If you’ve purchased appliances for a home in the last 15 to 20 years you’ve probably seen or heard of a label called Energy Star. It’s grown into one of those certifications that potential buyers instinctively understand to mean that the product is somehow better than most other products on the market, but what it truly means about the long term performance of products and the cost savings over time can sometimes be lost on consumers. Many purchasers even seem to think that Energy Star is actually a brand itself, while others seem to think that is a government agency that regulates consumer products, perhaps along the lines of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The truth is Energy Star is not its own brand or manufacturer at all, nor is it technically a government agency. Instead it is a voluntary partnership program between companies that produce household appliances and supplies, and the EPA, in a joint effort to minimize energy consumption from a conservationist standpoint, and to maximize savings from a consumer standpoint. It is now celebrating its 20th year in existence. Through this partnership, energy standards and best practices are developed by the EPA and the US Department of Energy, in order to meet those two main goals. Companies strive to create products that meet these standards and by doing so, earn the right to carry the Energy Star label, making it easy and convenient for consumers to recognize energy efficient products.
In a 2009 national energy conservation survey, 98% of Americans agreed with the statement, “It is important to save energy in my home.” Whether their reasons were more environmentalist in nature or whether they were more pocketbook oriented, the nearly unanimous message sent to manufacturers was clear, and in the subsequent years we’ve seen more and more companies striving to reach the standards set by Energy Star. These standards can vary based on product type. According to statistics provided by the Energy Star website, since its inception, over 1.5 billion labeled products have been sold and the program helps save consumers over $21 billion in utility bills annually. Common Energy Star qualified products are light fixtures, kitchen appliances, insulation, toilets, air conditioners, or other household items that may consume water, electricity or other forms of energy. Yet as there are many individual household items that Energy Star certifies, it also certifies entire homes themselves.
For an entire home to receive an Energy Star label, it must undergo multiple rigorous third party tests and inspections to verify that it meets all of the energy efficiency standards set by the EPA. This certification is valuable to both home buyers and builders because it indicates to buyers that this home is likely to be much more physically comfortable to live in and much less costly to own than a home that does not meet such standards, thus the buyer knows they are getting greater value. The appliances and lighting in a home account for about half of a home’s energy consumption. While the certification of individual appliances or systems can help bring value to that particular product, certification of the entire home is a process that takes into account how all the systems of a house work with each other in their usage of energy and the result is a more holistic an encompassing approach to home energy consumption.
When looking at the country as a whole, Energy Star breaks the US into 4 main regional categories based roughly on climate. They are Northern, North-Central, South Central, and Southern. While there are some areas in the country that are technically on the same longitudinal line as we are that are classified as North-Central, the Grand Valley is actually considered Northern. This means that builders building homes in our area that hope to have them Energy Star certified need to follow guidelines specifically designed for our region.
One of the most basic, but also most important benefits that buyers in the Grand Valley can expect from new Energy Star certified homes are fewer drafts. The Western Slope, and in fact all of Colorado, is famous for its temperature swings. There aren’t many places in the country that routinely experience multiple sub zero temperature days as well as multiple 110F+ days, all in the same calendar year. This means that air leaks that create drafts in your home can cost you hugely in both comfort and cash in both the winter and summer. The systems in your home have to strain much harder to maintain a consistent climate inside because leaks either allow heat to escape when you want to keep it, or let it come in when you want to keep it out. In-home climate control already consumes a lot of energy, and air leaks just compound the problem. Contractors who build Energy Star certified homes are specially trained on how to minimize these leaks in construction. This means that when lived in, the home’s temperature will remain much more stable, and will use less energy to do so, ensuring that both you and your budget are much more comfortable.
Energy Star certified homes, nationwide, save their owners an average of 20% on yearly utility bills. One of the highest energy expenses for homeowners in the Grand Valley is keeping their homes cool in the summer months where our average high is in the low 90s and even our nights can creep up to the 70s. Luckily evaporative coolers, which have been a staple in the region for decades, are relatively inexpensive to operate. Unfortunately, due to the slight changes in climate in the region, specifically in humidity, over the last few decades due to population increase in the area, evaporative, or swamp coolers are less and less effective, causing many homeowners to switch to traditional air conditioning. Air conditioning is much more effective in keeping temperatures low in a home, but are much more expensive to run and use a lot more energy. Another reason an Energy Star certified home is a benefit is that first of all, the air conditioning system itself should be Energy Star certified and therefore will minimize the energy usage and cost of that particular system, but being built with a holistic approach, the air conditioner will work together with Energy Star certified insulation, duct work, and the minimized air leaks to keep costs much more manageable.
Several of the high profile buildings in Grand Junction and the surround areas are Energy Star certified, including the Chipeta Elementary School, Grand Junction High School, Palisade High School, several other public buildings and over 532 private residences. Energy Star certified construction is on the rise in Grand Junction with 64 new homes going up in 2015 and 11 different Energy Star builder partners. This means those who live, work, and go to school in these homes and buildings enjoy a much more comfortable environment, pay almost a quarter less in utility bills, and enjoy the peace of mind that their structure is meeting strict EPA standards and contributing as little as possible to our society’s overall consumption of energy.
If you are in the market to either buy or build a home in the Grand Valley, be sure to ask your builder if they are trained in constructing Energy Star certified homes, or ask your realtor about Energy Star certified homes in the area. In the long run you’ll save money, enjoy a much more comfortable home, and you may even benefit years down the road in a greater resale value.
For more insight into the above statistics and more information regarding the Energy Star program, its standards, and how to find products and buildings that meet the Energy Star criteria, visit www.energystar.gov. Also check with your local energy provider for information on different rebate and tax credit programs associated with energy star appliances and homes.