Here at The Environmental Center, we care about the environment, climate change, and affordable housing each of which are important reasons that we support the development of a Home Energy Score program by the City of Bend.
First of all, let’s define what we’re talking about when we talk about developing a Home Energy Score program. A Home Energy Score (HES) program would require a home to obtain a HES before it is listed for sale. The seller would pay an estimated cost of $150-250 to get a HES. Keep in mind that many sellers are also buyers. So they are paying this cost once for their home, and then getting the same information for every other home that they view—which for some people can be anywhere from 5 to 20+ homes.
And to get to the heart of the issue—why is the Home Energy Score so important? From the climate perspective, a HES program addresses residential energy use, the biggest source of sector-based emissions, according to Bend’s Community Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory. It is a strategy that has a proven track record of success in cities such as Austin, Texas which has had a mandatory disclosure ordinance for 13 years. It has a relatively high cumulative emissions reduction potential because it introduces information and resources that are critical for buyers and renters alike to take action on their energy use.
Buyers need to be presented with energy information early in the home buying process so that they can actually use this information to inform their decisions (rather than after an expensive home inspection when it’s too late in the process–not to mention the fact that a home inspection doesn’t give you adequate information to figure out what your energy costs will be). If a home has low score, they are not required to fix it before listing it for sale (can you imagine the pushback if that were the case?!). It will, however, give someone looking at that home a heads up on what they can expect their energy costs to be and a list of potential improvements they could make so they can factor those costs appropriately into their buying decision. Some homes with a lower score, with a few energy upgrades, may still cost less than a home with a higher score that is already pretty energy efficient. Without knowing what energy improvements make sense for all the homes they are considering, the average homebuyer would never be able to weigh all those variables to figure out which is the better deal with just information from a call the utility companies (just getting historical utility bills does not give you an apples to apples comparison between homes is because so much depends on occupant behavior and the number living in a home). Additionally, when you have the energy information up-front, you can integrate it into financing products to help you make improvements that could save you hundreds of dollars a year. And as more data is collected about home performance and the savings associated with energy improvements, even better financing products can be developed.
Taking action on energy use goes so far beyond just a climate discussion. A rent or mortgage payment is not the only factor that determines a family’s monthly housing costs and housing affordability. Energy bills are too significant of a cost to be left out of the conversation. So if we are really going to dig into this issue, we need to address the fact that 27% of Deschutes County residents are energy burdened (Oregon Department of Energy’s 2020 Biennial Energy Report ). A household is considered energy burdened when their expenditures exceed 6% of their income. Energy burden is a real problem in our community and the HES is one tool that can help us start to understand the problem and potential solutions, while also helping people avoid getting into a housing situation that they can’t afford.
Right now, we know that information on how to reduce energy use—or even information that paying $300+ for energy costs is not normal—is not getting into the hands of the people who need it. This program gets energy information out in the open so that we can start to use it as our new lexicon for how we talk about our homes.
Let’s have real conversations about our homes and how these spaces impact the occupants – and move beyond talking about square footage and countertops.
Do you care about the Home Energy Score? Share your comments directly with the City through the comments box at the bottom of this page on the City of Bend website.