Energy Star Qualified Homes, Brands, Politics, and Vested Interests

“To impact the energy use of all new homes and prevent the resultant environmental degradation due to ever-increasing home sizes and escalating urban sprawl, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began its new homes initiative in 1995.”

The Energy Star for New Homes program is a voluntary program aimed at promoting energy efficient construction in the residential sector through the strength of the Energy Star “brand”. Since it’s inception in 1995, the program has attracted more than 90 utility partners, 2,900 builders, and 360 providers and rater (verification) organizations.

There is no question the the Energy Star New Homes program has been a huge success. According to conservative estimates, the program could save 0.70 quads of electricity by 2010 and forty billion pounds of CO2 could be prevented from entering the atmosphere if only 10% of US homes were able to meet Energy Star’s guidelines for new construction.

All of this has been accomplished on the strength of Energy Star’s “brand”. A brand which is widely known in the marketplace is considered to have acquired “brand recognition”. When brand recognition builds up to a point where a brand enjoys a critical mass of positive sentiment and trust in the marketplace, it is said to have achieved the status of a “brand franchise”. Energy Star has clearly become a brand franchise with strong recognition within the American buying public. Consumer’s have come to trust the Energy Star label to mean that they are getting the best in energy efficiency.

Builders (usually large builders catering to a large suburban market) have signed on to the program because they want the marketing power of the Energy Star brand to help them sell homes. They also want to do and spend the minimum required (with notable exceptions) to win the Energy Star label. As a result, because the EPA is subject to politics, the Energy Star New Homes requirements tend to get watered down by the lobbying power of vested interests which includes the builders. The end result is undeniably positive, but it is not the “best in energy efficiency” that consumer’s think they are getting.

Green building specifications like Energy Star come with about a 2 to 3% cost premium and merely tweak the status quo by reducing energy consumption over existing U.S. code requirements by a minimum of 15%. By contrast, European green standards like PassivHaus in the UK and Germany come with a 5 to 10% premium and if applied in the U.S. would reduce energy consumption by more than 80%. (see chart for a graphic comparison)

Energy Star vs PassivHaus

My point is that consumers having been lulled into complacency by their trust in the Energy Star brand and are blissfully unaware of what’s truly possible.

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2 responses to “Energy Star Qualified Homes, Brands, Politics, and Vested Interests

  1. MerryPlace has teamed with Florida Public Utilities, FPL Buildsmart®, and the Florida Green Building Coalition to develop the energy efficient home designs for MerryPlace condominiums, townhouses, and single family homes. This partnership and energy efficiency measures will lower electricity, water, and gas bills, and create healthier homes.

    “Green Features” are included in every unit. Green features include: waste minimization and material recycling during the construction process, native landscaping, high efficiency drip irrigation, added building insulation, Energy Star appliances and fixtures, zero VOC paints and caulks, state of the art ventilation systems, moisture barriers, minimal use of carpeting, and an innovative resident education program that includes financial incentives for energy efficient living.

  2. I’m glad to see that the Passive House standard gets more and more interest in the US !

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