The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently reported that almost 17 percent of all single family homes built in the United States in 2008 qualified for the Energy Star label. This is up from 12 percent in 2007.
Energy Star homes are at least 15 percent more efficient than homes built according to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC) and include properly installed insulation that completely blankets the home; high-performance windows (vacuum sealed inert gas between glass layers, low-e glass, warm edge spacers and advanced weatherstripping); a tightly sealed building envelope (using Tyvek, for example); sealed heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) ductwork; energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment; and the use of Energy Star products like lighting, refrigeration, and clothes dryers to maximize efficiency.
All Energy Star homes are independently evaluated, either using specially designed software or via a Builder Option package. Qualifying standards for an Energy Star rating are maintained by the Residential Energy Services Network, or RESNET.
According to a new, two-year study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, or UCS, the leading science-based nonprofit aimed at creating a healthy environment, instituting a series of climate, energy and transportation policies directed at energy efficiency would allow the U.S. to meet an emissions reductions cap of 26 percent below 2005 levels in 2020, and 56 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
The report, titled “Climate 2030: A National Blueprint for a Clean Energy Economy," noted that household energy saving measures alone would net homeowners about $320 on annual electricity and heating/cooling costs. Businesses would save a whopping $130 billion.
That 17 percent market share for Energy Star homes was even higher in 15 states (Ariz., Colo., Conn., Hawaii, Iowa, Ky., Nev., New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Okla., Texas, Utah, and Vt.), resulting in an energy-cost savings of more than $250 million. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, or GHGs, was the same as taking 350,000 cars off U.S. roads for a year.
Commercial properties have experienced a similar upsurge, with 25 percent more qualifying for the Energy Star rating in 2008. This includes both office buildings and factories, and the resultant emissions reductions have reached an all-time high of more than 25 billion pounds.
Unfortunately, energy-efficient homes, like energy-efficient cars, cost more to build and therefore more to buy. The 100,000 new homes built to Energy Star standards in 2008 represent only a fraction of the approximately 397,000 new homes sold (not built) in 2008.
Thanks to an ongoing recession, new home sales have consistently declined for the past two years. New home sales for 2008 were down by 45 percent from December of 2007. Both 2007 and 2008 compare dismally to 2006, when 1.051 million homes were sold.
As long as the recession persists, new home sales – and particularly Energy Star homes – will likely see a declining share of the market. With June figures yet to come in from the U.S. Census Bureau, and a reported sharp drop in new housing starts for the month, expect energy efficient homes to suffer the blowback of a dismal economy.
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