Green builders need to be thinking now about upcoming changes to the EPA’s Energy Star for Homes program, according to a speaker at the recent NAHB Green Building Conference in Salt Lake City.

Homes that earn the Energy Star designation after Jan. 1, 2012, will need to comply with Version 3.0 requirements, which are built on a three-pronged approach to energy efficiency that entails controlling air flow, thermal flow, and moisture flow. The new enhancements focus on more rigorous energy efficiency measures and enhanced inspection checklists, but Jake Titus, account manager for Fairfax, Va.-based ICF International, told the audience that the new version is about more than just efficiency.

“The EPA is trying to position Energy Star 3.0 not just as an energy efficiency label but as a label of quality construction,” he said. “From a consumer standpoint, a home that saves energy but has hot spots and cold spots and moldy walls is really not acceptable.”

The new measures include higher R-values for wall and ceiling insulation, lower U-values and SHGCs for windows, lower duct leakage rates, and a greater emphasis on water management. In all, the new standards will increase a home’s energy savings by 15% compared to the 2009 IECC and include additional measures that will typically make them 20% to 30% more efficient than standard new construction.

The changes will give more weight to the program, which has become commonplace in some markets where up to 50% of new homes are built to the standard. “It’s become less and less a mark of being on the leading edge of distinction,” Titus said.

Performance Path. Most of the changes are for builders who choose the performance path to certification, especially those who build large homes. To begin, participants must model the home using the Energy Star Reference Design specifications (formerly the Builder Option Package) to establish an Initial HERS Index Target Score. New for 2012, a Size Adjustment Factor (SAF) will be applied to the HERS target when a home exceeds the Benchmark Home Size, which is based on the number of bedrooms. For example, a three-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot home would require an SAF of 0.92.

This path will also provide users with flexibility to mix and match energy efficiency measures such as insulation levels or window efficiency, but with some limitations. For example, U-values and SHGCs must meet or exceed 2009 IECC requirements and ventilation must be in compliance with ASHRAE 62.2.

Version 3.0 also marks the first time the EPA will take into account on-site power generation such as solar or wind systems for performance path users to help meet a project’s HERS Target Index.