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What’s Energy Star? Something You should know before building. April 15, 2007

Posted by jeff in Uncategorized.

Most of us have watched incredulously as the cigarette industry pays for advertisements that publicly humiliate it and clearly are intended to destroy it. For those of us with at least a foot in the marketing world, it’s incomprehensible, despite our understanding of the the legal, health and business history perspective. It’s been going on for years now and we all know about it.

Dining room insulationWell, they’re not the only company playing the business/legal game of forced change. Your local utility’s playing it too! We’ve also heard of the ‘free energy audits’ offered by your local electrical/gas utilities where the auditor will come to your house and tell you how to save energy, thus costing her/his company revenue. Ever done it? I’ve been too weirded out by the concept and that’s my loss. Now I know more about the game, thanks to our friend Mike.

Mike’s an energy auditor and home inspector and has really helped us out over the past 10 days. He’s done more than explain the game to us. He’s also improved our house, taught our builder some new tricks and put us in possible range of some tax incentives from the Energy Star program.

That’s a name you know, eh? Energy Star? They’re the ones who certify that your new appliances are more efficient than your old ones and maybe you get a tax credit out of the deal? Well, that’s the same program that your utilities have been paying your money into for years to pay the salaries of the energy auditors! Does that close the loop for you? It sure did for me! The government mandates the improvements, the utilities pay for their monopoly by paying into the program, the auditors are paid for by you and the utility and help you save energy by making the improvements. Don’t worry about the utility too much – they’ll find a way to make money. Monopolies do tend to help in that regard.

The windowSo let’s get back to Mike. He convinced us to boost our exterior insulation from R-19 to R-21 for about $550. His explanation that the R-19 is 6 1/4 inches thick and the R-21 is 5 1/2 inches thick was the turning point, because it explains why the R-19, when crushed into the 5 1/2 inch thickness of the exterior wall, really functions as R-17 or so. The higher density R-21 certainly is worth more money when you see it with that comparison in mind. In addition, Mike explained that using cellulose insulation in the attic would be another good $550 investment. In addition to boosting us from R-30 to R-38, it’d also fill the air gaps between the ceiling board and the attic joists caused by the furring strips. This really helps the insulation value and greatly decreases the chances of moisture issues – the biggest trouble in the insulation world.

So our house now costs $1100 more. Mike rough modeled the house and estimated the changes will pay for themselves in about 7 years. On top of that, we’re hopeful that we’ll qualify for Energy Star certification and get tax credits to help pay for some of the additional insulation, but that’s only a possibility right now. Why?

Because it’s a bloody little secret that the Energy Star program is trying to recruit and educate builders to build more energy efficient homes!

Heather and I are pretty environmentally conscious. We’ve been in the process for building this house for over 2 years now. And Mike’s the first person to tell us that Energy Star will pay for the auditor to work with us from Planning to Designing to Building to Certifying the house in order to make it more energy efficient!!! Our house is now better insulated, so why do we care? Well, only the insulation got boosted. Our well-insulated ducts are still in unconditioned space, so we may not get certified and the hundreds or thousands of dollars in tax credits. On top of that, our southern windows, while very nice, may not be the ideal windows to capture the southern light since the solar heat gain cooefficient isn’t as high as it could be! Ralph did a nice job picking out nice, well-insulated windows. But he’s not a solar planner and Mike tells us that we may receive a fair bit less solar gain than we should because the SHGC of the windows means they’re reflecting a lot of the energy instead of letting us capture it! A free energy auditor could have taken care of that bit of information!


Don’t get me wrong. It’s a kick-@$$ house. And between the geothermal heating/cooling system, the semi-passive solar design and the high-efficiency wood fireplace, boosted by the added insulation, we’re expecting to pay well under $1000 per year to heat/cool the joint. But I’m a big fan of doing it right – and I really would have wanted to know about this program in advance.

If I’m confused on some of the details, please comment and let me know what I’ve gotten wrong!

In the meantime, the insulation is about 70% in place. The board is slated to go up next week and it’s going to start looking like a finished house very shortly!



1. Bob - February 20, 2008

??? You indicated that Energy Star paid for the auditor (planning, certifying etc). Energy Star claims they have no program such as this, and I must use an independant auditor for each step of the process and pay whatever fees are required. Is there some lupole I’m not seeing?

2. jeff - February 20, 2008

Bob, my auditor’s website (which I built) states that “this service is FREE! All you have to do is apply to Energy Star Homes and your local utilities are required by law to pay for these services.”

You can give Mike a call with any questions…http://www.advancedbuildinganalysis.com/energy_new_home.html

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