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The ENERGY STAR ®  label is one of the most trusted brands in America – it ranks alongside the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval and the American Heart Association for consumer trust. Nationally, it has almost 90% name recognition and has been shown to reliably influence consumer purchasing behavior.

But what is ENERGY STAR? Where does the logo come from? Who controls it? How does a product or home earn the label in the first place?

When I teach classes on sustainability to real estate agents, I often ask these questions. Most people think that manufacturers came up with the label, but in fact, it’s owned by the U.S. government – specifically the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA.

The EPA is tasked with regulating harmful pollutants to our environment (like greenhouse gas emissions), and energy efficiency --which is at the core of ENERGY STAR -- is a very cost-effective way to mitigate these emissions while providing solid financial benefits to citizens. The agency launched the voluntary ENERGY STAR program in 1992 to signal to consumers that a particular product was energy efficient, i.e., it would cost less to operate than a comparable product which did not have the label.

In 1992, the focus was originally on computers and monitors. By 1995 the program had expanded to include residential heating and cooling, and in 1996 the EPA partnered with the US Dept. of Energy to develop product categories that could include appliances, lighting, and more. Now whole buildings can earn an ENERGY STAR label.

To earn this label, a manufacturer must submit its product to an approved lab for testing – each product category has a particular set of requirements for efficiency that is above the minimum standard. Integral to the ENERGY STAR program, though, is the requirement that the product in question not sacrifice on features or performance. So the ENERGY STAR label signals more than just efficiency – it also signals quality.

Take lighting, for example. You can purchase LED lights with or without an ENERGY STAR label. Because they are LEDs, you know they are already energy efficient. So why pay more for one with the ENERGY STAR brand?

For one thing the brand comes with a 3-year warranty, which is well above the industry standard. But to nerd out for a moment on a host of other good reasons, consider the following ENERGY STAR requirements for LEDs:

·       Brightness is equal to or greater than existing lighting technologies (incandescent or fluorescent) and light is well distributed over the area

·       Light output remains constant over time, only decreasing towards the end of the rated lifetime (at least 35,000 hours or 12 years based on use of 8 hours per day).

·       Excellent color quality. The shade of white light appears clear and consistent over time.

·       Efficiency is as good as or better than fluorescent lighting.

·       Light comes on instantly when turned on.

·       No flicker when dimmed.

·       No off-state power draw. The fixture does not use power when it is turned off, with the exception of external controls, whose power should not exceed 0.5 watts in the off state.

Commercial or residential buildings work a little differently when it comes to earning the ENERGY STAR label. You can’t send a building out to a lab for third party testing, but you can bring the third party to the building – this is how these programs work. For a commercial building to earn an ENERGY STAR, a qualified professional enters the asset and energy use information into an energy modeling tool called Portfolio Manager which is then reviewed by someone from ENERGY STAR program. With the ENERGY STAR for New Homes program, a builder must contract out to a certified Home Energy Rater to perform tests and document features according to the requirements of that program to earn the ENERGY STAR label.

My company, Pearl Certification, recently met with officials from ENERGY STAR to talk about their new homes program and what may be on the horizon for existing homes. We fully support this hugely successful and beneficial consumer program and have integrated its branding into our points system for existing and new home certification.

So the next time you find yourself in a big box retailer looking for that new appliance, do pay attention to the ENERGY STAR label. You not only benefit from it, but as a taxpayer, you own it! And be sure to check out their website for a wealth of useful information on energy efficiency as it pertains to your home.

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