This article was originally published in the September/October 1993 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1993



Trends in Energy is a bulletin of residential energy conservation issues. It covers items ranging from the latest policy issues to the newest energy technologies. If you have items that would be of interest, please send them to: Trends Department, Home Energy, 2124 Kittredge St., No. 95, Berkeley, CA 94704.



Home Energy Ratings in California

A new non-profit organization began rating homes in the San Jose and Ontario areas of California this year. The organization--the California Home Energy Efficiency Rating System Incorporated, or CHEERS--provides home energy ratings, a way to quantify the energy efficiency for each home and assign it a number on a scale. CHEERS also trains and certifies independent business people to be home raters following a 40-hour course.

CHEERS, incorporated in 1990, was inspired by a consortium of the state's utilities, Realtors, builders, environmentalists, and mortgage bankers and lenders, with involvement of the California Energy Commission. It rates houses--new and existing homes alike--on a scale of 1-100. A rating of 100 is virtually unattainable, meaning the house uses no energy. New homes built to the state's Title 24 energy efficiency standards should rate about 70-75.

The rater performs a series of in-home tests, similar to an energy audit, then sends the data to CHEERS for analysis and a rating. Title 24 calculation programs analyze data measured by the rater. Greg French, CHEERS executive director, explains that along with a rating, each CHEERS customer receives

  • Data about the efficiency of appliances and other energy users.

  • A list of measures to improve home energy use.

  • An estimate of the cost of improvements and their payback periods.


To avoid a conflict of interest, CHEERS does not allow anyone such as a Realtor, property owner, or homeowner to be a rater. Anyone who does home improvements that would raise the rating, on the other hand, may be a rater. If someone provides such a service, French explains, it is inappropriate for them to do any hard selling for their business at the time they are in the home performing the rating service. When the consumer gets the rating from CHEERS, which represents a third-party analysis with recommendations, the consumer and the rater may then discuss improvement work.

The inaugural CHEERS program began in San Jose in February with the assistance of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). The utility is providing 1,200 home ratings for free. In subsequent audits, independent raters will collect fees from homeowners. It's estimated that the consumer's cost for a rating will be $50-$200, depending on the rater. French projects that the long-term plan for CHEERS is to become self-funded through a portion of the rating fees that are collected by the raters. As of mid-June, more than 800 free ratings had been completed in San Jose. Those ratings were tied to a PG&E incentive program, and the utility intended to follow up with customers to encourage improvements.

Rebecca Vories, a consultant on home energy rating systems (HERS) with Infinite Energy in Colorado, believes CHEERS is off to a good start, but the true test is still to come. They've proved, as others have, that if you give away free ratings and make a big splash, you will get a good response, says Vories. But it remains to be seen whether people are willing to pay for ratings themselves. She notes that CHEERS has the most sophisticated computer software for rating of any HERS.

Vories cautions that most other programs place more distance between raters and contractors, to prevent conflicts of interest, and also, while all federal regulations allow the use of energy-efficient mortgages (EEMs--home loans with terms encouraging conservation), there are still few lenders willing to add energy improvements to a home mortgage. Realtors and lenders don't like the additional paperwork and potential delays. Besides, Vories adds, most homebuyers (over 90%) can afford to purchase a house without an EEM. Currently where there are EEMs, they are being written primarily for new home construction. CHEERS is working with lending organizations to promote energy-efficient loans.

Ray Hall, a weatherization contractor with H&L Energy Savers in Upland, California, and an advisor to the Natural Resources Defense Council concerning CHEERS, echoed the view that many HERS programs haven't worked because they didn't lead to energy improvements. He says CHEERS is different because it encourages involvement of contractors and lenders. If the home is bad, CHEERS will work with the consumer, contractor, and others to determine how the rating can be improved.

A CHEERS test home in Southern California was originally rated below 50. With help from CHEERS and Hall, the homebuyer obtained a mortgage to finance more than $2,000 of energy-related home improvements. His only expense was an additional $12.80 per month added to the house payment. The rating rose to 70, and consequently the owner saves $20-$25 per month on utility bills. He also received a $320 utility rebate. The higher rating also gives the home greater resale value. It's like someone handed him free money, quipped Hall.

Already this year, CHEERS has

  • Started a rating program in conjunction with Southern California Edison, and plans to start one in Sacramento.

  • Completed training courses for independent raters in San Jose and in Southern California.

  • Referred consumers to locate raters.

  • Encouraged lenders to offer EEMs.


At the same time, the California Energy Commission (CEC) is establishing statewide standards for home energy ratings, as required by legislation passed in 1992. The commission must implement a home energy rating program by January 1, 1994. After July 1, 1994, no rating services may be performed in California unless the CEC has certified that the services comply with the adopted HERS program.

California is the only state to establish requirements for HERS to date. However, at the national level, a new HERS Council--an outgrowth of the National Collaborative on HERS and EEMs--has been organized to institute common standards to unify rating systems nationwide while still allowing for individual system differences. The Council hopes to strengthen alliances between parties involved with home ratings, and to continue to make rating systems more responsive to the needs of the lending community and consumers.

--Ted Rieger

Ted Rieger is a freelance writer for trade publications and specializes in energy topics. He lives in Sacramento, California.


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