EPA began offering the ENERGY STAR® label in 1995. After remaining unchanged for the first 10 years, EPA has revised the thresholds for ENERGY STAR-labeled new homes twice in the last 6 years, raising the bar against a background of improving building technology and evolving energy codes.

Initially the program guidelines focused on improvements in several key areas-reduced energy loss through higher-efficiency windows and doors, tighter overall building shell, tighter HVAC ductwork and more efficient heating and cooling equipment, and independent third-party verification from certified home energy raters.

In 2006, EPA developed more stringent guidelines in response to increased mandatory national and local energy codes. ENERGY STAR Version 2 added a thermal bypass inspection checklist, to be completed by the home energy rater. This checklist called for visual analysis of framing for areas where air barriers are commonly missed and of insulation to ensure continuous and proper alignment. This version also required properly sized HVAC systems and encouraged the use of efficient lighting and appliances.

These standards became effective in 2007, and as more communities adopted the most recent International Residential Code (IRC) and the corresponding International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), complying with Version 2 became somewhat effortless because builders were already meeting those guidelines.

In 2009, EPA established even more stringent guidelines, which were based in part on the 2009 IECC and on feedback from stakeholders. Regional guidelines also were developed, based on state and local codes. ENERGY STAR Version 3 set benchmarks for the size of new homes, and stipulated each home achieve an energy rating of at least 15% greater than a benchmark home built to the 2009 IECC standard, in addition to independent confirmation that the home met tougher ENERGY STAR specifications.

Version 3 added several new checklists and mandated training for builders, raters and HVAC contractors. This version places a much heavier burden on all participants-the builder, the home energy rater, and the HVAC contractor and the increased workload adds more cost for builders. The complexity of this version compelled EPA to introduce Version 2.5 in 2011 to help participants adjust during the transition.

Version 3 was fully implemented in 2012. All new homes participating in the labeling program must now meet these requirements. EPA has developed field guides to assist builders, raters, and HVAC contractors in implementing Version 3 and periodically holds webinars on various technical aspects of the program.

To be eligible to build Version 3 homes, builders must complete orientation training and agree to build at least one ENERGY STAR labeled home per year. Builders must then hire a home energy rater who has completed the ENERGY STAR Version 3 rater training with an accredited training provider. They must also use an HVAC contractor who has been credentialed by a recognized industry organization. After a rater assists with the building process, and completes a final satisfactory inspection, an ENERGY STAR label is issued and placed on the home’s circuit breaker box.