homes, said that PulteGroup has built more than 28,000 homes that have received ENERGY STAR certification.

Bitteker provided some examples of the construction required to capture that designation: walls have to be built to certain specifications, attic insulation must meet certain minimums, the ‘building envelope’ (the roof, foundation, exterior doors, windows and exterior walls together) must be air-sealed to block drafts, and high-performance windows must reflect heat away from the home, he said.

Participating in the ENERGY STAR program “demonstrates to our customers and partners that we’re committed to building an energy-efficient product,” Bitteker said, “that will result in lower, more predictable utility bills.”

Home Energy Rating System

A key component of determining a home’s level of energy-efficiency is the HERS (Home Energy Rating System) rating which is an index or score that is the industry standard by which a home’s energy-efficiency is measured. The HERS Index runs from zero to 100 or 150; every point on the scale working backward from the highest number represents a 1 percent improvement in the home’s energy-efficiency.

For example, a home that has a HERS rating of 99 is 1 percent more efficient than one with a rating of 100. A zero HERS score is referred to as a ‘net zero home’ and will have renewable energy, meaning it is a home that produces the same amount of energy that it consumes. 

An ENERGY STAR home ranks below 80, which means that a home is at least 21 percent more energy-efficient than a home scoring 100.

And finally…

“In comparison to five or 10 years ago, it’s incredible to see the increased adoption of energy- efficient construction practices by the homebuilding industry,” Morey, of SRP, said. “Their focus on energy-efficiency and their drive to improve their construction practices have allowed them to deliver more efficient homes year over year with little to no incremental cost to the homebuyer.”

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