Energy Star shines bright: Demand increasing for energy efficient home construction

Mike Moran
Business Times

Energy efficient construction techniques have become increasingly prevalent in Colorado, including this Grand Junction apartment complex. By one estimate, nearly 45 percent of new homes built in the state during the first half of this year earned the Energy Star rating, a federal efficiency designation. (Business Times photo by Mike Moran)

Energy Star construction is gaining momentum as builders take advantage of increasing demand for more energy efficient homes and buyers take advantage of the savings and tax credits.

Bonnie Petersen is one such builder who says that investment in Energy Star construction is speculative for builders during an economic downturn, but that people who buy more energy efficient homes realize long-term benefits through savings on energy bills and tax credits for energy efficiency.

“As a builder, I don’t get a credit for that (installing green energy systems and Energy Star appliance),” says Petersen, owner of GreenStar Homes in Grand Junction. “The consumer gets that credit.”

However, the additional up-front costs incurred by a builder must be passed on if the builder is going to turn a profit. “The cost goes to the consumer,” says Petersen, an Energy Star builder.

Ironically, Petersen told people attending a recent energy jobs rally in Grand Junction green energy could better flourish if government was less intrusive. People who oppose tax credits connected with the green energy industry often criticize proponents for using tax breaks and seeking government influence in the green business.

Petersen says she’s on the same page with opponents insofar as the government regulations and paperwork for Energy Star homes are concerned. She says she parts ways with opponents when it comes to the tax credits Energy Star homeowners and other users of green energy realize. “How do you get a new economy off the dime (without such credits)?” she asked.

Energy Star is a designation from the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) denoting that a home meets prescribed conservation and efficiency benchmarks. According to the Energy Star website, such homes are 20 percent to 30 percent more efficient than standard homes. Energy Star homes are also reportedly 15 percent more efficient than homes built to the 2004 international residential building code.

Homeowners realize tax credits when they remodel an existing home to save energy or purchase energy efficient appliances that carry the Energy Star designation. The credits for remodeling an existing home are scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Such remodeling can include the installation of new insulation, windows and doors or biomass stoves. Meanwhile, tax credits for installation of geo pumps, small wind turbines and solar energy systems are scheduled to extend until the end of 2016. The credits for green energy technology apply to both existing homes and new construction.

“Energy Star is a lot about making your living envelope more efficient,” Petersen says.

The effort is taking hold in Colorado, where nearly 45 percent of new homes built in the first half of this year earned the Energy Star rating, according to the Governor’s Energy Office and EPA. The governor’s office initiated the Energy Star New Homes programs in 2007, when 8 percent of new homes earned the Energy Star designation. By 2009, 33 percent of new homes touted the Energy Star label, according to the energy office.

“The success of the Energy Star New Homes program shows how, once again, the new energy economy is a bright spot even in difficult economic times,” Tom Plant, director of the Governor’s Energy Office, states in a news release. “These homes are saving Coloradans money, reducing pollution, increasing our energy security and strengthening the market for energy smart construction.”

Colorado’s program recently earned recognition from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), which named Colorado’s Energy Star New Homes program one of five exceptional state-led energy efficiency programs in the country. The award was announced in a news release from the Governor’s Energy Office.

“Simply put, energy efficiency works,” states Steve Nadel, executive director of the ACEEE. “These state programs benefit customers in numerous ways, generating significant energy savings, training thousands of professionals, lowering energy costs and reducing the negative environmental impacts of energy use.”

Colorado’s Energy Star program also received recognition from the EPA, which gave the program its Energy Star Partner of the Year Award in 2009 and 2010. The Governor’s Office credited the award to the work of more than 130 community partners, including local governments, non-profits, utilities, real estate professionals, homebuilders and home energy raters.

Petersen’s company belongs to a local group called Businesses for Energy Efficiency, which will host Sam Rashkin, manager of the EPA Energy Star program, and Gord Cooke, president of Building Knowledge Canada, during a seminar set for Nov. 15 at the Wine Country Inn of Palisade. The session costs $25, including lunch. For more information, contact Petersen or Fritz Diether at 434-9563.

To learn more about Colorado’s Energy Star New Homes program, visit