This year will bring plenty of changes to the Energy Star program, including implementation of Version 3 of its New Homes program. Under the new guidelines, most of which became mandatory on Jan. 1 (the rest kick in after July 1), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires the HVAC systems in all homes that earn the Energy Star label be installed according to the Quality Installation (QI) guidelines established in ANSI/ACCA Standard 5 QI.

Other changes taking effect in 2012 include new requirements for Energy Star qualified furnaces and geothermal heat pumps, which are among 20 revisions to product requirements expected to be completed this year. All these new requirements are a part of Energy Star’s stated goal of protecting people’s health and the environment by encouraging energy efficiency.

New Homes, Version 3

Even though residential new construction is down across the country, 25 percent of all single-family homes built nationally in 2010 earned EPA’s Energy Star, up from 21 percent in 2009. This equates to 108,000 single-family homes, with 16 states having a market share of 25 percent or higher Energy Star qualified homes. The numbers for 2011 are also looking good, said Jonathan Passe, manager of EPA’s Energy Star Residential Branch.

“About 88,000 homes have been reported so far. Based on this, I would say our 2011 numbers are looking largely consistent with 2010. I’m not anticipating a significant change, but we won’t know for sure until the Census Bureau publishes its final data for 2011 regarding the number of permits issued. The transitional version of the new guidelines — Version 2.5 — started to go into effect this past year which may drive some change in the numbers. Version 3 won’t be fully implemented until mid-2012, and we’ll see how the numbers play out after that.”

Version 3 of the New Homes program represents a significant change for HVAC requirements, as the previous version (Version 2) only looked at the efficiency of the equipment, required tight ducts, and contained some recommendations regarding proper sizing. Now there are specific quality installation requirements and inspections that make it necessary to better coordinate between the builder, home energy rater, and HVAC contractor to ensure that the new guidelines are met.

The HVAC requirements are verified through the use of two HVAC System Quality Installation checklists. The HVAC contractor checklist requires contractors to design and install HVAC systems according to ACCA Manuals; meet ASHRAE 62.2 ventilation requirements; and complete field tests and inspections of the installed systems. The Home Energy Rater HVAC checklist requires raters to collect the completed HVAC contractor checklist; confirm that bedrooms are pressure balanced; visually inspect the duct system, and measure the airflow through the heat exchanger, ventilation system, and exhaust fans; visually inspect the filtration system; and visually evaluate combustion appliances and garages.

Energy Star has always been about trying to provide a great value proposition for both the home builders and the home buyers, noted Passe. Version 3 was a necessary revision because across the country, code-based construction is either approaching or at the current Energy Star levels. “It was time to raise the bar to reach for higher levels of efficiency than what a consumer would get if they bought a nonlabeled home.”

Version 3 also marks the first time Energy Star has directly engaged the HVAC contractor community, said Passe. “We believe the new version of the guidelines provide a really great value opportunity for contractors who are installing HVAC systems in Energy Star qualified homes. That’s because it allows them the opportunity to deliver these high value products and services, as opposed to having to compete for their business based on lowest price.”

He added that Version 3 essentially levels the playing field to ensure that HVAC systems in Energy Star homes are installed to the Quality Installation standards. “If everyone has to meet those requirements, then contractors are not worried about the guy down the block who is doing bargain basement work at a low price but not providing the same value and quality of services.”

Slight Delay

The full transition to Version 3 was originally supposed to take place on Jan. 1, 2012, but homebuilders expressed concern about their ability to meet the deadline. “We didn’t feel that it was an appropriate time to rush those builders, so for homes that were permitted in 2011, we allowed an additional six months to finish up under Version 2.5,” said Passe. “But for new permits as of Jan. 1, those are still going to come in as Version 3 homes. In addition, we relaxed a few requirements in order to give our partners a little bit of extra time to come up to speed on some of the fine elements of the specification (see sidebar on page 12). However, we are still keeping the intent and the lion’s share of the requirements intact beginning on Jan. 1 for new permits.”

That last point is worth emphasizing, as some in the industry are concerned that with each delay and revision of Version 3 (currently at Revision 4), EPA is moving the goal posts for the New Homes program. “In reality, all we have done since the time the specification was first posted in April 2010, is to respond to partner feedback, including requests for additional clarification, refinements in the specification, or interpretations of the requirements,” said Passe. “We haven’t added new requirements since the spec was posted in April 2010. All we’ve been doing is clarifying.”

And there will be more clarifications to come, as Revision 5 of Version 3 is due soon, although Passe believes that after the release, revisions will only come twice a year, as opposed to quarterly. The regular revisions became necessary once builders and contractors started implementing Version 3, as more questions naturally arose at that point. Once the spec has been in place for three or four months, the pace of inquiry and clarifications will most likely slow down, and as a result, the revisions will slow down as well.

Product Changes

As noted previously, Energy Star is expected to revise 20 product requirements this year, and many previous revisions will come into effect, including those for furnaces and geothermal heat pumps. For geothermal heat pumps, the energy efficiency requirements for all types of GHPs, except direct geoexchange units, were increased as of Jan. 1 (see Table 1 - click here for PDF).

As of Feb. 1, Energy Star qualifications for furnaces will vary based on the climate zones designated by the Department of Energy. The furnaces that meet the new requirements for the southern half of the United States are now labeled with a specific U.S. South Energy Star mark. The qualified furnaces in the South, where homes require less heat, will be up to 12 percent more energy-efficient than baseline units. Qualified furnaces in the northern half of the United States including Canada now bear the standard Energy Star logo and will be up to 16 percent more energy efficient than baseline models. These new requirements are up to 5 percent more efficient than the previous Energy Star requirements.

There are also changes planned to increase efficiency for Energy Star labeled central air conditioners and air-source heat pumps. The revision process for these products will begin near the end of 2012, and new efficiency requirements are expected in 2013 or 2014.

Energy Star is all about raising the bar, noted Passe, as evidenced by the changes to the New Homes program, as well as the new efficiency requirements for certain types of HVAC equipment. “Whether consumers purchase a dishwasher or a computer or a new home, the brand promise of Energy Star is that they are getting something that is significantly more efficient than they otherwise would get. Energy Star’s responsibility to the consumer is to raise the bar.”

Sidebar: Delays in Implementation

After extensive consideration, EPA decided to adjust the overall implementation timeline of the Energy Star for New Homes program requirements and two specific items related to HVAC design. Specific changes include the following:

• While all homes permitted on or after Jan. 1, 2012, must still be built to the Version 3 requirements, EPA is allowing homes permitted in 2011 to continue to be qualified under the transitional Version 2.5 guidelines through June 30, 2012. Previously, homes permitted in 2011, but completed on or after Jan. 1, 2012, would have also been required to be labeled using the Version 3 guidelines.

• On the HVAC System Quality Installation Contractor Checklist for homes with final inspection dates through Dec. 31, 2012, loads and room-level design airflows shall be permitted to be calculated for the configuration that will result in the largest load when a house plan is built with multiple configurations (e.g., orientations, elevations, options).

• On the HVAC System Quality Installation Rater Checklist for homes with a final inspection date through Dec. 31, 2012, Item 1.2.1 is permitted to be within ± 5 degrees of the 1 percent and 99 percent ACCA Manual J design temperatures for the contractor-designated design location. In addition, for each house plan with multiple configurations (e.g., orientations, elevations, options), the rater shall confirm that the parameters listed in Items 1.2.2 to 1.2.6 are aligned with either: the rated home, or with the plans for the configuration used to calculate the loads, as provided by the contractor.

• On the HVAC System Quality Installation Rater Checklist, homes with a final inspection date through Dec. 31, 2012, are permitted to be qualified without enforcement of the pressure-balancing requirement in Item 2.8.

Publication date: 02/6/2012