Introduction to Energy Star
I wanted to get into Energy Star certification, since it is one of the most well known. You have probably seen the blue Energy Star label on your computer or kitchen appliances maybe without giving it a second thought. This exploration of Energy Star will start off the rest of this series that covers certifications that apply to buildings and the products inside them. Energy Star applies to buildings as a whole and individual building products, which is a good segue into the rest of this series which will focus on product certifications.
The ideas of building and product certifications carry into ideas of corporate social responsibility and transparency. Energy Star has done an impressive job of providing qualified buildings and products with a recognizable logo that represents energy efficiency. The recognizable logo instantly shows building occupants, consumers, and observers that the building or product has taken extra steps to earn the certification. That extra effort should speak volumes and serve as a passive marketing tool to consumers who are increasingly conscious of the impact their purchases and attention have on the environment.
Energy Star Certification for Buildings
How Does the Certification Process Work?
We have explored multiple building certifications in previous posts here on The Thread and the approach to certification is similar for Energy Star. I will say that the process is significantly more simple and straightforward than other certifications. Like other certifications, Energy Star maintains a point system and third party verification, but it focuses solely on energy and natural resource efficiency.
The Energy Star point system runs on a 1-100 point scale. Each potential Energy Star certified project is put in a category that corresponds to its operations and regional climate data. Based on that category, the point system will represent a range of energy use per building. A score of 50 is equal to the median or average energy use of buildings in the same category. Scores of 75 and above are eligible for Energy Star certification, since they use significantly less energy than similar buildings.
Third party verification is used after the building has been occupied. The evaluation of energy used is based on the building’s energy bills. So, the building design does not directly earn a project points. Even so, the building must operate as it was designed and maintain a high level of performance that meets the 75 point minimum specifications to earn certification.
Energy Star as an organization provides project design teams with a wide array of resources at no cost from their website. The main organizing tool is Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager. This tool allows building owners to record and track the performance of any and all building projects they oversee. Energy Star uses the federal Guiding Principles and incorporates the corresponding metrics into the Portfolio Manager. For more on federal Guiding Principles, check out this blog post on Green Globes certification which parallels Guiding Principles.
Energy Star and Guiding Principles correspond and give direction for projects in areas including lighting, operating & maintenance, energy use for information technology (IT) and water use in buildings. The Portfolio Manager is used to track all of these building systems. Using this central online tracking tool, building owners can monitor energy and natural resource use quickly and easily. This advantage also makes it easier to report energy use during the verification phase.
Cost Advantages and Marketability
Energy Star fully understands the range of benefits that accompany high performing buildings. In addition to lower operating costs, certified buildings generally have higher values than their lower performing neighbors. This performance and lower environmental footprint appeals to those with eco-conscious minds and budgets. Certified buildings may appeal to millennials and anyone who wishes to lower their own environmental footprint.
Companies and individuals with environmentally responsible values may be more interested in certified office buildings, apartments, and homes. They also may be willing to pay a higher price, because they understand the future energy savings that come along with working or living in a Energy Star certified building. Also, if the federal government is searching for space to lease, their agencies are required to lease an Energy Star certified facility. This marketability can be studied and assigned a dollar value based on the location and market demand and is sure to entice developers and building owners.
Compared to the other sustainable building certifications covered here on The Thread, Energy Star is one of the most affordable. Energy Star estimates the cost of certification to be close to $1,500.00 per building. This cost includes the third party verification by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and hiring a licensed professional for design calculations. All Energy Star certified buildings must recertify annually which forces building owners to monitor and maintain building systems’ performance.
Energy Star gives helpful guidelines on their website to get project teams’ wheels turning when it comes to designing and maintaining efficient building systems. It is always good practice and becoming more common to utilize occupancy sensors, especially in low occupancy spaces like restrooms and closets. Additionally, commissioning will be an important process to monitor the performance of building systems. Searching for compromised insulation and leaky faucets or equipment should be a regular operations procedure. This can be aided by metering and monitoring. Building owners and facilities managers should also have a baseline for daytime and nighttime energy use, so any spikes or dips can be investigated. It may also help to form a relationship with a local utility that can aid in energy audits.
An Energy Star certified building near me is Bama Pie in Tulsa, OK. As a food manufacturing facility, one can imagine that Bama Pie’s energy demand is high. Even so, the building was certified in 2016, 2018, and 2019. It may have recertified in 2020, but Energy Star’s website does not reflect that information yet.
Energy Star Certification for Products
Like I mentioned in the introduction, most people and companies own equipment and appliances that have earned the Energy Star seal. Computer monitors, refrigerators, light fixtures, and other products that are in almost every building can earn the Energy Star seal. Just like for building certification, the EPA completes the performance verification for products.
Energy Star maintains company partners in the manufacturing and retail spaces that have Energy Star certified products on the market. Some of the most recognizable company names are GE, Kenmore, LG, Samsung, Electrolux, and Whirlpool. The product search tool on Energy Star’s website makes it easier for corporate and individual consumers to find Energy Star certified products and therefore make more informed buying choices.
Energy Star has proved itself as a “star” in both building and product certifications. It has the immense advantage of a trusted, recognizable name, which entices both eco-conscious consumers and others. Next time you search for an office lease or appliance, look for the blue seal to know you’re on track to making a positive purchase.