Why does the Home Energy Score matter?

For more background on what the Home Energy Score is, visit our previous blog post What is the Home Energy Score and why is it in the CCAP?

Why Home Energy Scores?

The Oregon Department of Energy’s 2018 Biennial Energy Report took a deep dive into energy consumers in our state. Unfortunately, Oregon continues to see challenges faced by energy-burdened consumers. An Oregonian is considered “energy burdened” when their household’s energy-related expenditures exceed 6% of their income. In Deschutes County, 15-29% of residents earning 200% or below the Federal Poverty Level are energy burdened. Home energy scores can help consumers better understand a home’s energy efficiency, and identify simple home improvements that can mean big savings for their energy bills. (Taken from Oregon Department of Energy website).

Despite there being an obvious need for more awareness about energy use and energy efficient housing options, there has been a lot push-back on the proposal for a Home Energy Score policy for Bend. There are a lot of common misconceptions about the program–here are a few common concerns we’ve heard about HES. 

Homebuyers aren’t asking for HES. They don’t think this is important.

Just because buyers aren’t currently asking for this, doesn’t mean they don’t care—it means that they just don’t know about it yet. Considering energy use in the lifetime costs of homeownership has historically not been something that has been considered when buying a home. This is an important piece of the conversation of homeownership that has been missing that has left many in Bend searching for solutions to reduce $500/month winter energy bills. For those that do appropriately factor energy costs into their budget, think of the extra buying power that homebuyers could have when utility bills are reduced by hundreds of dollars each month.

Requiring an HES slows down the home-selling/buying process.

There is no evidence that energy disclosure disrupts the sale process. In Austin, where home energy audits have been required for ten years, realtors say the policy has not harmed the market in any discernible way. These types of policies usually require that a HES is required at the time of listing, not at the time of sale so it does not slow down the closing process. The actual audit to get a score takes about 1 hour. Timing to generate the report will vary depending on the assessor and could take a few days—this will be important ask when you are scheduling the assessment so you choose your assessor accordingly.

There aren’t enough assessors to do the work

It is true that there currently only a handful of businesses in Bend that could perform the audit to give a home an HES. However, it is something that home inspectors can easily get training in and expand what they offer for services. In Portland, new businesses have formed to meet the rising demand for services.  Earth Advantage has created a “Roadmap” to becoming an assessor that outlines the process for becoming approved to issue HES.

Energy audits are expensive

There are varying levels of information that can be collected during an energy audit or energy assessment. It is estimated to take about 1 hour to collect the 40 points of data that are needed to generate a score. It is estimated that the cost of an HES audit will be about $200, and we expect the price to go down after HES goes into effect. In Austin, where audits are required, the cost of an audit quickly fell to $125 as demand for audits rose. In the Portland market, audits are averaging about $150.

HES makes housing unaffordable

  • Knowledge is power, and home energy scores give home buyers more knowledge about the costs of operating the home they are buying. Energy costs can be a substantial monthly expense, especially for low-income households. You wouldn’t buy a car without knowing the miles per gallon. HES puts homebuyers in the drivers’ seat by revealing the full costs of home ownership.
  • Without HES, home energy performance remains hidden from both sellers and buyers – which doesn’t benefit anyone. Hiding home energy information certainly won’t make housing more affordable and isn’t smart policy. In fact, we think this “heads in the sand” approach is especially harmful to lower-income homebuyers, who stand to benefit the most from greater knowledge about the costs of home ownership.
  • The vast majority of home sellers will be able to afford the cost of a home energy audit. For those that cannot, the City will work identify ways to cover the upfront cost of the assessment.
  • HES’s benefits to all homebuyers, and to the community’s climate action goals, far outweigh any risks. For the small number of home sellers that may have difficulty complying with HES, exemptions and assistance programs can be developed to alleviate the hardship for those residents. On the whole, HES has substantial benefits to homebuyers and to the community as a whole.
  • Housing affordability is primarily a function of supply and demand. Bend faces a supply shortage. Home energy scores are information policy that do not affect the supply of housing.
  • In harder economic times, HES will have even more benefit to homebuyers. When times are tough, it is more important to understand the full cost of owning a home.

The Home Energy Score unfairly impacts poor people who may own sub-standard housing and their homes will be worth less on the open market

  • It’s not true that all lower-income homeowners will receive lower home energy scores. Home energy scores take many factors into account, including home size and total energy use. In fact, it’s bigger, luxury homes with high energy consumption (think hot tub and air conditioning!) that are likely to receive lower scores.
  • Getting a home energy score will help lower-income borrowers access special mortgage products, helping them finance energy efficiency improvements. The scoring tool we propose to use (US DOE’s Home Energy Score) gives low-income borrowers access to special home energy loans, that will help them improve their home’s energy performance.
    The Bend real-estate market is enjoying unprecedented appreciation. Low-income homeowners have benefited from this too.

These kinds of carbon policies don’t really lower emissions

  • The policy addresses residential energy use, the biggest source of sector-based emissions in Bend, according to the Community Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory.
  • This policy introduces information that is critical for buyers and renters alike to take action on their energy use. We don’t know what we don’t know and with currently energy consumption and costs masked, most residents have no idea that there is room for improvement in their home.
  • This is a long game. This is market transformation that uses a market solution, not a prescriptive regulatory one (we aren’t requiring that energy efficiency improvements be made—just that the information is supplied). It won’t happen overnight, but it will accelerate voluntary energy efficiency upgrades in the residential market over time.
  • Early indications from other communities that have scoring policies are that upgrades do follow disclosure. In Austin, as a result of energy disclosures, six percent of homes undertook energy upgrades. Commercial disclosure policies in NYC and SF are starting to show reductions in energy consumption.

If you think Bend needs a Home Energy Score policy, we encourage you to tell City Council that you think it should be included in the plan. Learn more about writing to City Council and giving public comment at a meeting here.

What is the Home Energy Score and why is it in the CCAP?

The Home Energy Score is a specific sub-action that is called out in Bend’s Community Climate Action Plan (CCAP). It states:

Energy in Buildings Strategy 3: Implement benchmarking and disclosure programs for energy performance (page 24 in the CCAP)

Sub-action: Implement a Home Energy Score program that requires every home to be scored on its energy use and energy efficiency at the time of listing.

It is important to note that at this point, the Home Energy Score is just a strategy in the Climate Action Plan. In order for it to be put into place, a separate ordinance will have to be developed and adopted by City Council. We have the opportunity to shape the program into something that works for Bend. The development of the ordinance will be a collaborative process with the community. The general assumed structure is based on ordinances from other communities across the country.

What is the Home Energy Score? 

Developed by the Department of Energy and its national laboratories, the Home Energy Score™ provides homeowners, buyers, and renters directly comparable and credible information about a home’s energy use. Like a miles-per-gallon rating for a car, the HES is based on a standard assessment of energy-related assets to easily compare energy use across the housing market. The tool is uniquely refined to require minimal data input – to save on time, money, and training for Assessors – while producing maximum accuracy for energy use predictions.

Home Energy Score will help build market value for energy efficient homes that improve quality of life by:

  • Providing homeowners and homebuyers knowledge of home energy efficiency and cost-effective improvements in order to reduce energy use and costs.
  • Encouraging use of reliable, consistent home energy efficiency information in real estate transactions to inform decisions, and build market value for comfortable, energy efficient homes.
  • Integrating energy information into financing products to help drive the market for comfortable, energy efficient homes.

Features of the Home Energy Score

The Home Energy Score Report estimates home energy use, associated costs, and provides energy solutions to cost-effectively improve the home’s efficiency. Each HES is shown on a simple one-to-ten scale, where a ten represents the most efficient homes.

  • An energy efficiency score based on the home’s envelope (foundation, roof, walls, insulation, windows) and heating, cooling, and hot water systems
  • A total energy use estimate, as well as estimates by fuel type assuming standard operating conditions and occupant behavior
  • Recommendations for cost-effective improvements and associated annual cost savings estimates
  • A “Score with Improvements” reflecting the home’s expected score if cost-effective improvements are implemented

Why Home Energy Scores?

The Oregon Department of Energy’s 2018 Biennial Energy Report took a deep dive into energy consumers in our state. Unfortunately, Oregon continues to see challenges faced by energy-burdened consumers. An Oregonian is considered “energy burdened” when their household’s energy-related expenditures exceed 6% of their income. In Deschutes County, 15-29% or residents earning 200% or below the Federal Poverty Level are energy burdened. Home energy scores can help consumers better understand a home’s energy efficiency, and identify simple home improvements that can mean big savings for their energy bills. (Taken from Oregon Department of Energy website).

A HES policy addresses residential energy use, the biggest source of sector-based emissions in Bend, according to the Community Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory and it introduces information that is critical for buyers and renters alike to take action on their energy use

Is Bend the only community considering a mandatory HES program?

Oregon’s statewide home energy scoring program is voluntary, but more local cities are looking into developing mandatory programs. The City of Portland was the first Oregon community to adopt a mandatory energy score program. In the last year, Portland has issued more than 7,000 scores. Oregon Department of Energy has also met with other Oregon communities, including Milwaukie, Eugene, Corv​allis, Ashland, Hood River, and Hillsboro.

Other Background Resources


Individual action is crucial… but is it enough?

A simple but powerful mission guides our work here at The Environmental Center: to embed sustainability into daily life in Central Oregon.

As Peter Geiser, one of our founders, says, “It starts with personal change, then change in the place we live, then change in the world.”

As we celebrate our 30th anniversary, I’ve been reflecting on how our approach to achieving our mission is rapidly evolving. For many years, we focused almost exclusively on helping individuals and businesses take action. Recycle and compost more. Use less energy.  Go solar. Bike to work.

Today, our focus is shifting towards changing systems. We recognize that individual action, at home, work and school remains essential. But individual efforts alone won’t create the change we need to ensure a healthy climate for future generations. We also need to address systemic barriers: the spoken and unspoken rules that shape our decisions and the future of our region.

Take local transportation as an example. Sure, all of us could walk and bike more. But those options don’t feel safe for many people in Bend, and our transit system still provides very limited service. The truth is that our transportation system works well for those who can afford to and are able to drive a car, but not so well for everyone else. Why? Because transportation planning and investments have focused primarily on moving cars rather than moving people.

Another example is the housing market. Inefficient homes with high utility bills waste energy and contribute to high living costs, especially for families on limited incomes. Our housing system still focuses almost exclusively on the cost to build or purchase a home or rent an apartment, rather than the full cost of living in that home or apartment. And decision-makers resist even baby steps in a new direction, such as requiring an energy score (a miles-per-gallon score for home energy use) so that renters and home buyers can know their full living costs.

As we move into our next thirty years of education and advocacy, we’ll still focus on individual action as the first step towards a better future. But we’ll also push for change at the system level. Both are needed to ensure a healthy future for people and the planet.

We hope you’ll join us in bridging the gap between personal change and change in the world. Together, we can take local action to make a world of difference.

Mike Riley, Executive Director

Green Spotlight: Jose Saldivar

Let us introduce you to Jose Saldivar, a Strategic Energy Management (SEM) Intern who’s making a big difference in our local schools! In December 2018, Jose joined our team to work directly with Jackie Wilson – our Education Director, who doubles as the Bend-La Pine Schools Sustainability Coordinator – on energy conservation projects across the district.

Jose has been working hard to gather and create baseline data for all Bend-La Pine schools for the 2017/18 and 2018/19 school years. Going forward, this data can be compared year over year and the district will be able to track progress toward energy reduction goals.

His favorite part of the job has been experiencing the direct impact of energy-saving efforts, such as unplugging appliances over long holiday breaks, and updating exterior weather stripping at SEM schools in the program (there are six of them).

Jose said he’s really enjoyed learning about Energy Use Intensity (EUI) – a “score” that’s calculated by dividing the total energy consumed by a building in one year, by the total floor area of the building. EUI enables us to compare different sized buildings across the district, and determine how well (and how efficiently) a building is functioning.

Jose is currently enrolled at OSU Cascades in the Energy Systems Engineering Program, and plans to graduate in 2021. This internship program is supported by Energy Trust of Oregon.

He has three boys in the school district, and is also a recent graduate of Mount Bachelor’s Ski or Ride in 5 program. So look out for him in the schools — or on the slopes!

Thanks, Jose, for all the great work you do for TEC and for our community. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with you!

Charge Ahead Expansion

Fall 2019 Oregon EV Rebate Program Updates

The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission approved the expansion of the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program, making it easier for people to purchase electric vehicles. Oregonians who bought or leased eligible electric vehicles between Jan. 1 and Aug. 2, 2018, will once again be allowed to apply for rebates through March 30, 2020. In addition, those purchasing or leasing a new or used plug-in hybrid electric vehicle on or after Sept. 29, 2019 will be eligible for the Charge Ahead Rebate, which offers $2,500 back to low- or moderate-income applicants.

What Does this Mean (early purchases expansion) ?

  • For those who bought qualifying vehicles in the first 6 months of the rebate program are now eligible to reapply. The reasoning behind this shift was that because the program was new and under litigation for those first 6 months, many dealerships didn’t educate their customers in enough time for folks to apply.

What Does this Mean (Charge Ahead Expansion) ?

  • The previous rules only allowed full electric vehicles (no plug in hybrids) to be eligible for the additional income qualified Charge Ahead program.
  • This will expand Charge Ahead to include Plug in hybrids!
  • The rebate will be $2,500 regardless of battery size
  • This will only be applicable for Plug In hybrids sold or leased after 9/29/2019.

If you have any questions, please reach out to Neil at Neil@theenergychallenge.org or call him at 541-385-6908 X12.



Open the Door to Savings with EPS

Open the door to energy savings with EPS

Experience the beauty of energy efficiency at this year’s Green Tour. You’ll find homes built for quality, comfort and efficiency, with an EPS™ to prove it. EPS, brought to you by Energy Trust of Oregon, is an energy performance scoring system that gives you an inside look at the energy impact of a newly built home and how much it costs to operate.

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Welcome to the Year of Solar + Storage

A message from E2 Solar, presenting sponsor of the 2019 Green Tour.

Solar + storage may be a new term for many, but the 2019 Green Tour marks a transition point for solar + storage in Central Oregon and beyond. You will have a chance to see, in person, solar + storage systems that allow businesses and homeowners to have resiliency in the event of prolonged power outages and decrease their use and reliance on the utility grid.

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Green Tour Seeking Applications

The 19th annual Green tour will highlight positive solutions to save energy in Central Oregon and we want you to be part of it!

The Energy Challenge is seeking applicants to showcase their homes and buildings on the 2019 Green Tour on Saturday, September 28th. The tour highlights innovation in sustainable design while still demonstrating how everyday people can save energy at home and at work.

The Green Tour highlights both residential and commercial projects and will bring awareness to the opportunities that exist to build energy savings into the design of new buildings as well as how our existing building stock can be retrofitted to be more efficient.

This year the tour is seeking properties that put an emphasis on getting to zero energy use, utilizing solar plus storage, efficient ADUs, or sites that have installed or are planning for electric vehicle charging.

Home or commercial energy retrofits are an equally important part of the tour because they allow us to make a more tangible connection to the kinds of upgrades that we can make in our very own homes and offices.

Designers, builders, realtors, home performance contractors, solar contractors, and homeowners are all encouraged to apply to put a building on the tour.  Those who are interested in applying are invited to fill out a quick and easy preliminary application by Friday, August 2nd.

The tour will take place on September 28th, 2019 from 10:00-4:30.

4 Spring Cleaning Tips That Can Save You Energy Too

  1. Clean your refrigerator coils. Before your fridge starts to work extra hard in the heat of summer, give it a leg up by cleaning the condenser coils that are underneath your fridge. We are known for lots of dirt and pet hair here in Central Oregon which can build up on the coils. When they get clogged, they don’t release heat like they’re supposed to and end up working overtime. This uses more energy and can shorten the life of your appliance. You can look up how to clean your specific fridge – but for most, you will just need to unplug your fridge, remove the grill plate at the bottom, and use a coil brush to brush the coils. When you’re done, make sure to sweep or use a vacuum crevice tool to pick up any debris you knocked off the coils under your fridge.
  2. Clean your dryer vent. While you’re at it, let’s get your dryer up to snuff too. By doing so, you’re also reducing a major fire risk in your home. The US Fire Administration reports that more than 2,900 home fires are started by clothes dryers each year. The removable lint trap in your dryer does a great job of collecting lint and other debris from your clothes, but it does not catch everything—especially if you’re not cleaning it out after each use! After you’ve taken out the lint trap filter, vacuum the lint in the trap housing. Next up, you’ll need a dryer vent cleaning kit. This is important because you’ll need a long flexible-handled brush to clean the rest of your ductwork. Get step by step instructions from ACE here.
  3. Dust off your ceiling fan. Flip the switch to make sure it’s going the right direction for summer. (In the summer, you want a counter clockwise direction.) While you’re at it, make sure you’re turning off your ceiling fans when there aren’t people in the room. Remember fans cool people, not rooms.
  4. Change your furnace filter. Can we let you in on a dirty little secret? You should be changing your furnace filter every three months, and most of us are failing miserably at this. This is super important to maintain the indoor air quality in your home, to keep your furnace operating efficiently, and to prolong the life of your HVAC system. Get step by step instructions here.

Test Drive an Electric Vehicle April 20-May 5

Now is a great time to test drive an electric vehicle in Central Oregon!

For every EV you test drive between April 20 – May 5, 2019, you’ll be rewarded with one entry to our raffle….

One lucky winner will get to choose a prize: A Nest Thermostat E or $150 Downtown Dollars.

[Note: This was extended one weekend in order for more folks to check out the new Kia Niro that just arrived at the Bend dealership.]

Take the time to check out several EV options available in Central Oregon, ask questions, and learn how an EV could fit into your lifestyle. You can test drive a fully electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle at the following participating dealerships:

Raffle drawing will be held on May 6, 2019 and the winner will be announced on The Environmental Center’s Facebook page.