ENERGY STAR® for New Homes shortlist: things to consider when aiming above Code

ENERGY STAR® shortlist: things to consider when aiming above Code

Ease and cost of achieving ENERGY STAR® qualification depends on where you start

Since the B.C. Building Code tightened its requirements in the cause of energy efficiency, leading-edge builders are looking even further ahead at advances in efficiency and comfort. The ENERGY STAR for New Homes standard, which is supported by BC Hydro and FortisBC, is recommended not only as a way builders can produce a higher performing home, but also as a way of gaining the marketing advantage of being associated with a well-recognized label.

If you want to aim for ENERGY STAR, however, it's important to assess where you're starting from.

"Those who are already building a fairly efficient house likely know where they could make it better," says Einar Halbig, a Certified Energy Advisor working in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

"But builders who are getting their first exposure to any type of home rating program can be a bit surprised to find out that good windows and a high efficiency furnace won't add up to as high a rating as they'd hoped."

Halbig's company has put together a shortlist of items builders must understand and consider when deciding to take on the ENERGY STAR New Home standard, and we've summarized the list below. While the list may look daunting to builders who are new to rating programs, Halbig strongly recommends working with an energy advisor who can help by assessing their current building practices and finding ways to shift towards higher efficiency.

"BC Hydro and FortisBC have spent time and effort ensuring that energy advisors across the province are well trained on ENERGY STAR," he says. "It helps us in turn help the builders who want to go through this program."

Adopting ENERGY STAR now prepares builders for future Code updates

Halbig says adopting ENERGY STAR is a good investment because it's aligned with the direction the B.C. Building Code is expected to go in the future. An ENERGY STAR new home is about 20% more efficient than a code-built home.

"ENERGY STAR can be seen as a precursor of where codes are going, so a builder doing it now is choosing to learn it ahead of the curve," says Halbig. "Meeting ENERGY STAR means you'll turn out a house that's more energy efficient, more comfortable, more controllable, better ventilated, with better indoor air quality. Plus it's a great brand because it's so prevalent and people understand it.

"You're going to have to learn to build this way sooner or later anyway, so what's not to like?"

Things to consider for the ENERGY STAR for New Homes standard (Version 12.6)

  1. Enrollment fee is about $150 per house (depending on service agency).
  2. Can use prescriptive or performance methodologies.
  3. For performance method, must achieve an EnerGuide rating of 81 or higher.
  4. All insulation must meet or exceed the building code's prescriptive minimums (Section 9.36) for all building assemblies, including around plumbing drains/stacks on exterior walls, HVAC ducts in exterior walls/attics, around electrical panels on exterior walls, etc.
  5. Basement slab above frost line must be insulated under the full slab area and have a thermal break along its edge.
  6. Air tightness maximum of 2.5ACH [Air Changes per Hour] @50Pa for single family homes; 3.0ACH@50Pa for rowhouses.
  7. Heat recovery ventilator:
    1. Certified by HVI as an HRV or ERV, or ENERGY STAR qualified
    2. Tested at 0°C and -25°C (test data to be used in the HOT2000 energy model)
    3. Installed such that the supply and exhaust flows are balanced within 10%
    4. HRV must be labeled with the name of the installing company and the measured flow rates
  8. ENERGY STAR qualified windows and skylights required. ENERGY STAR qualified exterior doors required; one door per house can be excepted
  9. Must achieve at least 400 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electrical savings, from items such as ENERGY STAR qualified lighting or appliances, to help reduce the total electrical load.
  10. All ducts to be located within the heated boundary of the house, or else insulated to the same effective R value as that part of the assembly. All heating/cooling ducts must be fully sealed (tape or mastic), and ducts between HRV and exterior must be insulated and sealed.
  11. Requires room-by-room heat load calculations (required by B.C. Building Code).

(Adapted from a list developed by E3 Eco Group, reprinted with permission.)