Focus On: Green Housing

Knowing what makes a home healthy is key to sales success.

March 1, 2004

If you live in a new home, you’re probably aware of its advantages, including lower energy bills and cozy indoor comfort no matter the outside temperature.

Your comfort may be due in part to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star for Homes program, launched in 1995. Since then, more than 200,000 homes have received the Energy Star label. The program sets standards for energy efficiency and indoor environmental comfort.

EPA’s program touches the existing-home market, too, as buyers look to retrofitting based on Energy Star standards as a way to lower their utility costs, improve resale potential, and in some cases qualify for energy-efficient mortgage financing.

You’ll have a competitive advantage if you can help buyers and sellers understand what enhances energy efficiency and home comfort. Here’s a taste of what you need to know.

Energy efficiency

  • Is the insulation right? Insulating material shouldn’t have gaps or compression. And insulation should be in full contact with interior wall surfaces.
  • Are seals tight? Effective use of caulking, sealants, and tape can minimize space around holes used for piping, wiring, and cable, and in cracks, such as where framing meets the foundation.
  • Are windows high-performance? Newer windows with low-emittance coatings block unwanted solar heat in summer and keep in heat during winter.
  • Are air ducts sealed? In typical homes, leakage can waste 20 percent of the energy used for heating and cooling.

Home comfort

  • Is exterior moisture appropriately managed? Water should be drained away from homes, foundations, and behind wall finishes, such as stucco; pan flashing should be added at all window and door openings; and proper flashing details should be added at roof-wall intersections.
  • Is internal moisture appropriately managed? Bathing, cooking, cleaning, breathing, and perspiration generate about 20 pounds of moisture per day. Internal vapor barriers, such as foil-backed paper behind interior walls or vapor impermeable paints on interior surfaces, help combat moisture problems, particularly in cold climates. Also, exhaust fans should be added in high-moisture rooms, such as bathrooms and kitchens.
  • Are mechanical systems the right size? Air conditioners and heat pumps that are larger than they need to be increase operating costs. Look to see if mechanical systems reflect proper sizing calculations, as depicted in the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s Manual J and Manual S.
  • Do ducts have more than a single return? Heating and cooling systems with only a single return for each floor can lead to pressure imbalances when room doors are closed. Solutions: Crossover ducts allow air to flow from room to hallway through a ceiling duct running from the room side of the door to the hallway side. Where ceiling ducts aren’t practical, transfer grilles enable air flow between a room and hallway through connected vents.
  • Is there adequate fresh air? Controlled mechanical ventilation, such as attic fans, helps prevent concentrations of moisture and pollutants.

Developing a better understanding of methods for improving home environments positions you as a key resource for clients as they become more discriminating about home efficiency.

More Online

Affordable Comfort www.affordablecomfort.org
Tips and conferences on addressing home-energy performance and indoor-comfort issues, such as mold remediation

Energy and Environmental Building Association www.eeba.org
Resources for building residential and small commercial properties for energy efficiency; builder success stories

EPA’s Energy Star for Homes www.energystar.gov
Best practices for increasing home energy efficiency and environmental comfort

U.S. Department of Energy www.eere.energy.gov
Information on saving energy. Go to Energy Efficiency, then Buildings, from the Energy Information Portal

Rashkin is national director of EPA’s Energy Star for Homes. He can be reached at 202/343-9786.

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