Catch a Rising Star

Texas city is first to make Energy Star mandatory for new homes.

By Rebecca Souffrant, Associate Editor | June 30, 2001


Chicago-based Cambridge Homes announced last month that all homes in its Carillon Lakes community will meet Energy Star standards.

Frisco, Texas, a booming suburb of Dallas, has become the first municipality in the nation to make Energy Star standards for new homes mandatory. On May 1, the City Council unanimously approved a recommendation by the city planning department, which had worked with local builders on a green building committee. All new homes final-platted in Frisco after May 23 are required to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s heretofore strictly voluntary guidelines for energy efficiency.

Frisco is the second-fastest-growing city in America, mushrooming from 6,141 residents in 1990 to an estimated 44,500 today, with 75,000 projected by 2005.

“With rising energy costs and a huge housing boom, we were looking for a way to improve,” says Jeff Witt, senior planner for the city 20 miles north of Dallas. “If we don’t take care of our natural resources, we won’t have anything to care for in the future. We need to make the best possible use of what we have.”

Witt says the reaction from builders, residents and surrounding communities has been positive. Gary Gardner, director of construction for Pulte Homes in Hurst, Texas, calls Frisco’s new ordinance a step in the right direction and says it won’t force Pulte to change the designs of homes it builds in the community. “It’s very flexible,” he says. “It is up to the builder to decide what components they want to use to meet the Energy Star standards.”

The EPA’s first Energy Star standards, for personal computers and monitors, were established 1992. The program was extended to new homes in 1995. Today, the EPA says, a home with the Energy Star label is at least 30% more energy-efficient in heating, cooling and water heating than a comparable home built to the nationally recognized Model Energy Code. To earn the label, a home must score at least 86 on a Home Energy Rating System test conducted by a certified third party. The HERS score is based on plan analysis, insulation and duct inspection, and blower door/duct pressurization testing.

The tests cost approximately $750 per home, and Frisco planners estimate it will cost builders an extra $1,500 to $3,000 per home to meet the Energy Star standards. John Elberly, director of finance for Pierce Homes, a custom builder in Highland Village, Texas, estimates the per-home cost increase at 1% to 3%. Whatever the exact increase, it will, of course, be passed on to home buyers, but supporters of the new ordinance say that will be offset by Energy-Efficient Mortgages and lower utility bills. “If a more efficient home pays out at six months or even 10 years, then it’s a good thing,” Elberly says.

Will other communities follow Frisco’s lead and adopt an Energy Star ordinance? They might not have to, suggests Paul Cauduro, director of government relations for the Home Builders Association of Greater Dallas. He says the market is moving toward more energy-efficient homes anyway. Cauduro, however, questions the promise of lower utility bills, saying consumer lifestyle is an overlooked factor in energy consumption. And while he acknowledges that Energy Star homes have higher resale values, he wonders if energy savings will make up the difference in purchase price as quickly as advocates predict.

Still, the EPA program is gaining momentum. On June 15, Cambridge Homes opened its first Energy Star active-adult community, Carillon Lakes in Crest Hill, Ill. Cambridge debuted Energy Star in a community for residents 55 and older because of their mostly fixed incomes and need for a comfort-controlled environment.

The project didn’t come off without a hitch. Among the challenges identified by Cambridge and the Consortium for Advanced Residential Building, a Building America team led by Steven Winter Associates, was subcontractor unfamiliarity with materials and techniques used in building to Energy Star standards. They stress the important of educating subs.

Elberly agrees. “You have to point out the advantages to the contractors,” he says. “You have to point out to them things that need to be done and let them run the numbers. We have to change our ways.”

Especially in Frisco.