If you’re looking to buy or build a home in La Plata County—and even if you’re a Southwest Colorado builder—all the acronyms, brands, and labels related to energy efficient homes may have your head spinning.  What do they all mean?  Who’s behind them?  And most important, which ones should you care about?

Where to Start

As we highlight a few leading energy rating systems, take heart.  If you’re a builder in Southwest Colorado, you already pay attention to the La Plata County or Durango building codes.  Both entities rely on the International Building Code, developed by the International Code Council.  This body develops model codes for the industry, updating them regularly, with a special focus on safety and energy efficiency.

Homeowners can benefit from familiarity with the pertinent building codes too.  Whether you’re building your Durango dream home or undertaking a significant remodel, it’s a good idea to look over the ICC codes.  You can find them here, then take a look at the Durango and La Plata County regulations.

Beyond Building Codes

There are a variety of energy efficiency-related brands and acronyms you may have heard about.  A couple of the top ones are:


LEED is an acronym that stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council in the early 90’s, it’s a framework for certifying energy efficient buildings, homes, neighborhoods, and even entire cities in a four-tier system.

Industry experts have highlighted possible drawbacks of LEED, including a difficult certification process.  Critics also point out that the process focuses on design and best practices, rather than ultimate performance of projects.  On the other hand, LEED certification is generally viewed as desirable by owners and occupants, and builders that adhere to the principles and have their projects certified are generally considered to be leaders in environmental stewardship.

Energy Star

Perhaps more recognizable to the average citizen is the Energy Star mark, as it appears on many appliances, computers, and other products we use every day.  The brand was also developed in the early 90’s by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Today it applies to homes as well as to products, and is intended to designate a dwelling that performs at least significantly better than one simply built to code.  It’s performance-based, rather than design-based.

There’s no cost to apply to be a builder-partner with Energy Star, and the program’s many resources are free as well.  Developing a home that earns the mark is primarily a web-based process, with third-party evaluation from an Energy Star rating company partner.

Professionals in the know suggest that these two programs are complementary.  Awareness of both, and use of their principles and tools, if not full-blown certification, can be important steps along the way to adopting an increasingly environmentally-aware approach to building in Southwest Colorado.

The HERS System

A slightly newer rating system is called HERS, or the Home Energy Rating System.  It was developed by the independent non-profit RESNET (Residential Energy Services Network).  Proponents like the fact that a key focus of the rating system is transparency, and that ratings yield a tangible way to measure and compare the energy efficiency of one home to another.

RESNET highlights these HERS benefits for Durango area home buyers:

  • Lower home energy costs: You can save as much as 30% on your energy bills with an efficient home, says the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Cleaner air inside the home: Well-designed ventilation systems replace stale air with clean, fresh air, helping to keep your family healthy.
  • Improved comfort: HERS standards help ensure you don’t experience hot and cold spots in your home.
  • Better resale prospects: RESNET maintains that highly-rated homes sell for between 3.5% and 9% more than standard homes, and they sell faster as well.
  • Peace of mind: You can feel extra good about a home purchase when you’re doing the right thing for the environment. What’s more, the movement toward HERS homes is helping create jobs in the green sector.

There are advantages of using the HERS framework for Southwest Colorado home builders.  According to the National Association of Home Builders, nearly one in four new homes built in 2020 received a HERS rating, and Colorado ranked fifth among the states for the most HERS homes.  Demand is there and growing.

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