MPG for Your Home?

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DOE is rolling out a Home Energy Score, but may face some competition.


Nov. 19, 2010 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Consumers may soon have a way to measure their home’s energy efficiency—and compare it to others.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has introduced a Home Energy Score, which it likens to a miles per gallon (mpg) rating for homes.

“Most Americans spend between $1,500 and $2,500 each year on home energy costs,” says Cathy Zoi, the DOE’s assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “Do you have any idea what the mpg of your home is?”

Under the program, which is set to launch on nationally in late 2011, trained and qualified contractors will examine homes’ structures, heating and cooling systems, insulation levels and more. Contractors will have to be certified by BPI or RESNET, which qualifies energy auditors. The contractor rates the home with 45 data points, and inputs that into a scoring tool developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Then the contractor gives the homeowner the score with recommendations, and what level they could get if they implement the recommendations, along with the estimated annual savings. Regional climate factors are considered in the scoring.

The Home Energy Score will be on a scale of one to 10. A 10 represents a home with excellent energy performance, while a one represents a home that needs extensive energy upgrades. The DOE recommends getting a Home Energy Score before doing upgrades so you can assess your home’s energy efficiency performance.

The DOE will be piloting the program in selected communities in next few months. You can see where the programs will be tested here.

The Home Energy Score comes in the form of label that lists:

  • The home address.
  • Total energy, defined as the amount of energy the home would require, assuming certain standard conditions such as three occupants and specific thermostat settings.
  • Home size in square feet, reflecting the total interior space that is heated or cooled.
  • Whether air conditioning is used.
  • U.S. climate zone.
  • Home energy score, defined as the home’s energy performance based on its current condition.
  • Home energy score after upgrades are made.
  • The estimated annual savings in utility bills after making all recommended improvements.

You can see a sample label and accompanying energy efficiency recommendations here.

Electrical energy use is not a part of the Home Energy Score, but the program could open up business to custom electronic (CE) pros who can interface with HVAC system upgrades via home control systems.

The idea behind the Home Energy Score is to provide one universal rating system that everyone can easily understand, like mpg is for cars. You can view a video on the Home Energy Score here.

HES or EPS for MPG?

But here’s the thing: There’s another home energy rating system, called the Energy Performance Scorecard (EPS), which has been piloted in Oregon and digs deeper into a home’s energy use, with both an energy consumption rating of zero to off the charts and the same for carbon impact. “My concern is that the [Home Energy Score] does not offer enough granularity. But it is a very powerful tool for engagement,” says Sean Penrith, executive director of the Earth Advance Institute, which helped pilot the EPS program. “A McMansion and a bungalow could have the same efficiency rating, but won’t have the same carbon impact.”

An advanced version of the EPS program has also been piloted in Washington state, where electric utility bills will be factored in. The program will also be piloted in communities in Virginia, Massachusetts and Alabama—with funding from the DOE, to look at marketing forces, policy and other related issues.

So there could still be changes to the U.S. federal government’s Home Energy Score program.

Oregon’s program could also be mandated for those selling their homes. Costs for the energy audit to do the program could rage from $200 to 600, before the energy retrofits, but could be subsidized by state or utility programs if the payback is good enough.

“It’s going to change the way we retrofit buildings,” says Stephen Aiguier, of Green Hammer, which provides audits, energy retrofits and design and build services in Oregon.

Residential Retrofit Guidelines

In addition to launching the Home Energy Score, the DOE announced the release of the new Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades. Energy improvement programs can adopt these guidelines to increase the consistency and effectiveness of energy upgrades, and training providers can use them to improve course curricula and training materials. These guidelines were developed through a collaboration between energy efficiency contractors, building scientists, health and safety experts, technicians and trainers in the weatherization program, and other professionals in the building and home energy upgrade industry. 

The Workforce Guidelines include standard work specifications required for high-quality work, a reference guide for technical standards and codes, analyses of the job tasks involved in completing various energy efficiency improvements, and the minimum qualifications workers should possess to perform high quality work. Identifying the knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform efficiency upgrades represents an important step in developing a nationwide framework for training program accreditation and worker certification. The guidelines will be available for public comment through January 7, 2011. 



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