By Steve Law, Portland Tribune
Ever shop for a home and wonder how much it would cost to heat and cool?
Starting in January, anyone shopping for a newly listed house in Portland can get a rough estimate of the property’s energy bills, via a Home Energy Score.
Last year, the Portland City Council approved an ordinance requiring home sellers to obtain a Home Energy Score before they list their homes for sale or commence advertising it, and the new mandate takes effect Jan. 1.
Getting a Home Energy Score — akin to a miles-per-gallon sticker on cars for sale — likely will be viewed as a hassle by many home sellers and Realtors. But city officials expect it will encourage many sellers to improve their homes’ energy efficiency, saving the buyers money on utility bills and lowering the use of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.
Lynn Merrick, who recently commissioned a Home Energy Score for her century-old Mount Tabor home as part of a “beta test” of the new program, was surprised by the results. The house scored only a “3” out of a possible “10” after a home energy assessor conducted a 90-minute review, said Merrick, a climate change activist who founded the Let’s Talk Climate community forum series.
“It’s kind of embarrassing to be this climate advocate and find our scores so low,” Merrick said. Especially after she and her husband thought they were reducing its energy use by installing a solar water heating system, rooftop photovoltaic solar panels and an energy-efficient radiant heating system.
“We learned that we need a whole other foot of insulation in our attic,” Merrick said. They also learned their windows are leaky.
Ideally, she and her husband would have gotten such a report when they bought their house long ago.
“Can you imagine our utility savings over a 20-year period? It would probably be several thousand dollars.”
Merrick may engage in a friendly competition with some of her environmentally minded neighbors to see who can improve their Home Energy Scores the most, and lower their utility bills. Even if they don’t benefit financially for that many years, she figures it’s the right thing to do.
“By spending most of our lives with a huge carbon footprint, it seems like the least we can do for the generation coming up.”
Opposition campaign fizzled
The mandate was enacted in the final days of then-Mayor Charlie Hales’ administration, as part of his “bucket list” of policies to address climate change. The Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors led a vigorous campaign against it, calling it a useless mandate that would raise the prices of homes, kill some house sales, and achieve little.
But with that battle lost, Realtors now must educate their clients of the need to get a Home Energy Score. Failure to obtain one can result in a $500 fine.
“They may not be overjoyed about it, but they are also good soldiers,” said Stephanie Swanson, vice president for communications at Enhabit, the nonprofit formerly known as Clean Energy Works. Enhabit is one of the city’s implementation partners helping to develop and publicize the new program, because of its considerable experience in the field.
Enhabit is one of dozens of entities that can perform home energy assessments under the new mandate, but it’s conducted 14,000 of them over the years. It also refers clients to trained contractors, and helps people get loans so they pay for energy-saving improvements via their monthly PGE, Pacific Power or NW Natural bills.
Earth Advantage, another homegrown nonprofit that developed a similar rating system for new homes, was contracted by the city to oversee training of home energy assessors and do quality control for the program
Portland and the state of Oregon have been national leaders at trying to encourage energy efficiency, such as providing subsidies from Energy Trust of Oregon for home energy retrofits. But with historically cheap natural gas prices due to fracking, the payback period for improvements has grown longer, and fewer people are undertaking such projects.
That’s why the city decided to make the Home Energy Scores mandatory, as a few other cities have done.
Prospective home sellers must hire a home energy assessor to visit their home and prepare the Home Energy Score. The city projects that will cost $150 to $250, though that depends on how the market evolves.
Portland is using a Home Energy Score developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, with one major addition. The two-page report will include an assessment of the home’s carbon footprint, in tons of emissions per year as well as a numeric rating. Reports also will itemize projects that could improve the Home Energy Score, if they can pay for themselves in energy savings over the ensuing decade, Swanson said.
Lynae Forbes, president of the Hasson Group, figures the startup phase of the new mandate will be bumpy, but she’s more focused on making sure her company’s 180 residential real estate agents are trained on the new program than complaining about it.
Forbes worries that home energy assessment prices could go higher if there is a backlog of requests for Home Energy Scores. When that occurs for home appraisals, she notes, it’s common for appraisers to “jack up their prices to double or more if people want to get it done in a timely manner.”
But, in contrast to the dire warnings made by Realtors when trying to kill the mandate, Forbes doubts it will dissuade people from buying stately old homes — the kind that are the draftiest.
“That population of home buyers are not buying it for efficiency factors,” she reasons. “I don’t really buy into the fear factor that it’s going to affect home values to any significant extent.”
However, she does foresee some buyers using issues pinpointed by the Home Energy Scores to bargain with sellers to rectify those weaknesses, such as adding insulation. Such bargaining happens routinely now based on home inspections that are required by lenders.
Realtors will make sure their clients understand the new mandate and direct them to the city website or other resources, Forbes said. “I don’t want to see people get anxious about this.”
How it works
Portlanders hoping to list their homes in the new year are advised to start planning now. Home energy assessors will punch in about 50 data points, including details about the home’s insulation and other features. Then the software program spits out an average utility bill, taking into account prevailing prices and average family size and energy usage.
The reports will be publicly available on the Green Building Registry website.
By Ronda Kaysen, NYTs
For the most part, we hunker down in the winter, as the weather is often too cold and unpredictable to tackle major home improvement projects. Make sure your home is prepared for the harsh weather.
Bring out the snow blower. Make sure your snow blower is in good working order before it snows. You do not want to be caught in the first major storm with only an orange shovel to dig you out, Send the snow blower to a small-engine repair company for a tune-up. Some companies will pick up and drop off your equipment for you. Expect to spend $60 to $200, depending on the size of your blower, Make sure you have gasoline and motor oil.
Stock up on supplies. before the Weather Channel tells you a storm is coming. Look for brands free of salt or chloride. But even products billed as “pet safe” can still harm your pet, so wipe their paws and don’t let them lick treated snow. Ice-melting products can also damage your foliage, so use sparingly. Make sure your shovel survived last winter because you will need to dig out of stairways and narrow pathways, even if you have a blower.
Ice dams. When ice accumulates along the eaves of your roof, it can cause a dam that can damage gutters, shingles and siding. As water leaks into your house, it can wreak havoc on your paint, your floors and your insulation. Throughout the winter, inspect the exterior of your home regularly . Look for icicles, because the same forces create dams. Consider buying a roof rake. The $30 tool will help keep ice off your roof in the first place by removing fresh snow from your roof after a storm. Do not hack away at the ice, as that could harm you or your roof
INSIDE YOUR HOME
Frozen pipes. When water freezes in pipes, it expands, damaging or cracking the pipes. When the ice melts, and the pipe bursts, your home fills with water. Pipes near the outside of your home are at greatest risk, like outdoor faucets, pipes in an unheated garage or swimming pool supply lines. A few tips:
- Shut off and drain outdoor faucets before the cold weather hits.
- Insulate pipes where you can.
- On cold days and nights, keep the cabinets below sinks open to let warm air in.
- You can also run the faucet at a drip to keep water moving.
- Keep the thermostat set at a steady temperature.
- If you go away, set the thermostat to a minimum of 55 degrees,
Generator. A portable generator can provide you with a lifeline in a blackout Power it up every three months, and twice a year (even if you never use it). Keep fuel and motor oil on hand in the event of a storm. Do not let fuel sit in the tank for long periods of time, as that can damage it. Check it regularly for corrosion and wear.
Winter storm prep. A heavy winter storm Stock up on wood for the fireplace, gas for the snow blower and canned food and bottled water, in case you lose power. Check your emergency supply kit for batteries, a radio, a first-aid kit and any medicines you may need. Check in on neighbors who may need help shoveling out (a little camaraderie in a storm goes a long way).