ENERGY STAR is a building certification program jointly administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). Beyond products, the label applies to existing homes, new homes, and multifamily homes (low rise and high rise). There are two ways to earn the ENERGY STAR:

  1. Prescriptive Path: The builder implements a specific set of building practices and products into the home, negating the need for performance testing or modeling. 
  2. Performance Path: The builder has freedom over which products and practices to use, but the home must fall within a maximum HERS Index score based on the size and attributes of the building. 

Some jurisdictions, such as California, have more stringent energy standards and only the prescriptive path. Along these lines, California certified homes must also out perform a home built to the 2008 Energy Code by at least 15%. 

Irrespective of which path is used, an ENERGY STAR certified rater must complete four checklists: 

  1. Thermal Enclosure System Rater Checklist
  2. HVAC System Quality Installation Contractor Checklist
  3. HVAC System Quality Installation Rater Checklist
  4. Water Management System Builder Checklist

Beyond performance guidelines, ENERGY STAR requires that builders and Raters become accredited partners. There is no fee for becoming a partner, but training is required. Builders are generally defined as “companies or individuals that plan to construct one or more ENERGY STAR certified homes for either sale or use.” 

Process (California)

Step 1: The builder partners with ENERGY STAR. 

Step 2: The builder hires an ENERGY STAR partner rater. 

Step 3: Using approved energy modeling, the rater prepares a customized plan of measures to ensure performance targets are met (15% better than 2008 code).

Step 4: Pre-Drywall Inspection and Performance Testing by Rater (Checklists).

Step 5: Once construction is finished, the rater verifies all energy targets and mandatory requirements have been satisfied. At this point, the rater can print the ENERGY STAR label, which must be affixed to the circuit breaker box. 


  • Registration Fee : $0
  • Certification Fee: $0
  • Rater Fee: $2,000 to $4,000 (based on market rate and depends on size and type of project)
  • Builder Partnership Fee: $0
  • Estimated Team Increase: Minimal

Market Recognition

  • Certified Single Family Homes in San Diego County: 8,983
  • Certified Multifamily Low Rise Units in San Diego County: 9,212
  • Certified Multifamily High Rise Units in San Diego County: 0


The ENERGY STAR label is a solid certification based on value and market recognition. It is the clear market leader for consumers who want to "green" their homes at a reasonable price. Among the building certifications, though, ENERGY STAR takes the narrowest view on sustainability - limiting its focus to energy efficiency and water management. Other labels, such as Living Building Challenge, take a more holistic approach to sustainability and consider concepts like transit-oriented development, sense of community, embodied carbon footprint, green building materials, etc. It should be noted, however, that these holistic labels are significantly more expensive to obtain -- not just for certification fees but for increases to the design costs as well. 

Although there are numerous ENERGY STAR homes in San Diego County, there are relatively few ENERGY STAR builders - seven total - and most are tract home builders. In deciding whether or not to pursue an ENERGY STAR certification, it is important to see if partner builders are available in your area or whether your general contractor will do the training necessary to become a partner. 

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