Demand for homes with Energy Star designation rises as consumers eye savings

Fritz Diether goes where the wind blows — and makes sure the hole letting in cold air is plugged up.

Diether, of Frostbusters and Coolth Inc. of Grand Junction, put a home under construction in Loma to the test to determine whether it would earn the Energy Star designation that denotes a new home is at least 15 percent more energy-efficient than a conventional home built to code.

In the case of the home in Loma, general contractor Bonnie Petersen is shooting for an energy rating of 70, meaning it will use 30 percent less energy than a similar house built to code.

Petersen’s and Diether’s businesses are geared to meet a growing demand in Mesa County and western Colorado for housing that’s more energy-efficient, thus less expensive to heat and cool.

One key to efficiency is controlling air passage into and out of a home, and that’s where Diether comes in.

Diether sets up a blower door — it looks like a bright, red tarp with a fan in the middle — and fires up the blower.

He then scans the interior of the house with an infrared camera that shows whether the warmer air inside is being pushed out by the cool air. That lets him direct construction workers to plug those tiny recesses and holes that allow warm air out in the winter and hot air in during the summer.

Corners, window sills and joints all can be culprits in heat loss, and a prime offender, Diether said, is the popular “can lighting,” those lights that are recessed into ceilings. Those lights can be cold-air conduits in winter and in summer can raise temperatures, requiring more work from the cooling system.

Diether’s discoveries send workers scurrying to plug holes.

“Now they’re not just caulking for aesthetics,” Petersen said, “they’re caulking for energy efficiency.”

The fewer heat leaks in a house, the easier it is for the owner to control the interior temperature, Diether said.

In the Loma house, which will have nearly 4,800 square feet, a small fan will ensure a constant interchange of air.

When it comes to construction for energy efficiency, “You can never be too tight,” Diether said. “But you can be underventilated.”

Many consumers already are familiar with the Energy Star tag on home appliances. On homes, the designation can be even more valuable, Petersen said.

Energy Star requirements are set by two federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.

Homes with Energy Star designations not only cost less to heat and cool, they make borrowers eligible to borrow more in their mortgages, based on the expectation that their energy bills will be lower than those for similar homes,
Petersen said.

Interest in energy savings is on the increase as demonstrated by the growth in homes being built with Energy Star designation in mind.

In 2007, Diether said, there were 1,371 permits pulled for new-home construction. Nine of them were for Energy Star-designated houses. This year, 52 of the 750 homes for which permits have been pulled are to be Energy Star rated, Diether said.

Petersen and Diether are part of Better Energy Advocates, which was put together to encourage more energy-efficient home building. The organization is putting on a seminar Thursday for builders, real estate agents, contractors, lenders, appraisers and others to show how Energy Star homes are built and sold.

Architect Sam Rashkin, who has managed the Energy Star for Homes program nationally since it began in 1996, will speak at the event. As an architect, he specializes in energy-efficient designs.

The Energy Star Conference seminar will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn at 750 Horizon Drive.

To register or for more information, call George Rossman at 216-8657 or visit http://www.grandmesa.us.


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