Energy adviser: Energy Star homes save money, add comfort

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If you are in the market for a new home, there's an easy way to ensure that you're buying one that won't waste energy.

Look for the Energy Star label.

The designation isn't just for home electronics and appliances. Houses with the label are at least 15 percent more efficient than required by standard building codes.

"These homes don't just have a sticker," said DuWayne Dunham, a Clark Public Utilities energy counselor. "They are third-party verified."

The Northwest Energy Star Homes certification program encourages energy-efficient housing construction in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. It's made possible by Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a private nonprofit organization funded by regional public utilities such as Clark Public Utilities, as well as the Bonneville Power Administration and Energy Trust of Oregon.

Almost 40 percent of homes built in Clark County last year achieved the Energy Star label, Dunham said. Clark Public Utilities provides incentives to homebuilders to reach Energy Star standards.

"For the last two years, we've been a leader in all of Washington and Oregon for Energy Star homes. We're very proud of that," Dunham said. "I credit builders. They are the ones who have chosen to take this on."

Jon Girod, president of Quail Homes, is one of the builders leading the way.

"When the downturn hit us along with everyone else, we went back to the drawing board," Girod said. "I was committed to getting our homes built better."

Quail Homes decided to focus on building green. Building to Energy Star standards adds about $3,000 to $5,000 to the cost of construction, but it's worth it, Girod said.

"The clients we attract, quite frankly, they've been down the road with builders cutting corners even in high-price homes. They know it costs more later," Girod said.

He said meeting the Energy Star requirements results in a higher-quality house. According to the program's website, http://northwestenergystar.com, the Energy Star label means that a new homeowner will see:

• Tight construction, but with extra measures to prevent moisture buildup and mold.

• High-performance, energy-efficient windows.

• Tightly constructed duct work.

• Efficient heating and cooling equipment.

• Energy Star lighting and appliances.

• And most important, a third-party verification.

"Not only is the home more energy-efficient, it's healthier and more comfortable, too," Dunham said. "The duct work is sealed to a higher standard. More heated and cooled air gets to where it's supposed to, and the system is not pulling unfiltered air from crawl spaces or attics."

Girod agreed. Homebuyers need to look beyond the furnace to assess the energy efficiency of a house.

"You want to make sure homes are not losing or gaining air, that it's well-insulated, and then the home performs better," Girod said. "When you start doing these other things better, the air quality in your home is better. For people with allergies and asthma, this helps them a lot. And, of course, your energy bill is a lot lower."

A typical homeowner using 1,500 kilowatt hours of electricity per month will pay $1,436 for power consumption in a year. An Energy Star home would reduce power consumption by at least 15 percent, or about 2,700 kilowatt hours per year β€” which adds up to $215 in annual savings.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.