Energy Star is Like a Good Chocolate Chip Recipe

I seldom meet a chocolate chip cookie I do not like. Occasionally, I come across one that is to “die for.” You know what I am talking about, the ones that are so good they should be illegal - maybe not in Colorado or Washington, but I digress.

You would think that all chocolate chip cookies would be about the same. They all have flour, sugar, milk, and little chips of chocolate. But some stand out as unbelievably good, even when they are not just “fresh out of the oven.” What makes the difference? Is it the experience of the baker, the quality of ingredients, the kind of oven, or could it be the recipe?

The answer of course is yes to all of the above. If any one of the things is lacking, the result may not be as expected. Even an experienced baker will fail with bad ingredients or a lousy recipe. Those “to die for” cookies might be an accident, but my guess is they come from master chefs who makes sure that every component of the process is perfect.

This is why master builders like the ENERGY STAR program. It provides them with a master recipe with built in quality control to produce highly efficient green homes every time. There are several areas or ingredients in an ENERGY STAR home.

  • The Thermal enclosure system which includes insulation, infiltration, framing, windows, doors and all other things that involve heat/cold transfer to the exterior.
  • An expertly designed, installed and tested furnace, air conditioning and ventilation system.
  • A durability plan to manage things like bulk and water vapor issues from foundations to attic.
  • ENERGY STAR certified appliances and lighting systems.
And everything else that involves energy consumption in a house.

The right combination of each of these areas has been tested and proven over the last decade or so. Those who want to produce the most efficient house possible, start by making a few choices, such as type of insulation and kind of HVAC System. From there, the rest of the ingredients for a great house depend on the first two and each new one as the next decision is made. As we all know the results heavily depend on the final step, the heat of the oven for cookies and the sweat of the brow for a house.

But, it is here that a big difference appears. A bad batch of cookies has a short life, but a bad energy hog of a house lives on for years wasting energy. Unlike a master chef, a master builder does not enjoy the liberty of much experimentation. That is where the ENERGY STAR Programs provide the proven recipe. There are two paths a builder can take. A prescriptive path, based upon years of testing (over a million houses) or a performance path with the aid of a HERS Rater (HERS = Home Energy Rating System).

The HERS Rater is credentialed by RESNET to assist the builder in making the correct choices. He brings the testing tools, such as the Blower Door, and third party experience to the project. The HERS Rater is certified to run an ENERGY STAR approved computer modeling program that can analyze each component of a project, proving which combination of material will provide the best results. It is a little bit like having your cookie and eating it too. With very little added cost, a home owner can have a house that uses less than 50% of the energy of other new homes, and a small fraction of the utility bills of older homes. So as the saying would go, if you don’t like the chocolate chip cookie you are making, get a better recipe.

Jim D Baker