DOE's Home Energy Score Helps Homeowners Evaluate Their Homes' Efficiency
When you’re shopping for a car, what do you look for? How important is its aesthetic appeal, safety rating or fuel economy? Getting reliable information to make a decision is pretty simple—you can search online for the safety ratings and repair rates or talk to the dealer. If you care about gas costs and your carbon footprint, the MPG label shows how far a gallon of gas is likely to take you. While gas mileage may vary depending on how you drive your car, knowing the MPG offers a reliable way to compare the fuel economy of different cars.
Until recently, homebuyers did not have a standardized way to evaluate a home’s energy use. Now, with the Energy Department’s Home Energy Score, homebuyers can find reliable information about a home’s energy use. Regardless of where the home is located in the country, the Home Energy Score uses a 10 point scale, where a 1 represents homes that are expected to use the most energy, and a 10 represents homes that are expected to use the least amount of energy. Local climate conditions are factored into the Score, so although a home scoring a 10 in Chicago uses more energy than a home scoring a 10 in San Diego, the score of 10 represents the most efficient homes in each climate region.
Home Energy Scores are delivered to homeowners and prospective homebuyers through local Home Energy Score Partners. To generate a score, a qualified energy professional (known as a “Qualified Assessor”) visits the home, collects about 40 data points, and generates the score using a standardized web-based tool developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Along with the Score, the homeowner or buyer receives a report that provides a list of cost-effective home improvements—categorized as “Repair Now” and “Repair Later”—and an estimate of annual utility bill savings. The report also indicates how much the home’s Score can improve if all of the recommended improvements are implemented. The Scoring Tool is available at no charge to Partners, so it can be delivered at a low or no cost to homeowners.
The Energy Department is currently working with 30 organizations nationwide who are using the Home Energy Score to add value to their existing residential energy efficiency programs. Some Partners are offering it as an affordable introductory home assessment to provide homeowners with energy upgrade recommendations and help them take the first step toward increasing their homes’ energy efficiency. Partners who also participate in the Department’s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program use the Home Energy Score as a motivational sales tool during energy assessments and to document energy savings at test-out. Other Partners see it as a way to encourage homeowners who participate in “direct install” programs to move onto whole-house improvements. The Home Energy Score program asks its Partners to score 200 homes per year and meet quality assurance requirements. While the Home Energy Score provides a standard approach to scoring homes, it emphasizes flexibility and customization and allows organizations to use it as best fits their local market and program design.
This fall, the Energy Department will release an updated version of the Scoring Tool based on findings from the first year of implementation. The update will allow most homes to more easily move up the 10-point scale and the tool will be more sensitive to local climate conditions, pulling data from 1,000 weather stations as opposed to the 250 it currently uses.
In addition to improving the Scoring Tool and methodology, the Energy Department is working with several leaders in behavioral science to improve the ability of the Home Energy Score to motivate homeowners and buyers to invest in energy efficiency improvements. And, in the interest of expanding the pool of Qualified Assessors, the Energy Department is developing a 3-D simulation training and testing interface, which will be available in 2014.
The Energy Department will continue to seek feedback from Partners and analyze data from the growing number of homes scored (more than 6,000 in the past year) to ensure that the Home Energy Score provides homeowners and buyers with credible, reliable and affordable information that encourages greater investment in energy efficiency.
Cortney Krauss joined SRA International in 2011. She supports the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Home Performance with Energy Star and Home Energy Score programs, as well as the Maryland Energy Administration’s Maryland Home Performance with Energy Star program.
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