New Energy Star Rules Raise The Question Of How To Make Energy Efficiency Accessible To All

Energy efficiency, as much as anything having to do with the word ‘energy,’ would seem to be something most people could get behind. But as House Republicans decry the nanny-state and declare that no one has the authority to tell…

Energy efficiency, as much as anything having to do with the word ‘energy,’ would seem to be something most people could get behind. But as House Republicans decry the nanny-state and declare that no one has the authority to tell them what kind of light bulbs or ceiling fans to buy, it’s clear that even this good for the planet, good for your wallet strategy is wrought with controversy. Now, the EPA’s popular Energy Star program is causing backlash after it released its latest standards for making household windows, doors and skylights more energy efficient.

Opponents of the new stricter standards say that they’re concerned the criteria set forth in Version 6.0 will put Energy Star products out of reach for average consumers. The goal of Energy Star standards is to lower home energy bills and to help homeowners stop wasting energy.
The new standards lower what’s known as the U-factor for windows, skylights and doors. U-factor is a measure of a material’s thermal conductivity. The proposed standard getting the most attention is the EPA’s decision to drop the U-factor for residential windows from 0.30 to 0.27. While this might seem like a minor adjustment, manufacturers claim that in northern areas, it will almost certainly necessitate the transition from double to triple-paned windows, which will in turn require different frames and increase costs.
“If you move the criteria forward too fast, you damage affordability,” especially in the northern zone, says Ray Garries, government affairs manager at Jeld-Wen Windows and Doors Inc. “You want to make sure you have a mass market Energy Star product that is affordable. Niche products do not, generally, lend themselves to cost effectiveness. Real affordability must remain the primary driver of the Energy Star program.”
A recent EPA survey found that 87 percent of Americans recognize the Energy Star brand and 73 percent of those who bought Energy Star–rated products intentionally chose them because they believe in the label’s promise of energy savings and lower utility bills. Homes that replace single pane windows with Energy Star windows save between $146 and $501 per year. The label’s products do save home energy costs — 7 to 15 percent per year — but also nearly recoup their cost in resale value when the home is sold. Still, some cost-conscious citizens and some in the window and door industry question how accessible Energy Star products are given their up-front cost.
“Obviously we are disappointed that EPA hasn’t responded to our concerns, but consumers need a voice in this debate and we plan to keep fighting,” said Coalition for Home Energy Efficiency Executive Director Sherry Delaney. “This move isn’t just anti-consumer, it’s anti-environment since average consumers will lose the clear guidance upon which they’ve grown to rely for making energy efficient improvements to their homes. If the EPA can make these kinds of anti-consumer changes for windows and skylights, who knows which products will be next. We’re asking Americans to contact EPA to save the Energy Star program for average consumers.”
The Coalition for Home Energy Efficiency was formed in 2013 as “a group of citizens, manufacturers, and retailers” and since April has waged an interesting campaign to, in their words, “save Energy Star” by preventing the EPA from strengthening these standards.
EPA says that the whole point of the Energy Star program is to save money, to allow industry the market flexibility to make their products more efficient, and to adjust standards as the industry becomes more and more efficient:
These standards (aka performance specifications) are established to recognize products that: are cost-effective from the purchaser standpoint; offer at least equivalent functionality and features as standard products; and are proven and broadly available. As the market responds to consumer demand for ENERGY STAR qualified products in a particular category, sales of highly efficient products increase, locking in more and more energy savings and environmental benefits over the life of those units.
Homes with Energy Star products lower their carbon emissions — typically home energy use makes up more than a quarter of most people’s carbon footprints. Energy Star homes are less likely to default on their mortgages. And rebates offered by utilities and electric companies combine with state and federal tax credits that can help drop the initial cost even further.