ENERGY STAR is a program developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency to help homes and businesses improve their energy efficiency, thus reducing their energy bills and environmental footprint. However, although we commonly associate the blue ENERGY STAR label with energy-saving products, it is also possible to get the certification for buildings that show exceptional energy performance.

According to the EPA, the average US building wastes one-third of the energy it consumes, which means the overall savings opportunity is massive. Also consider that many energy sources are carbon-intensive, so saving energy also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Overview of the ENERGY STAR Scoring System

The ENERGY STAR scoring system for buildings is based on percentiles, which means it can take values from 1 to 100. In addition, the program separates buildings by categories, which means the performance of an individual property is ranked against that of similar buildings nationwide. For example, an office building with an ENERGY STAR score of 90 performs better than 90% of all office buildings in the program, while another with a score of 50 is right at the national median value.

Getting a low ENERGY STAR score may seem like a bad thing, but it also means the energy-saving potential is higher in your property. In other words, you can expect an increased return on investment and a faster payback period from energy efficiency measures. As of November 2017, the ENERGY STAR scoring system applies for the following 21 building types:

  • Bank branches
  • Barracks
  • Courthouses
  • Data centers
  • Distribution centers
  • Financial offices (includes bank HQ buildings)
  • Hospitals (includes general medical and surgical)
  • Hotels
  • K-12 schools
  • Medical offices
  • Multifamily housing
  • Non-refrigerated warehouses
  • Offices
  • Refrigerated warehouses
  • Residence halls and dormitories
  • Retail stores
  • Senior care community
  • Supermarkets and grocery stores
  • Wastewater treatment plants
  • Wholesale clubs and supercenters
  • Worship facilities

Properties with an ENERGY STAR score of 75 or more are eligible for certification. Just keep in mind that additional requirements may apply in some property categories to be eligible for a score. For example, the minimum property size is 5,000 ft2, but this is reduced to 1,000 ft2 in the case of banks and worship facilities. The minimum size for hospitals is 20,000 ft2, and there is no minimum size for data centers. There are more similar requirements that are specific for certain property types, and you can review them all in the ENERGY STAR website.

In addition to meeting all the applicable requirements, your building must be in the list gathered during the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), which is carried out by the US Department of Energy every four years. You must also have 12 consecutive months of energy data for the building, including all forms of energy usage, not only utility services.

Multifamily properties with at least 20 dwelling units can also get an EPA water score. It is also a percentile scale from 1 to 100, where a score of 50 indicates that water use efficiency is right at the national median.

The ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager

The ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is an online tool to manage and track energy and water consumption in properties, and it is also the source of data for building scores. In addition, the program can estimate building emissions according to energy usage and sources. Property owners can create a private account to manage data either for an individual building or a portfolio of properties.

In New York City, the Portfolio Manager is used for all buildings subject to the Benchmarking Law (Local Law 84), which means all benchmarked properties automatically get an ENERGY STAR score if they are eligible. It is also important to note that the Portfolio Manager can be used with any building, even types that do not qualify for an ENERGY STAR score.

The Portfolio Manager is also a powerful tool when planning energy efficiency upgrades. It has built-in financial analysis functions that help you prioritize upgrades, while identifying buildings where a given energy efficiency measure will have the most impact.

If you are applying for a certification according to LEED for Existing Buildings, the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager can help you manage requirements and documentation. The program has many energy performance document formats to build detailed reports.

ENERGY STAR Scores of NYC Buildings

Benchmarking data gathered per Local Law 84 has revealed that the average ENERGY STAR score of NYC buildings exceeds the national median in both the multifamily and office sectors, which account for 73% of benchmarked floor area in the city. The median score is 60 for the multifamily sector and 75 for the office sector, both exceeding the national median of 50. In addition, benchmarking results show that NYC building scores have been on the rise in recent years: between 2014 and 2015, the median multifamily score increased by 5 points (55 to 60) and the median office score increased by 2 (73 to 75).

The increase in ENERGY STAR scores corresponds to a reduction in energy consumption and emissions that has been observed since the Greener, Greater Buildings Program launched in 2009: overall energy use is down by 10%, while emissions are down by 14%.

ENERGY STAR certification not only reduces building ownership costs. There are also marketing benefits in the form of improved corporate image and an increased chance of attracting energy-conscious clients and business partners. The first step towards a more efficient building is to determine where you stand now, and energy consulting services can give you the answer.

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