Wherever I travel, I enjoy a little window shopping for homes at real estate agencies. I like to compare prices and features in different places. On a recent trip to Ireland, I was surprised to see that every home listing included a home energy score: a BER or Building Energy Rating! The BER shows the home’s energy efficiency on a clear color-coded scale of A to G.

Building Energy Ratings in Ireland

Ireland has required these ratings since 2006. They cost about €150 to €300, and real estate agents must display them on listings of homes or apartments for sale, whether new construction or existing homes. 

The beauty of these ratings is that they show whether buyers are considering a home that is an energy hog and carbon polluter or a highly energy-efficient one. It gives homebuyers vital information regarding the home’s energy costs, so they can make a wise purchase. These ratings can motivate sellers to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes themselves. While these ratings are not always consistent depending on the energy assessor or region, Ireland is working to remedy these discrepancies.

Home Energy Scores and upgrades in the US

So, where are we in the US regarding energy efficiency ratings? The US Department of Energy created a system of Home Energy Scores that cities and states can use to set up their own energy rating systems. In 2018, Portland, OR, was the first city to require these scores, mandating that every home for sale has a Home Energy Score report. This report estimates the energy use of the home, the energy costs, and the cost-effective energy upgrades proposed to improve the home’s energy efficiency and carbon footprint. 

So, how is it going in Portland? Currently, close to 92% of homes for sale in Portland have Home Energy Scores. Portland has trained its real estate agents and energy assessors to provide consistent results. They also work to make the process as easy as possible for sellers. Home energy assessors are available to homeowners in need of rating services. In Oregon, the cost of an energy rating by a licensed home energy assessor ranges from $150 to  $300. 

The goal is to support sellers in making energy upgrades before they sell: to offer a more appealing property, and for buyers to save money on their home heating and cooling costs while reducing carbon emissions. But few cities, or states, have followed Portland’s example. To date, Oregon is a leader with Portland, Milwaukee, and Hillsboro requiring Home Energy Scores. The city of Bend is actively considering passing one by December 2022. Other cities requiring Home Energy Scores include Austin, TX; Berkeley, CA; and Minneapolis, MN. Overall, adoption of Home Energy Scores by cities and states is way too slow to impact climate change.


Thermal Image of Heat Leak thru Windows

Take Action Now!

Yes, it would be helpful to have local, state, and national governments require energy ratings and proposed upgrades as part of full disclosure on the sale of a home. But it’s happening too slowly. Instead, you can work with your local government to develop a home energy score requirement.

For your own home, you can search for a home energy rater or energy assessor to help you obtain a home energy rating and suggest the most cost-effective ways to upgrade your home’s energy efficiency. Then, you can enjoy the benefits of a more energy-efficient, more comfortable home and sell it for a higher price. 

I advise homebuyers to insist on an energy rating in the closing agreement as part of the home inspection, and ask the seller to make the needed energy upgrades. If the seller does not agree, buyers can engage an experienced contractor to undertake a complete energy evaluation and immediately implement upgrades, before move-in. That way buyers can enjoy a healthier, more comfortable, energy-efficient home from day one. Lower utility costs and reduced emissions to help prevent global warming will continue for years. 

The author:

Joe Emerson is founder of The Zero Energy Project.

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