Home Energy Scores Offer Economic and Environmental Benefits | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Home Energy Scores Offer Economic and Environmental Benefits

By having someone tell us where our homes are most inefficient and what we can do to improve it, people will have tools to do those fixes and save money.

Whether you're a person who's motivated by economic concerns or environmental ones, there's something to appreciate about the new Home Energy Score program coming to Bend.

Those who have bought or sold a home—or have thought about it—have probably heard various statistics about how much more they can garner from a home if that home has a new or updated kitchen or bathrooms. Improvements like that can run in the tens of thousands—yet homeowners often find them to be worthwhile endeavors, since they can bring so much more money in the door at sale time.

Home Energy Scores Offer Economic and Environmental Benefits
Courtesy of City of Bend
A sample report from Hillsboro, Oregon, where a Home Energy Score program is already in place.

Why, then, is it so mind-blowing for people to wrap their heads around the notion of investing in a home's efficiency? At least, that's the feeling you might walk away with if you read some of the objections to the Home Energy Score program that the Bend City Council just unanimously moved to adopt in the city.

If it's worth investing thousands into kitchens and bathrooms to make one's home more attractive to buyers, shouldn't it be well worth a couple hundred for the Home Energy Score assessment—and perhaps a few hundred more in energy-saving improvements like added insulation? As one commenter at the recent Council meeting put it, it adds the element of home performance into the buying process, and does it not by requiring anyone to make fixes, but rather through "mandatory transparency."

Those opposed to the program, including many among the local real estate lobby, argued that buyers who really wanted to know how efficient a home is could voluntarily take part in the HES program (home inspectors already offer this service as value-added) or could request information from the utility companies about the amounts the previous occupants spent on natural gas or electricity. But that's hardly an accurate accounting of how the new occupants might use the home and its utilities. Some people do a lot more laundry than others. Some like their home toasty; others don't mind a little chill in the air.

To really find out the energy toll—and to really understand how to improve upon it—will now require an assessment that costs an estimated $300 or so when someone sells a home. It's hardly a cost that is going to break most people who are selling a home, and the Council's plan includes a provision for low-income households to get those costs covered if needed.

But the cost of the assessment shouldn't be the primary focus. With building energy costs representing over half of the carbon emissions in Bend, according to city data—and with homes representing about 30% of the total—the effort to reduce some of those emissions by making one's home more efficient has an environmental benefit.

So, too, does it have an economic one. By having someone come in and tell us where our homes are most inefficient and what we can do to improve it, people will have the tools to do those fixes and to thereby save money. In a sample Home Energy Score assessment from Hillsboro, Oregon—where an HES program is already in place—the example home had a current score of 6 out of 10. By implementing just a couple improvements that were suggested in the assessment, the estimate was that the home could achieve a score of 9 and save approximately $286 per year in energy costs—about the same cost as the assessment itself. That seems worthwhile for both economics and environment. We cannot reduce emissions on a local scale if we don't do things differently than we've done them before. Likewise, as we are currently seeing in the natural gas arena, energy costs will only continue to go up. Isn't it worth taking steps to conserve everywhere we can?

This program is going to result in some homes that go on the market seeing poor energy ratings. But instead of seeing that as a bad thing that means one's dealing with a "bad house," sellers—and buyers, for that matter—should see it as an area ripe for improvement. Just like the prospect of that brand-new kitchen with the elegant tile backsplash.

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