Green Building News

Green Building News February 2009

February 2, 2009

ENERGY STAR® Residential Water Heaters to Save Americans Up to $823 Million in the Next Five Years

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced the availability of ENERGY STAR residential water heaters. With the announcement, the ENERGY STAR program now addresses every major residential appliance found in most American homes. Introduction of this product provides significant potential savings to consumers. Water heating represents up to 15.5 percent of national residential energy consumption, the second largest end use of energy in homes, following heating and cooling. Using one of five specified water heating technologies, ENERGY STAR qualified water heaters can reduce water heating bills from 7.5 percent to as much as 55 percent.

In five years, the new water heater criteria are expected to save American consumers $823 million in utility costs, avoid 4.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions and achieve cumulative energy savings of more than 3.9 billion kilowatt-hours and 270 million therms of natural gas – enough energy to power more than 375,000 homes for a year.

Five water heating technologies are eligible to use the ENERGY STAR® label:

  1. High-efficiency gas storage water heaters employ the same technologies as standard gas storage water heaters: a glass-lined steel tank is heated by a burner located at the bottom of the tank. ENERGY STAR labeled models increase efficiency by incorporating better insulation, heat traps and more efficient burners.

  2. Gas condensing water heaters work much like regular gas water heaters. However, instead of venting the combustion gases directly outside, heat from those gases is further transferred to the water thus increasing efficiency.

  3. Whole-home gas tankless water heaters apply the same principle to heat water as standard gas water heaters, but without a storage tank. They save energy by heating water only when needed, eliminating energy lost during standby operation.

  4. Heat Pump Water Heater (HPWH) technology uses electricity to move heat from one place to another instead of generating heat directly. Much like a refrigerator working in reverse, a HPWH uses liquid refrigerant to take the heat from surrounding air and transfer it to water in an enclosed tank.

  5. Solar water heaters come in a wide variety of designs, all using the sun’s thermal energy to heat water.

Performance criteria were announced on April 1, 2008, to allow manufacturers nine months to partner with ENERGY STAR and submit qualifying models to earn the label once the criteria took effect. ENERGY STAR qualified gas storage, whole home gas tankless and solar water heaters became available on January 1, 2009. Qualified gas condensing and heat pump models are expected to be available later in 2009. These emerging technologies will initially be available through plumbers and large retailers.

Plumbers and builders interested in ENERGY STAR qualified hot water heaters are encouraged to review ENERGY STAR's Water Heater Criteria Development to learn more and find qualified models. Plumbers interested in offering customers advanced water heating technologies should check with manufacturers for available training opportunities and tutorials on installation techniques.

Energy Efficiency Programs Can Realistically Reduce Growth in Electricity Consumption by 22 percent, According to EPRI

Energy efficiency programs in the United States could realistically reduce the rate of growth for electricity consumption by 22 percent over the next two decades if key barriers can be addressed, according to an analysis released by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). The potential energy savings in 2030 would be 236 billion kilowatt hours, equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 14 New York Cities.

Stated differently, the demand for electricity over the next two decades could be reduced from the 1.07 percent annual growth rate projected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its 2008 Annual Energy Outlook down to 0.83 percent, slowing the rate of increase by approximately 22 percent.

The analysis comes at a time when utilities, regulators and policymakers are aggressively seeking ways to meet growing electricity demand while reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. The key challenge is to maximize potential gains in energy efficiency while ensuring adequate new electric generation to maintain reliability and meet future demand.

The EPRI analysis entitled “Assessment of Achievable Savings Potential From Energy Efficiency and Demand Response in the U.S.” found that under an ideal set of conditions conducive to energy efficiency programs, the consumption growth rate could be further reduced to as low as 0.68 percent annually by 2030. However, achieving the ideal would require costly investments as well as political and regulatory support.

The report defines a realistic achievable figure that includes a forecast of likely customer behavior, taking into account existing market, societal and attitudinal barriers as well as regulatory and program funding barriers. The barriers could reflect customers’ resistance to doing more than the minimum required or a rejection of the attributes of the efficient technology.

A maximum achievable figure assumes a scenario of perfect customer awareness of utility or agency administered programs and effective, fully funded program execution. The maximum achievable number includes the effect of customer rejection of efficiency technologies.

For its baseline assumptions, the EPRI study relied on EIA projections of growth in electricity consumption and peak demand for the residential, commercial and industrial sectors from its 2008 Annual Energy Outlook. The EPRI report and its executive summary can be downloaded at

“This study is well suited to inform utilities, policymakers, regulators and other stakeholder groups,” said Arshad Mansoor, vice president of Power Delivery and Utilization for EPRI. “Estimates of energy efficiency potential affect forecasts of electricity demand, and electric utilities must make prudent investments in generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure to reliably and cost-effectively address this demand.”

Faced with the challenges of managing energy resources wisely, maintaining low-cost reliable power service and reducing carbon emissions, utilities and policy makers are looking to energy efficiency as a means to achieve these objectives. Many states have established, or are considering, legislation to mandate energy efficiency savings levels.


Reduce Home Energy Costs and Taxes – New Federal Energy Efficiency Credits Available in 2009

New energy efficiency tax credits will allow homeowners to lower both their monthly home energy bills and their federal income taxes in 2009 as they contend with escalating winter energy prices, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. Using the tax credits of up to $500 to make specific energy efficiency home improvements also can make homes more comfortable and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, the Alliance noted.

The tax credits were enacted as part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (H.R. 1424), which former President Bush signed on October 3, 2008. They are largely the same as those that were in effect in 2006 and 2007, with some new criteria for qualifying products and equipment. Details are on the Alliance to Save Energy website.

The Alliance consulted the Internal Revenue Service to confirm that taxpayers who claimed less than the total $500 credit in 2006 and/or 2007 can claim the unused portion in 2009. However, the Alliance strongly urges taxpayers who want to file for part or all of the new energy tax credits to consult their own tax advisors for specific advice.

“The Alliance worked very hard to ensure that Congress would renew the expired federal tax credits for energy efficiency home improvements, and we are pleased that homeowners can once again get some help from Uncle Sam to make their homes more energy efficient and more comfortable,” said Alliance President Kateri Callahan.

The overall $500 cap can be reached in several ways with the purchase and installation of energy-efficient products:

  • Insulation, exterior doors, or roofs: 10 percent of the cost of the product (but not the installation), up to $500. Includes seals to limit air infiltration, such as caulk, weather stripping and foam sealants, as well as storm doors. Roofs must be ENERGY STAR® qualified metal roofs with pigmented coatings or ENERGY STAR qualified asphalt roofs with cooling granules.

  • Central air conditioner, heat pump, water heater, or bio gas (e.g. corn) stove: up to $300 towards the full purchase price, including installation cost. Heating and cooling equipment, including water heaters, must meet stringent efficiency requirements – not even all ENERGY STAR products will qualify. (Detailed criteria are on the Alliance website.)

  • Exterior windows: 10 percent of the total cost, up to $200. Includes skylights and storm windows. All ENERGY STAR qualified windows are eligible. Windows, doors and insulation must meet the regional requirements of the 2001 or 2004 International Energy Conservation Code, a model energy code for buildings.

  • Furnace or boiler: up to $150 towards the full purchase price, and/or $50 for an efficient air-circulating furnace fan, including installation cost.

  • In addition, windows, doors, insulation and roofs must be expected to last at least five years (a two-year warranty is sufficient to demonstrate this).

There also is a separate credit, through 2016, for ENERGY STAR qualified geothermal heat pumps – 30 percent of the cost, up to $2,000.

Manufacturers can certify (in packaging or on the company’s web site) which of their products qualify for the tax credit. Retailers, contractors and manufacturers should be able to help consumers determine what levels of insulation and what other products qualify.

All improvements must be installed in or on the taxpayer’s principal residence in the United States. Condo and co-op improvements are apportioned to the owners. The credit cannot be taken against the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).


New Alliance Promotes Sound Green Building

Sierra Club’s Cool Cities and U.S. Green Building Council Launch New Strategic Grass Roots Effort

Citing the leadership role that U.S. Mayors and municipalities have played in the efforts to reduce carbon emissions—and that buildings account for 38 percent of carbon emissions in the United States—the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and Sierra Club’s Cool Cities campaign (Cool Cities) have formed a strategic partnership to promote the development, advancement and implementation of meaningful green building policies in 2009.

The partnership will leverage Cool Cities’ more than 400 local campaigns and USGBC’s national network of 78 chapters to empower city residents, business owners, municipal employees and elected leadership to encourage their cities to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable and energy efficient buildings. "In today's economy, giving municipalities the tools to become more energy efficient and sustainable is a win-win," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club's Executive Director. "Not only does the community get the environmental benefits, but implementing these solutions can create jobs and save money."

In addition, the two organizations will collaborate on the development of grassroots resources including joint policy recommendations and best practice models to demonstrate the diversity and scope of policies and incentives that are currently in place across the nation.

Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of the USGBC welcomed the partnership, “Across the country, mayors of cities big and small are demonstrating their commitment to transforming our buildings and communities. The fact that over 900 mayors—representing over 81 million Americans— have endorsed the US Conference of Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement—speaks to the importance of their leadership on climate change. Mayors know that meaningful green building policies are a foundation of this work.”

As of December 2008, 112 cities from Albuquerque, New Mexico and Alexandria, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts and Bowie, Maryland, are utilizing various LEED initiatives. There are currently 2,319 LEED projects registered to local governments. For more information about Cool Cities, visit


Oikos Library

Check out our evolving series on choosing green building products.

Choosing Green Finish Materials

Choosing Green Finish Materials: Paint


Green Investment in Built Heritage - Feb. 16

Held in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Co-Sponsored by Ecology Action Centre and Nova Scotia Historic Places Initiative, Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, this day long conference will focus on existing building stock in terms of 'green' re-construction, energy efficiency and urban development. With a broad reach into the development, heritage, government and energy efficiency sectors; the conference will be relevant to those who value the built environment and the potential current building stock holds with respect to a low carbon future and effective future use of natural and existing resources.   

Speaker panel will address hands-on renovation techniques and natural building methods; the energy 'credit' of existing and historic building stock, the economics behind restoration vs. new construction, analysis and application of deep energy retrofits, and a CMHC case study of a 'net-zero' home renovation.

Registration Information.

BuiltGreen Conference 2009 - Mar. 6

This annual event will be held at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center. The primary focus of the BuiltGreen Conference is to educate the local and regional building industry on quality green building practices, products and projects, as well as inspiring groups to continue to strive to build more sustainable communities. Of interest to building industry professionals: builders, architects, designers, vendors, consultants, engineers, realtors, government agencies and students.

BuildingEnergy09 - Mar. 10-12

Held at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, BuildingEnergy09 will bring together professionals and decision-makers who shape the practice of sustainability. Nearly 200 presenters will define the leading edge of smart building, energy efficiency and renewable energy. Recommended for architects, engineers, builders, building systems designers and owners, facility managers, developers, investors, real estate professionals, municipal & building code officials, sustainability coordinators, policy makers, planners and students.

| News Archives |