Prescriptive Path. The main change for prescriptive-path users will be using the new Energy Star Reference Design (formerly the Builder Option Package). No trade-offs are allowed when the prescriptive path is used.

Regardless of which path is chosen, all participants will deal with new and expanded checklists in 2012. These include:
--Thermal Enclosure System Rater Checklist (completed by the energy rater)
--HVAC System QI Contractor Checklist (completed by the HVAC contractor)
--HVAC System QI Rater Checklist (completed by the rater)
--Water Management System Builder Checklist (completed by the builder)

Titus offered the following tips to help building pros make the most of building a Version 3.0 house:
* Read the new guidelines and complete the EPA’s training early. Free, mandatory orientation for home builders is available online at www.energystar.gov/newhomespartners. New Energy Star builder partners must complete the short course in order to participate; current builders must complete it by Jan. 1, 2012.
* Check with subcontractors to make sure they are aware of new training requirements. Information for rater training can be found at www.resnet.us/energystar. HVAC contractor credentialing information is at www.energystar.gov/newhomeshvac.
* To help ease into 2012 requirements, consider building a house to Version 2.5, a transitional specification that follows Version 3.0 requirements with some exceptions.
* Begin thinking about energy efficiency and quality control during the design phase. Architects and designers will need to play a bigger role in Version 3.0 than they have in past iterations.
* Work with all stakeholders--rater, architect, and subcontractors—early on to avoid costly mistakes in the field later. Consider hosting a kickoff meeting.
* Leverage the consumer-trusted Energy Star brand in marketing materials. Free EPA material is available at www.energystar.gov/publications, and a marketing tool kit for builder partners can be found at www.energystar.gov/mesa.
* Make sure your sales team understands the benefits of living in an Energy  Star 3.0 home and can explain them to customers.

In the current housing slump, builders can prosper by partnering with Energy Star, Titus concluded.

“It can help builders stand out from other builders and stop competing against existing homes—especially foreclosed ones,” he said, “and it provides a marketing platform that shows you are offering a recognized, trusted brand.”

Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor, Online for EcoHome.