The U.S. environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced more rigorous guidelines for new homes that earn the Energy Star label. Compared to the current Energy Star guidelines, the new requirements will make qualified new homes at least 20 percent more efficient than homes built to the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), slashing utility bills for qualified homes by 15 percent compared to IECC-built homes.

The updated requirements will ensure the government’s Energy Star label continues to deliver a significant increase in energy efficiency over homes that are built to code and standard builder business practices. These guidelines will go into effect in January 2011.

Key elements of the new guidelines for Energy Star-qualified homes include a complete thermal-enclosure system, quality installed complete heating and cooling systems, a complete water management system, efficient lighting and appliances, and third-party verification.

The last item on the list could be a niche area for electrical contractors that may wish to branch out. Energy Star-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.