Portland’s cutting-edge tool for home buyers gains momentum in other US cities

(ACEEE blog, 8 May 2019) Ever wonder how much a home’s utility bills will cost before you buy it? Portland, Oregon, has a cutting-edge policy that gives homebuyers such information, enabling them to consider energy efficiency when buying a home, just as many consumers do when shopping for a car. Other cities are looking at similar programs.

Portland is one of a few US cities to require home sellers to disclose energy information to buyers and is the first US city to require home sellers to receive and disclose a Home Energy Score in real estate listings. This score, developed by the US Department of Energy, explains how homes perform compared to others in the United States. To receive a score, homeowners must hire a certified assessor to perform an energy audit that scores their home on a scale of 1 to 10.

Last year, the policy’s first, the city scored 10,000 homes and found an average score of 4.6, slightly below the US average of 5.0. Many homes in Portland were built in the early 1900s, long before building codes set efficiency requirements. These older homes often receive low scores, because they have little insulation, old windows, and inefficient HVAC systems. But they also have the most to gain; many can improve their performance 20-30% with cost-effective measures.

Other US cities are implementing or considering similar policies to help their residents better value energy efficiency. Since 2009, Austin, Texas, requires homes that are 10 or more years old to receive an energy audit and disclose it when listing the property. In 2015, Berkeley, California, began requiring sellers to receive a home energy score and disclose it to the buyer at or shortly after the time of sale. Montgomery County, Maryland, and Chicago have requirements to disclose utility bills to home purchasers; Chicago also encourages (but does not require) including this information in listings. This February, Minneapolis passed a law to require a rating at time of listing as well as a disclosure policy targeting rental properties.

Look for the home label

By requiring home sellers to disclose energy scores, Portland is bringing more transparency and energy awareness to the market. It has developed tools, notably the home energy score label (see below), to help people quickly and easily compare homes.

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ACEEE blog, 8 May 2019: Portland’s cutting-edge tool for home buyers gains momentum in other US cities