Energy StarWith the ever-growing concern over environmental issues and energy conservation, new homes designed for energy-efficiency are rapidly becoming a popular option. Energy-efficient homes reduce the amount of energy required for lighting, temperature control and the heating of water as well as improving indoor air quality. However – like many other claims intended as a strong selling point, energy-efficiency has its fair share of “snake oil” – claims that don’t have any ground to stand on.

The federal government’s Energy Star program offers certification to green home builders. This gives homeowners the reassurance that they are purchasing a home designed to conform to strict energy-efficiency guidelines. Energy Star-certified homes (as they are called) are inspected independently by a certified rater. The Energy Star logo, which is placed on the home’s breaker box as well as placed on documents provided to the homeowner.

Whether you elect to have a home custom-built for you or if you’ve purchased Energy Star-certified house building plans online, your new home can save you money on your energy bills, reduce associated air pollution from power generation but can also last longer since it is designed to prevent or minimize wear from water damage, sun exposure and dust . . . among other factors.  And regardless of whether you are shopping for a new (or existing) home, Energy Star‘s program in a way can serve as a guide for improvements no matter where you live.

While difficult, this rating can be achieved on existing homes. Energy Star states, “(If) they are part of a gut rehab project exposing all insulated framing assemblies.” So in theory, an Energy Star certification is achievable too when remodeling.

Energy Star Certified Homes must meet requirements in four key areas:

* Increased Thermal Efficiency

The average home is rife with air leaks. Other problems that can drive up energy costs by allowing heat to move in and out of the home. This causes longer run time on air conditioning or heating units.

* A variety of measures taken to improve thermal efficiency including:

– Sealing potential air leaks around doors, windows and other open points in the walls such as wiring pass-throughs.

– Installing insulation properly to fill in spaces between walls and avoid gaps (or compressed insulation).

– Installing high-performance windows designed for energy-efficiency. These can include reflective coatings and double or triple panes with inert gas sealed between. This reduces not only the amount of heat that can pass through the window, but the amount of sunlight that enters the home.

* Increased Heating/Cooling Efficiency

When it comes to keeping your home at a comfortable temperature, passive measures such as sealing air leaks are only part of the solution to increased energy-efficiency. Energy-efficient solutions for heating or cooling as well as energy-efficient water heaters are a must to complete the package.

* Measures addressing the home’s mechanical systems include:

– Installing a high-efficiency furnace, heat pump or air conditioner, which delivers the same performance for less energy.

– Properly sealing ductwork that eliminates air leaks at joins in the ductwork.

– Filtering the air, cutting down on the amount of pollutants entering the ducts. These can build up inside the HVAC system, leading to increased wear and tear on the components as well as reduced air quality in the home.

– Installing high-efficiency water heating systems, such as tankless or condensing water heaters. These only heat water on demand or feed waste heat back into the system. These can reduce overall energy costs for heating water.

* Lighting and Appliances

Along with heating and cooling, your major appliances and light sources are the other major sources of energy consumption.

* Measures for reducing energy consumption include:

– Installing CFL and LED fixtures, which can significantly extend the useful life of your light sources. These bulbs not only reduce waste that goes into landfills. They also consume significantly less energy to produce the same amount of light.

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– Adding only energy-efficient appliances designed to reduce the amount of energy consumed while still delivering the same amount of performance.

– Installing automatic shut-off switches designed to turn off lights when not in use. These also cut power to appliances such as TVs and printers that are idle but still drawing “vampire” power.

* Water Management

Water damage can lead to a variety of problems with the home’s air quality and structural integrity … including dry rot, airborne mold spores and foundation cracking.

* Measures taken to improve moisture management include:

– Installing under-roof membranes designed to repel water that seeps under the shingles … hence preventing leaks.

– Installing retaining walls and foundation grading to channel water away from the foundation and prevent damage.

– Moisture Barriers inside walls reducing condensation build-up that can damage paint, induce mold growth, or damage insulation.

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Justin Krutz blogs about a variety of home improvement topics including energy-efficient house plans and floor plans for homeowners.  He has blogged for Building Moxie previously.