With all that recent embarrassing, eyebrow-raising attention focused on the EnergyStar for home appliances program, don't forget that there’s an EnergyStar certification program for entire homes, too. And significant changes to it are afoot. 

While EnergyStar Homes escaped the recent debacle relatively unscathed — although not completely since the presence of EnergyStar-branded appliances and products do play heavily into the rating of an EnergyStar-qualified home — it’s good to know that the EPA is taking proactive measures to tighten EnergyStar Homes standards.

Yesterday, the EPA announced that starting in January 2011, newly built EnergyStar homes most comply with new efficiency guidelines although builders can adopt them as early on as they’d like. Included in the guidelines:

• A complete thermal enclosure system: Comprehensive air sealing, properly insulated assemblies and high-performance windows enhance comfort, improve durability and reduce utility bills.

• Quality installed complete heating and cooling systems: High-efficiency heating and cooling systems engineered to deliver more comfort, moisture control and quiet operation, and equipped with fresh-air ventilation to improve air quality.

• A complete water management system: Because EnergyStar homes offer a tightly sealed and insulated building envelope, a comprehensive package of flashing, moisture barriers, and heavy-duty membrane details is critical to help keep water from roofs, walls, and foundations for improved durability and indoor air quality.

• Efficient lighting and appliances: Look for EnergyStar-qualified lighting, appliances and fans helping to further reduce monthly utility bills and provide high-quality performance.

• Third-party verification: EnergyStar-qualified homes require verification by independent Home Energy Raters who conduct a comprehensive series of detailed inspections and use specialized diagnostic equipment to test system performance.

Currently, EnergyStar-qualified homes must be at least 15 pecent more energy-efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC). The new guidelines bump up that figure to 20 percent. Since the EnergyStar Homes program debuted in 1995, over 1 million EnergyStar homes have built in the U.S., a whopping number of them in Texas and the Southwest.  

And just because EnergyStar has come under fire and the program's weaknesses have been publicly scrutinized, I'm not suggesting that you don't invest in EnergyStar-labeled home appliances or products. Just do your homework. The same goes with building a new EnergyStar-qualified home. 

Via [EPA]

Also on MNN: How federal and state weatherization programs can help you.

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

EnergyStar Homes toughen up
While EnergyStar's product-qualifying program may be left bruised and battered after a recent investigation, EnergyStar Homes soldiers on with tightened standar