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Energy Star homes set the energy-efficient benchmark for energy savings. Their certified homes help consumers buy not only more energy-efficient houses, but own more comfortable and maintainable homes. They also deliver up to 20 percent savings on annual utility bills for the average family and, at the same time, help lower carbon emissions.
Energy Star (http://www.energystar.gov) has focused on reducing excessive energy use to decrease greenhouse gases significantly. Its efforts confront climate change, while also strengthening the economy through energy-efficient products and programs.
Over the past decade, homes built to Energy Star specifications are at least 15 percent more energy efficient than those built to existing codes. A certified third party, who works closely with the builder, assures that the homes meet this efficiency. Energy Star homes include high-efficiency lighting, windows, appliances, water heaters, insulation, and heating and cooling equipment.
Continually tightening the screws on home energy efficiency means evolving ever more rigorous building standards to achieve net-zero energy homes. However, such energy-generating homes are still a way off.
Beyond Energy Star
To up the ante on energy efficiency, Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (http://neea.org/) along with its utility and building partners initiated the Next Step Home Pilot. The pilot will help set stricter construction specifications for future homes targeting 40 percent or more energy savings. The voluntary pilot tightens home envelopes, uses advanced framing techniques, increases insulation and builds-in windows that are more efficient.
The Next Step Home Pilot helps us be an ongoing resource as builders work to build-in energy efficiency from the ground up. New homebuyers want energy efficiency and this program will help our local builders deliver.
Vancouver-based New Tradition Homes built a pilot home for a growing Portland family that needed the extra space, wanted to save energy and increase comfort too.
Homes built for the Next Step pilot potentially may gain a 30 percent or more energy efficiency over those built to existing codes. The pilot homes feature energy-efficient ductless mini-split heat pumps or similarly efficient systems, heat-recovery ventilators and hydronic solar. Hydronic solar, also called thermal solar, heats water for home heating, washing clothes and other domestic uses.
Utilities and other organizations working for energy are also working for stronger codes in the region. They hope to transform the market by achieving a 40 percent energy savings by 2030.
While some say photovoltaic solar isn’t yet affordable for consumers, others disagree. Builders have begun using computer modeling throughout the design and construction phases, improving indoor air quality and incorporating solar and other alternative energy sources into homes. These houses exceed Energy Star standards and meet even tighter Earth Advantage standards.
Based in Portland, Earth Advantage Institute (http://www.earthadvantage.org) is a green building incubator. It provides builder training, services and certification to create better buildings by transforming real-world experience into products and services that advance the performance of buildings while lessening their impact on the environment.