EPA Adds High Rises to ENERGY STAR Checklist

September 1, 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced the inclusion of multifamily high-rise (MFHR) residential buildings in the Energy Star qualification and certification system.

Energy Star is a joint building energy efficiency rating program of the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, and aims to help consumers save money while simultaneously protecting the environment from the pollution associated with energy production, primarily coal-burning power plants, which supply almost half of U.S. energy and contribute 40 percent to the nation’s annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  

As the Energy Star website notes, its program is responsible for saving enough energy in 2010 to prevent $18 billion on consumer's utility bills, not to mention deferring about 172.5 metric tons of CO2, the greenhouse gas most implicated in climate change.

The Energy Star system provides a strategic approach to building energy management. Heating and cooling buildings, and other peripheral energy uses -- ventilation, lighting, and water distribution, etc. -- consume 39 percentof the energy used in the U.S.

Energy Star evaluation and certification for residential buildings was formerly restricted to single family homes and low-rise multifamily buildings. Now, MFHRs can also take the Energy Star challenge to achieve a 15 percent energy savings over standard multifamily high rises.

The caveats are extensive, but unsurprising. Applicants must be Energy Star Developer Partners, and the MFHR Project Application must be submitted. And, of course, eligible buildings must have adequate insulation to meet Energy Star’s high efficiency standards.

Beyond that, the Energy Star rating system also evaluates HVAC (heating, cooling and ventilation) systems to insure they are correctly sized to the building in question, and that the ductwork and construction are designed to minimize heat loss.

Final mandates include Energy Star-rated lighting and appliances, and energy efficient windows – double- or triple-paned, low-E, argon gas filled, with thermally efficient frames.

Buildings eligible to apply other than new construction include “substantially rehabilitated” MFHRs with 5 or more units, 4 or 5 stories, and central heating, cooling or hot water systems. Buildings whose hot water systems depend, for half their volume, on solar thermal heat, must qualify for Energy Star ranking through its New Homes program. Where commercial spaces are included in the building envelope – which is typical of many residential high rises, that space is excluded from the square footage under evaluation.

The new qualifications do not include assisted living high rises, or SNF (skilled nursing) facilities, which were provisioned for in March. Long-term care facilities like independent senior living high rises and group homes, however, are encouraged to apply under these new guidelines.