What Does an ENERGY STAR® Rating Mean?

Published September 19, 2018 by Whirlwind Team

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For a quarter of a century, the ENERGY STAR(R) program started by the Environmental Protection Agency has assigned standard energy ratings for appliances, construction materials and design practices. The principal goals are for reducing greenhouse gasses and helping consumers identify high-quality appliances and weatherization products to reduce their utility bills.

The ENERGY STAR initiative has involved more than 18,000 partners in multiple economic sectors during its 26-year existence. Energy Star and its partners promote compliance with the 2005 Energy Policy Act, in particular to:

“…identify and promote energy-efficient products and buildings in order to reduce energy consumption, improve energy security and reduce pollution through voluntary labeling or other forms of communication about products and buildings that meet the highest energy efficiency standards.”

According to the EPA, greenhouse gas emissions in the United States fell 12% between 2005 and 2016, primarily through reductions in carbon dioxide, which peaked in 2007. In addition, the EPA estimates associated greenhouse gas reductions reached 3.1 billion metric tons since the ENERGY STAR program’s inception in 1992.

In 2015, utilities across the nation invested nearly $8 billion in energy efficiency programs. They and state and local governments as well as non-profits use ENERGY STAR to manage their energy efficiency programs which reach almost 95% of U.S. households.

An Overview of the ENERGY STAR Program

ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the EPA and the Department of Energy, and its stated goal is to help consumers, businesses and industry cut energy costs and to protect the environment through energy saving products.

The EPA and the DOE have worked to expand and enhance several programs including the ENERGY STAR Products program, the Home Performance with Energy Star program, and the National Building Rating program (Commercial Building Energy Asset Score program) as well as the ENERGY STAR Most Efficient program.

  • The ENERGY STAR Most Efficient program launched in 2011 to identify and advance highly efficient products in the marketplace by increasing market awareness and promoting innovation.
  • The Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program puts the DOE’s residential energy use research together with the program’s outreach promoting energy-efficient residential retrofits.
  • The Energy Asset Score program provides tools and information for building owners, managers and operators accurately assess and maximize building energy performance.
  • The ENERGY STAR Products program provides a set of specifications and requirements for the identification, test and verification for consumer appliances, electronics and commercial equipment.

In 2017, 10% of homes built earned the ENERGY STAR certification.

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Benefits of an ENERGY STAR Rating

The ENERGY STAR rating benefits manufacturers, builders and consumers by helping them find qualified materials and appliances that are proven to reduce energy usage and thereby reduce energy costs.

Items that receive an ENERGY STAR label have met the stringent requirements set forth by the EPA and DOE for energy efficiency. Note that not every item labeled “energy efficient” will meet ENERGY STAR specifications. Advances in technology have increased the number of appliances and materials meeting program specifications.

The ENERGY STAR rating is earned by independent certification for performance, quality and savings. According to the energystar.gov, more than 5.8 billion products with the ENERGY STAR label have been sold since 1992 when the ENERGY STAR program was initiated.

For builders, using ENERGY STAR rated products and materials can earn them LEED points toward a Green Building certification. Also, the program designation can increase the value of a property and promote its sale. Homes built to ENERGY STAR specifications generally use about 15% to 30% less energy than comparable homes that do not meet the requirements.

ENERGY STAR stimulates competitiveness, economic development and healthy living environments while saving over $30 billion in energy costs during 2016 alone.

How Products Earn an ENERGY STAR Rating

Energystar.gov sets the following criteria for earning an ENERGY STAR rating.

  • Product categories must contribute significant energy savings nationwide.
  • Certified products must deliver the features and performance demanded by consumers in addition to increase energy efficiency.
  • If the certified product costs more than a conventional, less-efficient counterpart, purchasers will recover their investment in increased energy efficiency through utility bill savings within a reasonable period of time.
  • Energy efficiency can be achieved through broadly available, non-proprietary technologies offered by more than one manufacturer.
  • Product energy consumption and performance can be measured and verified with testing.
  • Labeling would effectively differentiate products and be visible for purchasers.

Occasionally the program finds the need to revise its specifications. Typically, the market share held by a specific category of products of 50% or more can cause the EPA to revise the requirements. Other considerations also factor into the potential for changes. This information was taken directly from the ENERGY STAR website.

  • A change in the federal minimum efficiency standards.
  • Technological changes with advances in energy efficiency, which allows a revised specification to create additional savings.
  • Product availability.
  • Significant issues with consumers realizing expected energy savings.
  • Performance or quality issues.
  • Issues with test procedures.

Before requesting bids, contractors might consider working with an energy specialist, contractors and vendors who prioritize energy efficiency. When designing a structure, keep in mind that weatherization is a key element in energy efficiency.

For example, installing a cool metal roof can save significantly on summer cooling costs for homes and businesses. Other energy-saving design elements include insulation, low-e windows, insulated roof penetrations and efficient ventilation.

Finishing out an energy-efficient residential or business structure includes choosing appliances and equipment that have earned ENERGY STAR status, including water heaters, HVAC systems and lighting solutions. Attention to appropriate natural light sources can also save on utility bills while creating a healthy environment for the occupants.

ENERGY STAR ratings have become so important to the economy and environment that a recent attempt to reduce funding for the program was met with bipartisan protest in the federal government and from a variety of industries.

ENERGY STAR is an integral part of the Green Building Initiative and LEED certification. Access to products that have already been tested and verified by an independent third party allows you to easily identify and purchase materials and appliances for your projects as well as increasing the value of your services and products.

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