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What Does It All Mean? EFL Vs. Energy Star

November 12th, 2008 · 8 Comments · Green Products, Uncategorized

With all of the Green Building Buzz comes a ton of new Building Programs.  There is USGBC LEED for Homes, Green Building Initiative, Environments for Living- Then some people throw Energy Star in to the mix…

In Houston, the two programs that are getting a lot of Buzz and being asked about is Energy Star and Environments for Living.  Energy Star has done an amazing job branding itself as Energy Efficient.  The Energy Star logo is now a common sight on products that use Electricity as well as more and more builders hopping in to use the program.

When it comes to homes, Energy Star primarily focuses on how much Energy the products in the home use.  For example, the Dishwasher, lights, ceiling fans, hot water heater, etc.  An Energy Star home uses Energy Star rated products.  It is important to remember that Energy Star does not focus as much on the Envelope of the home.  Absolutely I agree that as many products as possible in the home should have the Energy Star logo- but this is where Environments for Living hopped in to bridge the gap.

Environments for Living is a program that appears to be growing with Light speed in the Houston area, but what does it mean?

The two main differences if you take a look at the Websites for the two >>ES<< and >>EFL<< are this:

EFL takes Energy Star as a basic minimum standard.  There is a minimum requirement for products in the home that have to bear the Energy Star Logo…and then builds on top of that, so at the same time they focus somewhat on different features of the home.

In both programs, you will find a focus on Air Infiltration meaning the home will not ‘leak’ as much air in or out depending on your climate but their end goal for energy usage are using different Codes with different requirements.

As Craig Lobel with EcoEdge Consulting puts it:

EFL energy models the actual floor plan and then makes recommendations on R-Values, SEER and AFUE.   I think it’s important to remember that floor to ceiling, wall to window, and wall partitioning differ from each home.  Their energy modeling process also gives the annual electricity and natural gas BTU usage for the home.  Also keep in mind, EFL backs their program up with a 3 year comfort and energy usage guarantee and geared towards being 50% more efficient on Heating and Cooling over a code built home in a given region.

Another part of the Thermal Envelope are the windows- how they are sealed and the minimum requirement for Solar Heat Gain.  Air Ducts in the attic must have a minimum R-Value, holes in the homes sheathing must be sealed to not only help with Air Infiltration but moisture management which is a HOT topic in Gulf Coast Regions such as Houston

If you get up in to a higher rating of EFL, the home also focuses on Water Efficiency and other GREEN features.

Both Energy Star and Environments for Living are great programs, they just focus on different things in the end.  Which one should a Homebuyer consider?  Well, that depends on what your needs and wants are…maybe even what price range you are in.

Check out the links that I have placed throughout this post and it may help to explain more in detail the difference between the two.  In my opinion, EFL focuses more on the envelope and the home as a system than Energy Star and should have a tighter blower door test rating in the end…if your focus is Energy Efficiency.

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8 Comments so far ↓

  • Green Home Plans

    It is important that individuals begin to understand the terminology that is being used, so that they can make important decisions about the products they choose for their homes. If someone is not familiar with the environmentally friendly options that are available, Energy Star is a good starting point. After that, they can begin to incorporate more energy efficient practices into their lifestyle.

    If “going-green” is overwhelming to you then just breath and start small and gradually incorporate more green activities into your life.

  • steph

    Hi Tim,

    This is very true and Thank you for bringing that up. Everything can tend to blend together with terminology.

    For anyone else reading, check out the link with Green Home Plans above. They have a great program on their site! :)


  • Mike Stewart, Downtown Vancouver Realtor

    Great post! Good to see you making more people aware of the terminology.

    I visited Houston a few years ago on the way to Brazil and was shocked at the urban sprawl there. I asked people about taking a bus and they looked at me like I was nuts. I digress.

    Are you starting to see increased density in Houston? Density is a great way to reduce a cities carbon footprint and make them more green.

    Your thoughts?

  • steph

    Hi Mike,

    I agree with all of that. We do have an enormous sprawl here- but that is also what helps to keep out housing affordable. As for density, we are starting to see quite a bit of new development inside the loop, most of which is built up with either condos or townhomes.

    The only thing that I don’t like to see with all of the high density construction going on is all of the concrete getting poured. Eventually I would bet that it will mess with our flood control. But who knows.

    As a city many people are focusing on energy efficiency right now with others working on recycling/deconstructing/reusing the old homes that are torn down to keep them from going to the dump. Green is a huge topic…hard not to have unintended consequences.

    Thanks for stopping by, sorry for the long answer. :)

  • Mike Stewart, Downtown Vancouver Realtor

    Hi Steph,

    Thanks for your answer. No worries about it being too long.

    One thing I would like to respectfully disagree with you about is the relationship between density and housing affordability.

    I am a realtor in Downtown Vancouver and we do have more expensive real estate than the rest of Canada and North America. This is mostly because Vancouver is the tropics of Canada (yes its the warmest part of a very cold country) and we’ve been quite affluent for many years.

    That said, high density housing has reduced the high cost of real estate here in Vancouver.

    I think this is true for other regions as well.

    There are several reasons for this.

    Increased density makes public transit cost effective and useful.

    Governments and therefore taxpayers save money as public transit has critical mass so that fares cover most of the costs and gov’t subsidies are minimized.

    The increased effectiveness of public transit has two benefits.

    One is cost. If a person can commute on foot, bus, train, or subway they individually save huge amounts of money thus reducing the total & holistic cost of their housing choice.

    Individuals don’t have to maintain, fuel, pay for parking, and suffer depreciation on cars. Cities don’t need to maintain as many roads, pay as many traffic cop salaries, and pay for the constant carnage of road accidents and deaths.

    The reduction in cost of transport is also beneficial to low income people who can’t afford cars, but can afford bus passes.

    Secondly, this less car intensive lifestyle massively reduces the carbon footprint of both cities and individuals.

    Increased density reduces the cost of housing by allowing for more housing per kilometer thus reducing policing, city utility, and other infrastructure costs which in turn keeps taxes lower.

    It is far cheaper from a construction perspective to build medium to high density neighbourhoods than it is to build low density neighbourhoods of single family dwellings. This cost is passed onto the end user.

    From an environmental perspective the impact of higher density construction is much lower than low density sprawl as not as much material is required per dwelling unit.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • steph

    Hi Mike,

    I should have clarified that a little more. I don’t think that high density homes make for expensive homes, I agree that it is quite the opposite when land costs a lot.

    What I meant is that here we have the ability to build 40 miles away in the suburbs where the land is considerably less to create more affordable housing. (in the burbs) Sorry for the confusion.

    You are right on in everything you just stated. We have a project that is about to break ground here where they are going to do some pretty neat multi family condos with solar hot water and other solar panels/renewable energy to power the common areas, green roof, etc. It is going to be quite interesting.

    There are not as many materials need to build multi family (probably) but down here we have to consider flooding issues. We are surrounded by bayous and watersheds. The concrete needed to parking and common drive areas (because of city codes) make for considerably less permeable areas. With the large landscape of Houston the codes need to give a little bit to find ways to make common drive and park areas more permeable. That was my only complaint. High density construction is truly the best way to go green in highly populated areas…but as with everything else in going green, there are unintended consequences.

    Houston is changing in incredible ways in the Downtown areas where public transportation is more readily available along with other items you mentioned. It is out in the suburbs 45-50 miles away from Downtown where we still need to work on that stuff. It may take a while, but there are a handful of builders/developers making strides to increase sustainability in the outer parts of the City that grows wider everyday.

    I have taken one of my websites down for the time being while I redo it, but I had a widget on there where people could calculate the difference between buying a little more expensive of a home closer in to town or where ever they work vs. paying a lot in gas mileage to drive. Often times it works out to be the same or less…and then add possibly a more energy efficient home on top of that…makes a big difference.

    Thanks for the great conversation. Sounds like you know your stuff.

  • Ben

    “EFL takes Energy Star as a basic minimum standard. There is a minimum requirement for products in the home that have to bear the Energy Star Logo…and then builds on top of that, so at the same time they focus somewhat on different features of the home.”

    I know this is an old blog, which makes me wonder if you still have the same opinion, but when you say “builds on top of that”, do you mean with Masco products?

    I have recently seen the software and energy modeling process used to rate Energy Star homes. They actually seemed to be pretty focused on the building envelope and in fact did not request any information regarding the name or model number for any of the appliances. The only appliance information needed to complete the rating was the verified energy usage of the HVAC equipment and water heaters. I don’t think that there is more emphasis than needed to accurately establish the amount of energy used by the home.

    Another thing that I like about Energy Star is that they seem to be a lot more stringent on verifying that all the requirements are actually carried out and do not rely on just plan modification alone.

    Please forgive me if my comments seem harsh, my intentions are not to bash what you are saying. I am just very curious to hear why someone who seems to be in this industry for the right reasons, is so into a program that has such obvious potential to have many alternative motives.

    I personally have a harder time believing that a for profit company who sells new home products and services will have a more unbiased rating than a non for profit company who labels products with the same unbiased reports.

  • steph

    Hi Ben,

    I do not think that your statements are harsh at all. I researched both programs heavily prior to writing this and my biggest beef back when I wrote this was mainly with the builders that were building the different programs. EFL builders were above and beyond with energy efficiency than the energy star builders.

    I still believe that as it sits right now – as far as the ‘green’ aspect goes – EFL focuses on more requirements and I can say without doubt that they will fail a home. I have seen it happen. Each specific home on EFL must be tested, Energy Star can still batch tests. I don’t agree with that.

    With the new changes that Energy Star has announced it will be interesting to see how these two programs compete. I’m not saying definitively that one program is better than another, I’m simply stating the differences as consumers get confused what all of it means.

    As far as appliances go, regardless as to whether or not they are Energy Star they all use different amounts of electricity/gas. I believe its important to take that in to consideration when testing. As well as the number of canned lights, type of bulb/lamp, window ratings, how the home faces….

    It all goes together and can indeed affect the HERS Rating in the end. I saw that first hand with clients who purchased a LEED Certified home. The bulbs and appliances alone took it from a Silver to Gold rating simply because of HERS rating.

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