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

 

A loan for energy projects paid through your energy bill

This is way more exciting than it sounds

If you’re going to save money when you make home energy upgrades, wouldn’t it be nice to apply those savings directly to your financing payments? Well, it turns out someone out there is really trying to make saving energy as easy as possible.

This is exactly what you can do with Craft 3‘s On-Bill Repayment program. You can pay for an energy-saving project through monthly payments on your utility bill. Currently, you can take advantage of this program if you are a customer of Pacific Power and are making qualified energy upgrades that will reduce your electricity costs.

We caught up with Sara Holman, owner of Baby Cakes Diaper Service, to hear about her experience with the on-bill repayment program. She is currently making loan payments through her Pacific Power bill for two energy-saving projects.

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Expiring tax credits for efficiency products and solar

Excellent motivation to jump on your energy-saving to do list before the end of the year

Almost forty years ago Oregon was a leader in the energy efficiency movement when the state created the Residential Energy Tax Credit (RETC) program. The Oregon Department of Energy has overseen this program with the intention of encouraging Oregon residents to adopt more energy efficient devices from appliances to heating systems to solar panels.

The RETC covers 25 different products but there are a few in particular that we have our eye on because of their potential to save large amounts of energy and their excellent return on investment. Here’s a rundown of a few products that will be affected and how you can get a project started before the tax credits expire.

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The Powerhouse on Union Street – Green Tour Site # 1

A Creative Path To Zero Energy for Two Small Homes

The accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on this property is a powerhouse. Literally. The solar panels on the roof of this small one bed, one bath ADU, produce a “net positive” amount of energy. This means that it at the end of the year, this home nets a positive amount of energy and even nets enough energy to power the main house.

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Improving Indoor Air Quality: Creating a truly healthy home

Conversations about indoor air quality have long been part of building an energy efficient home. Now, increasing concerns about mold, radon, carbon monoxide, other allergens, and wildfire smoke are driving more attention to indoor air quality.

One way to improve indoor air quality is to build an airtight shell which will reduce how outside contaminants enter your home. This is a must when building an efficient home and ensures all the cracks and crevices for outside air, or even pests, to get into your home are sealed up.

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Getting Your Ducts in a Row

There’s More Than Meets the Eye When it Comes to Your Ductwork

Did you know you can save energy and improve health by having well-maintained ducts?

According to the US Department of Energy, “Typical duct systems lose 25 to 40 percent of the heating or cooling energy put out by the central furnace, heat pump or air conditioner. Duct repairs could be the most important energy improvement measure you can do.” Often in the Bend area, the older the home, the higher the leakage numbers.

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Cash back for making energy-saving improvements to your home

A Homeowner’s Guide for Central Oregon Energy Efficiency Rebate Programs

Did you know that you may be eligible for cash rebates and incentives when making energy saving improvements to your home? That’s right–cash back in your pocket for upgrading your windows, heating system and more!  Accessing local utility rebates is a great way to help offset the cost of doing weatherization and other upgrades to your home. In some cases the rebates often cover 10% and possibly up to 20% of the cost of the improvements.  In Central Oregon we are fortunate to have a few different utility rebate programs available to us. Those who are served by Cascade Natural Gas and Pacific Power are going to be tapping into the Energy Trust of Oregon cash incentives. There are also quite a few homes that are serviced by Central Electric Cooperative (CEC).  Each utility has their own incentive structure and process for payments.

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Go ahead–dive into an energy assessment!

So what exactly is this assessment?  Sometimes they’re called home performance audit s, which doesn’t really make them sound fun.  Or perhaps you’re worried that making all the energy upgrades may be too costly and not in this year’s budget?

Well rest assured no one, especially your home performance contractor, wants to scare you off. An energy assessment is a great tool to help you identify areas of improvements for your home and most importantly help you prioritize the energy saving improvements in a logical and systematic fashion.

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