NoCo Home Builders push increased energy efficiency

FORT COLLINS – The bar for energy-efficient residential buildings is about to be raised in Northern Colorado.

The Northern Colorado Home Builders Association is partnering with the Governor’s Energy Office; Larimer County; the city of Fort Collins; the towns of Severance, Windsor and Berthoud; Xcel Energy; United Power; Platte River Power Authority and the Poudre Valley REA to promote the Northern Colorado Energy Star Homes program.

The voluntary program was launched in late 2008, but is still gaining momentum as more builders join. Supporters have held a series of interest meetings and are working on finalizing a list of participants.

The main objective is to raise the level of energy efficiency of new homes and public awareness of the benefits of Energy Star homes.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency launched the Energy Star program in 1992, rating the energy usage of everything from dishwashers to water heaters. Recent spikes in energy prices have increased interest in products with the Energy Star label. Those involved with the NoCo E-Star program feel that interest is up because public awareness is at an all-time high.

Higher profile

“It’s been a gradual build in the public consciousness over the past decade,´ said Doug Swartz, energy services engineer with Fort Collins Utilities. “Within the past two to three years there has been a big change in public desire for energy efficiency.”

The Home Energy Rating System is used to measure energy usage. Every point on the scale represents 1 percent energy usage – a net-zero energy house would be a zero on the scale.

“The average home in Fort Collins, for example, hits a 94; we wanted to improve that,´ said Jeff Schneider, director of government affairs for the Northern Colorado Homebuilders Association. “A 100 on the scale means the house is not very energy efficient and with better insulation and windows the house can get down to about an 80. A national Energy Star home would be at about a 75 and, working with the Governor’s Energy Office, we want to build at a 70.”

The standards for the NoCo E-Star homes are higher than the national standard of 15 percent more efficient than a home built to the 2004 International Residential Code. The new local standards require increased contractor verification of proper installation of HVAC systems, higher standards of controlled ventilation, carbon monoxide detectors and a mandatory power-vented or sealed-combustion/sealed-exhaust water heater.

The national Energy Star Web site currently lists 17 Northern Colorado builders who offer some level of efficiency in their homes, including upgraded lighting packages and/or indoor air packages. Several also build 100 percent of their homes to the national standards, but not all are certain they are going to join the local Energy Star program.

Hitting the numbers

“From what I have seen, all of the homes I build would qualify under the stricter guidelines of the local group,´ said Steve Foran, owner of Stonefield Homes LLC, which builds in Timnath Ranch. “Our basic package makes the numbers requirement. They want you not to exceed 72 and we always shoot for 70 to 72. But before I cast my line into their pond, I want to make sure this is not an agenda program but that it will actually benefit the homeowner.”

One home builder who is planning on joining the NoCo E-Star program is Loveland-based Aspen Homes of Colorado Inc., which began building “green” in 2002.

“I think the time has come and the public is now interested in sustainable projects,´ said Jammie Sabin, president of Aspen Homes. “Builders need to embrace building this way and the rest need to step up. I then want to push ahead of the pack and push the envelope. And Aspen can’t do that all by itself.”