The Energy Star Homes program has been in trouble since 2012, when the Environmental Protection Agency rolled out a new version (Version 3) of the program’s requirements. Many builders found the Version 3 requirements so onerous that they dropped out of the Energy Star program. The number of new homes that have been certified under the Energy Star program has fallen 36% in recent years — from 130,305 in 2011 to 83,897 in 2015.
Complaints about Version 3 focused on the new requirements for the design and installation of heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. In a recent article in Home Energy magazine, Dean Gamble, the technical manager for the Energy Star Homes program, ruminated on these HVAC requirements. “The new design requirements were certainly expansive,” Gamble wrote. “By and large, though, they simply mirrored what was already required by code. That is to say, they were not the ‘best practices’ known to the industry. Quite to the contrary, they represented the bare minimum required by law. So, why were so many designers encountering difficulties? The primary answer was that this was the first time that any national program had enforced HVAC design requirements in a systematic way. While these requirements were written into code, jurisdictions rarely tasked inspectors with enforcing them. On top of that, Home Energy Raters had never been asked to review designs as part of their scope.”
Reflecting on the participation drop-off, Gamble wrote, “Despite the best of intentions, Version 3 nearly ground the Energy Star New Homes program to a halt.”
Residential HVAC contractors aren’t paying attention to details
The Energy Star Homes program faced a dilemma. Program designers knew that HVAC installers are, on average, doing a terrible job — as energy experts have noted for years, most residential HVAC systems are oversized,…